With the regular season around the corner, the Royals roster is pretty well in focus, barring any injuries in the final handful of exhibition games. I find myself wanting to believe more in them, but I just can’t quite get there. I do think the rotation could be a strength. I’ve said this before, but for it to be a strength, they’ll have to get 85 or more starts from Danny Duffy, Nate Karns and Jake Junis. If they do that and one of Ian Kennedy or Jason Hammel rebounds to their 2016 numbers, they’ll steal a couple extra wins. I’m just really worried about the bullpen, which I’ll get to in a second. Maybe that’s what’s holding me back from predicting more than 75 wins for this team. Because we’re nothing if not exact here at BP KC, I’m going to narrow down a win number soon, but I’m leaning toward either 72 or 73 right now, so stay tuned for the thrilling finish to this internal debate.
- Let’s jump back to the bullpen for a second, and while I think they have a chance to be really bad, I do think it will be an interesting unit. There’s a non-zero chance that the relievers on the roster on August 31 are entirely different from those who are announced on Thursday. I think Kelvin Herrera is a pretty clear trade candidate. Brandon Maurer and newly signed Justin Grimm have a real chance to either be dealt or DFAed during the season. You can probably throw Brian Flynn in that boat too, though if he gets the DFA, it’ll be more about the guys working their way up than him. Wily Peralta is a pretty obvious DFA at some point, if he even makes the club. The Rule 5 guys and Kevin McCarthy all could both start and end the year with the team, but I can’t say I’d be surprised if Burch Smith and Brad Keller are “hurt” at some point and if the Royals use the fact that McCarthy has options to make some moves. They may even use that to start the year, so he wouldn’t be there on Thursday if they do. And what’s interesting is that the bullpen has some really useful and interesting arms in the minors. It’s why I think there’s a pretty strong chance the bullpen is better in the second half than the first. Add in Richard Lovelady, Miguel Almonte (who was great in spring), Glenn Sparkman, Kevin Lenik and some others and you can see the makings of a really solid 2019 bullpen. It just might be really ugly in 2018 at times.
- The 40-man roster will be quite interesting when the Royals go to add some non-roster guys. Ryan Goins is almost certain to make this roster. I’ve made my peace with it. You should too. He needs room made for him. Blaine Boyer is another bullpen piece who falls in the Maurer/Grimm category above. He might make the team and he’ll need a roster spot. The problem is that they don’t have any obvious cuts. I think the easy answer is that Bubba Starling gets placed on the 60-day DL to open up the spot. So that’s one, but where’s the other? Maybe they return one of the Rule 5 guys, and if they do that, I’d say Smith is the one. Keller was one who I wasn’t all that excited about, but he looked really good in spring with more velocity than I expected. I don’t think this will happen, but I suppose if a catcher goes down in the next couple days that Drew Butera could be a casualty and dealt after what they saw from Cam Gallagher last season. And, as I mentioned above, I don’t think Peralta is a lock to make the team with how horrid he’s been this spring. The guarantee isn’t enough to really matter, so maybe they just go ahead and cut bait with him to open up that second spot. That’s an interesting thing to watch as the final roster becomes clear.
- This Royals top 50 thing they’ve been unveiling every day has been somewhere between stupid and ridiculous. I get that it was a fan vote, but man, the organization really should have stepped in to avoid some of the silly rankings that have come from this. Lorenzo Cain was ninth, and while I think that’s probably a little too high, three of his peers from the championship team either are already announced as ahead of him, or will be, and he was the best of the bunch. Willie Wilson isn’t top 10 on the “official ranking.” Neither is Amos Otis. That’s beyond dumb. I’ve actually thought a lot about this, and I think my personal top five would be George Brett, Amos Otis, Kevin Appier, Willie Wilson and Frank White in that order. At six through 10, I’d probably go Bret Saberhagen, Alex Gordon, Mark Gubicza, Dennis Leonard and Hal McRae with Zack Greinke lurking. Those aren’t necessarily in any order other than Saberhagen at six, and I’d listen to an argument for flipping he and White. I’m just most annoyed that AO, Appier and Wilson aren’t in the top 10, let alone top five. You may disagree with my list, but I think we can all agree it’s light years better than what the team is unveiling.
- I remember before the season last year, my biggest concern with the lineup was the bottom of the order. I felt like a lot of rallies started by the 1-6 would be killed by the 7-9. And sure enough, the 1-6 hit .270/.321/.442 and the 7-9 hit a meek .236/.290/.372. That .662 OPS was 40 points below the rest of the American League, which was brought down by the Royals total, so it wasn’t just a matter of it being a bottom of the order. The reason I bring that up is that I have a lot of the same concerns about this lineup. I actually like what the top five in this lineup looks like if healthy, but after that, it’s a crapshoot. I know what the projections say, and you can cite them all you want, but you can’t lean solely on them to make your determinations about what a team can be. With Jon Jay, Whit Merrifield, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Lucas Duda, the Royals have three legitimate power guys, an OBP guy and a guy in Merrifield who is a bit of a wild card, but I think from what I’ve seen will continue to put up solid numbers or better. The issue is health with these guys, but then you get down beyond them and nobody knows what to expect of Jorge Soler or Cheslor Cuthbert really and then it’s Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar, which has a chance to be a world class bad 8-9 duo and that’s saying something. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Cuthbert this spring. He looks good, and I think he might surprise a bit, but if those two struggle, the drop-off from the top five to the bottom four will be massive.