This is it, friends. Once this weekend is over, the regular season is upon us, which means real baseball every day, which means I’m happy. Hopefully you are, too. All that’s left is a post-Cactus League, pre-regular season series in Texas and then we go. I’ve mentioned this before, but when I left for Arizona, I was thinking this was a team that was probably in the 78-81 win range this season, which is about what they were last year. I had my concerns. Between what I saw in person and what I’ve seen throughout the whole spring, I like this team a lot more now and think they’re a playoff contender. Hopefully, it’s another fun season.
- The Royals are in a bit of a pickle with their roster. It sure looks like Peter Moylan will be the final reliever, but he isn’t on the 40-man as of right now. The Royals also will have to choose between Whit Merrifield and Christian Colon for the final backup infielder spot. As you know, Colon is out of options while Merrifield can still be sent down this season. So in a way, a trade of Colon or even a DFA sort of makes sense because they need to open up the 40-man spot for Moylan. But does it really make sense to lose Colon when he and Merrifield are similar enough that there’s an easy way to keep both? I don’t think it does. So instead, the Royals will have to find another way to get Moylan onto the roster. My vote would go toward jettisoning Billy Burns off the 40-man either by a DFA or a trade. My reasoning is that Burns is causing a roster crunch at Omaha. If the Royals were to remove him from the 40-man, that would allow them to play Hunter Dozier, Jorge Bonifacio, Bubba Starling, Peter O’Brien and Whit Merrifield in the same lineup. All need regular playing time. You could absolutely convince me to DFA Starling instead of Burns, but there’s still at least elite tools with him that could be useful in September. With Burns on the roster, Dozier likely has to play third which leaves no place for Merrifield, and I’ve mentioned my preference is to keep both Merrifield and Colon.
- One of the most common questions I’ve been asked on radio appearances over the last couple weeks is one that people don’t really want to think about. How far back do the Royals have to be around the deadline in order to start trading off parts? That answer isn’t a simple one because there are a lot of factors. If, say, Moose and Hosmer were hurt for a month or two each but both are back, maybe they feel they have a run in them. If they’re six games out but playing at an 88-win pace, the odds are that someone will fall off. But assuming everything is humming along normally – the Royals are healthy, no competitor is playing way over their heads – I think the Royals will have to be at least six games out of a Wild Card spot for them to sell. If they’re 42-46 at the break, it’s time to sell. Now, I have my doubts that they will because they can point to their record at the break in 2013 (43-49) and just out of the break in 2014 (48-50) as proof that this group of players can make a run. Still, that to me is about where it lies. If they’re 43-45, I’d give them a week or two after the break to make a quick run, but I’d still probably end up selling at that point too.
- I’ve also been wondering what the odds are that Mondesi sees the minor leagues again for anything more than a potential rehab assignment. My guess is they’re pretty good because, as you know, I don’t think he’s ready to be a big leaguer. But I also believe that he could be hitting .210/.240/.335 or something like that and stay in the big leagues all year. In a way, his spot on the roster sort of depends on the rest of the roster. If they’re winning and he’s playing good defense, the Royals have shown they’ll stick with an underperforming player (think Omar Infante in general or Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot). That doesn’t mean it’s the right move, but it’s what they’ve done in the past. If they aren’t winning or they aren’t winning quite enough, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Mondesi in the minors by June 1st. But what’s interesting is because the upside is there and because Ned Yost is Ned Yost, I think there’s about a 15 percent chance Mondesi is hitting in the leadoff spot by then, too. If he’s hitting something like .265/.305/.390 and Alex Gordon struggles even a little bit, I don’t think Yost would hesitate to get the speed at the top of the order. The Royals best bet, as Craig said yesterday, is for Gordon to get off to a fast start to make sure that he stays at the top of the order because he’s the best option for the team.
- I completely understand that there’s a viewpoint of the 2017 Royals team where they aren’t very good. The starting rotation is decent enough but with considerable downside. The bullpen only has one truly proven commodity in it. The lineup starts with a player coming off his worst year who is now outside his prime years and is littered with what amounts to one hit wonders. But I still really like this team. I see OBP and guys who will work the count at the top (along with some power). I see power in the middle. I see speed at the bottom, though those last three in the lineup until Soler gets back could be a black hole. I see three guys in the rotation who can get a strikeout per inning or thereabouts. I see the other two as quality veterans who can provide innings. I see a bullpen that includes a rookie who took the league by storm last year along with a great situational lefty and a very good situational righty. The two big question marks to me are Mike Minor and Joakim Soria, but if either one can turn in an above average season, I think the bullpen looks really good too. So yeah, I get it if you don’t like this team, but I’m a fan of what I’ve seen.