The Royals optioned utilityman Whit Merrifield to Class AAA Omaha on Saturday evening, offering clarity in their 25-man roster picture two days before Opening Day in Minnesota.
The maneuver, which came nearly three hours after an exhibition loss in Texas, could help preserve roster inventory. After Raul Mondesi won the starting job at second base, Merrifield was battling with Christian Colon for a final bench spot. Colon, 27, has zero options remaining, which means he must be added to the 25-man roster or placed on waivers, where he would be exposed to other teams. Merrified, 28, had options remaining, which made him expendable.
On Saturday morning, manager Ned Yost remained noncommittal on the Royals’ final roster decisions as the club concluded a two-game exhibition set against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park. But after sending Merrifield to Omaha, the club’s 25-man roster appears close to set — barring another surprise move.
Infielder Cheslor Cuthbert will fill one bench slot, while Colon could take up another. The Royals have also been leaning toward keeping Terrance Gore as a pinch-running specialist and extra outfielder. Reserve catcher Drew Butera will be the final member of the four-man bench.
Right-hander Peter Moylan is positioned to fill out the club’s seven-man bullpen, but as a nonroster invitee, he is not a member of the club’s 40-man roster. Moylan would need to be added to the 40-man roster on Sunday, which would require a corresponding reduction. The Royals’ 40-man roster is currently full. The club has not publicly confirmed Moylan's inclusion on the roster.
Merrifield entered camp as a slight favorite to land a roster spot after solid rookie season in 2016. He batted .281 with a .323 on-base percentage and 22 doubles in 81 games. His strength resides in his versatility.
He made 55 starts at second base last season while making an additional 14 starts in the oufield. He also started three games at third base and one at first.
He batted .274 with a .348 on-base percentage and six stolen bases this spring. But it appears his fate, in part, was sealed after the Royals opted for the emerging talent of Mondesi at second base. Merrifield now heads to Omaha, though he will likely be in Kansas City at some point this year, perhaps sooner rather than later.
Last week, Yost hinted that Merrifield’s versatility would likely be needed at the major-league level if the club elects to carry 13 pitchers. For now, the Royals will open the season with 12 pitchers, including a seven-man bullpen.
The Royals’ projected Opening Day roster:
1. Alex Gordon, LF
2. Mike Moustakas, 3B
3. Lorenzo Cain, CF
4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
5. Salvador Perez, C
6. Brandon Moss, DH
7. Paulo Orlando, RF
8. Alcides Escobar, SS
9. Raul Mondesi, 2B
Drew Butera, C
Cheslor Cuthbert, INF
Terrance Gore, OF
Whit Merrifield/Christian Colon, INF*
Danny Duffy, LHP
Ian Kennedy, RHP
Jason Hammel, RHP
Jason Vargas, LHP
Nathan Karns, RHP
Kelvin Herrera, RHP
Joakim Soria, RHP
Matt Strahm, LHP
Mike Minor, LHP
Travis Wood, LHP
Chris Young, RHP
Peter Moylan, RHP**
*Decision will come on Sunday
**Must be added to 40-man roster
Soler likely headed to disabled list
Outfielder Jorge Soler is expected to be placed on the 10-day disabled list on Sunday. The move would come seven days after he sustained a strained oblique muscle in a minor-league game in Arizona.
The disabled list stint can be backdated to March 30. Soler would be eligible to return on April 9, though it remains unlikely he would be ready to return after just 10 days.
"He’s getting better," Yost said on Saturday.
Tigers retain former Royal Daniel Stumpf
In December, the Detroit Tigers selected Royals minor-league left-hander Daniel Stumpf in the Rule 5 draft. The Tigers paid the Royals $100,000 for the acquisition, and under draft rules, were required to carry Stumpf on their 25-man roster or offer him back to the Royals for $50,000.
Stumpf did not make the Tigers’ Opening Day roster and was placed on waivers last week. But a procedural wrinkle prevented his return to the Royals. Stumpf was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the Rule 5 draft before the 2016 season and later outrighted back to the Royals. Because he had been outrighted before, Stumpf would have been free to elect free agency had he returned to the Royals.
The Royals have little room on their 40-man roster and would have risked spending $50,000 only to have Stumpf take free agency without a guaranteed 40-man spot. So the Royals passed. Stumpf ultimately cleared waivers and elected free agency. He signed back with the Tigers on a major-league deal and will likely accept an assignment at Class AAA Toledo.