Joe Blanton faces a choice in a few days. He can stay with the Royals organization and pitch for their Class AAA Omaha affiliate. Or he can attempt to latch onto another big-league roster.
The choice results from the minor-league contract he signed with Kansas City last month. He can opt-out of this deal on April 1 or May 15 if he is not pitching in the majors. As he prepared to throw a bullpen session on Saturday, Blanton insisted he had not pondered the decision yet.
“We’ll see when that comes,” Blanton said. “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it yet, to be honest with you.”
The Royals would like Blanton, a 34-year-old veteran of 10 big-league seasons, to remain with the club. After sitting out 2014, he has looked solid in a trio of Cactus League outings. The team seeks more depth for its starting rotation, and Blanton would fit that mold.
Manager Ned Yost indicated the club would not make many more cuts before the team departs for a two-game exhibition series in Houston on Thursday. He plans to bring all the players in camp to Minute Maid Park in Houston. But Yost indicated he would likely know the composition of the final roster. That means he would like to settle all the situations for players with opt-out dates before then.
“These guys that have the opt-outs, we’re going to have to sit and talk to,” Yost said. “To make sure that’s the case.”
When a season begins, teams attempt to assemble as many as eight starting pitchers they feel qualified to handle big-league duty. The Royals signed Chris Young, and assigned him to the bullpen, to solidify this area. After Young, the candidates hold less appeal.
The team harbors an impressive crop of prospects. But Brandon Finnegan, Sean Manaea, Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford are all bound for Class AA Northwest Arkansas. Team officials do not consider them ready to contribute. Kyle Zimmer, the owner of perhaps the most talented arm in the organization, is limited to only pitching bullpen sessions as he recuperates from offseason shoulder surgery.
That leaves less tantalizing options on the 40-man roster like Aaron Brooks, Yohan Pino and John Lamb. Lamb has never pitched in the majors. Pino posted a 5.07 ERA in 11 starts for Minnesota last season. Brooks displayed strike-throwing ability for Omaha, but he recorded only two outs in an emergency outing last May in Toronto.
So the team’s interest in Blanton is understandable. He holds a 2.79 ERA in 9 1/3 big-league innings this spring. He gave up three runs in five innings of a minor-league outing earlier this week.
The Angels cut ties with Blanton last spring, a year after he went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA for them. He spent time with Oakland, but sought his release in April. Now an organization hopes he will stick with them. Blanton must decide if he wants to test the open waters once more.
“It’s getting closer,” Blanton said. “But I haven’t really thought about it.”