If you caught my column on the current projected look of the 2018 position players, there is a chance your day was a little drearier because of the reading. As Maverick once said, “It’s not good. It doesn’t look good.”
Today, I will continue down the meandering, rubble strewn road to the 2018 season and take a quick first look at the pitching staff. This group offers plenty of room for cynicism and outright despair. Still, it is not without hope, or at least maybe not without some hope, anyway.
The starting rotation contains some absolute locks and also is fertile ground for the discussion of inventory. The latter was a catchphrase of Dayton Moore’s when he first came to Kansas City and is not without some logic. If the Royals are destined to be losers in 2018, there are good reasons to keep as many arms in the system as possible. That may mean sending a better pitcher with options remaining to the minors in favor of keeping another pitcher (perhaps of less ability) who is out of options on the major league roster. The issue comes front and center right here, as Jake Junis might well be the second or third best starter on the team, but has options left. Put that one in the back of your mind as we continue.
The rotation will be headed by Danny Duffy, followed by Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel (those contracts sure taste good, don’t they?). When it comes to Kennedy, you can sigh, dream, grouse and hope all you want, but he’s going out there every fifth day. In the case of Hammel, it would be fun to see if the Royals would ever truly commit to the absolute rule that Jason is never, ever allowed to face a batter three times in one game. I am not sure I can recollect a pitcher who could go from lights out to gasoline fire quicker and with more certainty than Hammel did last year. There’s a topic that has been covered and will be covered again. For now, Hammel will be out there every fifth day as well.
After that, all the talk points to Nate Karns getting the fourth spot. Before going down with the newest fad in pitcher injuries last year, Karns showed some real promise. There should be some concern about whether he will be truly ready to go when the team heads north and if he will be effective immediately. There is no need to rush here and the Royals should not be adverse to a little early season disabled list stashing if Karns is not ‘full go’ by the end of March. For now, let’s say he is and, given that, he is an almost certainty to break camp in the rotation.
That leaves the aforementioned Junis as the fifth member of the rotation. After last season, one would think Junis would be a near lock, but he has options left. That is something Sam Gaviglio does not have, nor does Jess Hahn or Brian Flynn. The Royals are not letting Hahn go and he will either start or come out of the bullpen. We will deal with Flynn in a paragraph or two. Gaviglio? A fair portion of the fanbase would not notice him being let go, but I have seen bad teams carry worse pitchers. I am thinking and writing at the same time, so let’s very tentatively put Junis in the rotation while we play with the bullpen.
While roles are far from settled, we know Kelvin Herrera is in the pen and so is Brandon Maurer (out of options, but he’s there because he exists). If the lefty Flynn gets anyone out in Arizona, he is on the team. I mean, for godssake, he is lefthanded AND out of options! Jesse Hahn, who I did not let make the rotation, is in the bullpen. You know who the next ‘near lock’ probably is? Burch Smith, acquired in a Rule 5 draft trade. In a tear-down season, there is no reason to not carry Smith. That’s five. It’s pure guesswork from here on out.
Kevin McCarthy is a bit of a known quantity and not without some ability. He has a real chance to make the relief corps. There is ‘starter to successful reliever’ talk swirling about Wily Peralta and he likely has a claim staked on a relief spot as well.
That is seven relievers and a twelve man staff. The Royals could very well opt to break camp with thirteen pitchers, which would open a spot for Gaviglio, but gives Yost just one southpaw in the bullpen. The above scenario has no room for Trevor Oaks on the 25 man roster or Eric Skoglund (a lefty) or Eric Stout (a lefty) or Tim Hill (a lefty) or cult hero Richard Lovelady (a lefty) or Kyle Zimmer (added for gallows humor only). I mean, there are a LOT of arms in camp. Remember Miguel Almonte? Yeah, I almost forgot about him, too. I have been doing this long enough to generally expect someone unexpected to get the last bullpen spot and this year, with all the additional rebuilding, saving inventory variables will certainly be no exception.
Perhaps saying earlier that there is some hope with this group was a bit optimistic, but I think this will be an intriguing unit to watch throughout the year and likely one that will feature a great deal more pitchers getting a shot in the majors than we have mentioned above. That may or may not be good, but it will be….well, intriguing.