With the dawn of September baseball peeking over the horizon along with the Omaha Storm Chasers formally eliminated from postseason consideration on Tuesday night, thoughts may turn to those who could soon join the big league club. As you’re daydreaming of expanded rosters, keep in mind the Royals have been judicious in the past with their call-ups in the season’s final month.
Start with those currently on the 40-man roster. A last-place team can always use a few extra arms and Jason Adam, Glenn Sparkman, Scott Barlow, Trevor Oaks and Eric Stout (though he is on the disabled list) have all logged big league time this summer. All have had varying degrees of success at both levels, but being on the 40-man gives them an edge over someone like Richard Lovelady. Lovelady doesn’t even need to be placed on the 40-man for another year. He’s not Rule 5 eligible until after the 2019 season.
The same thing is happening over on the position player side of the roster. Someone like Nicky Lopez, who is having a fine season split between Double and Triple-A, certainly is making a case for a call-up. Yet he’s not on the 40-man and, like Lovelady, isn’t Rule 5 eligible for another year. Someone who is eligible for the Rule 5 is Frank Schwindel. He was eligible last year, but went undrafted. But all that means is that the Royals will need to find a spot for him on the 40-man in late November.
We will see an exodus from the disabled list. Jorge Soler has reported to Omaha for a rehab assignment. He has been the designated hitter for back to back nights for the Storm Chasers, the role he will fill once he returns to Kansas City. Plus, he’s on the 60-day DL, so someone currently on the roster will have to be moved to get Soler back to active status. Ian Kennedy is likely to make a rehab start this week. He’ll get a few major league innings once he’s ready, but won’t cost anyone their spot on the 40-man.
The point is, these roster decisions aren’t easy or straightforward, even when the calendar turns to September. It’s not as simple as the Royals releasing guys like Alcides Escobar or Jason Hammel. You may disagree, but stuff like that just isn’t done. You don’t want to be that team that just releases veterans because the rosters are expanding and you want to look at some kids. The time to release guys like Escobar and Hammel, if that’s the road you decide to take, is in July or August. Not now. Appearances matter. The Royals will create 40-man roster space this winter through the sundry offseason moves, but for the moment, the roster is full and the Royals don’t have a lot of room to maneuver.
One way the Royals could find an opening would be if they dealt Lucas Duda. Duda has been a league-average bat overall, but he’s really destroyed right-handed pitching this year. In 239 plate appearances against righties, Duda is hitting .267/.335/.479 with 11 of his 13 home runs. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Duda has cleared waivers, freeing the Royals to deal him to any team interested.
There must not be much of a market at the moment and it takes two to trade. The Royals haven’t been shy about trading their assets this year, and while Duda isn’t as sexy as a Mike Moustakas, he still would provide some value as a platoon bat down the stretch. You have to assume the Royals are actively shopping him at this point. He’s making a base of $3.5 million and has earned $200,000 in plate appearance bonuses so far. (He will cash in another $100k with another nine plate appearances.) If he’s traded, I would assume the new team would be responsible for the pro-rated portion of his base salary (around $550,000 for the season’s final month) and any new plate appearance incentives he reaches. That’s not going to get you any kind of interesting prospect, but still, the Royals need to move him to maybe free up a roster spot for one of those potential September call-ups.
The youngsters and the newcomers need to play, and for the most part, they will. But roster decisions made in January can have an impact in September. The Royals will need to get creative to optimize playing time for their future. The kids are coming. It just may not be happening as quickly as everyone would like.