In an ideal world, when the Royals broke camp on Wednesday afternoon bound for a two-game exhibition series in Houston, manager Ned Yost could determine the final 25-man roster for his defending American League champions.
But Yost does not live in an ideal world. He awoke for the final day at the team’s complex with a sore throat. He gulped some Red Bull to brighten his senses. Then he returned to the waiting game, as the Royals wait for various roster machinations to finish up before they can finalize their team on Sunday afternoon.
“I wish we could do it earlier,” Yost said before Yordano Ventura faced Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on Wednesday at Surprise Stadium. “But it’s just going to go down to the wire.”
The prime issue appears to be the fate of veteran reliever Ryan Madson, who has pitched a strong camp in his first evidence of health since Tommy John surgery in 2012. He can opt out of his minor-league contract if another organization offers him a major-league deal. Yost and others with the Royals would prefer Madson spends more time building arm strength in the minors. Madson seeks a major-league opportunity.
The Royals must decide whether to risk losing Madson, the former Phillies closer, if they carry the usual number of bench players. The team is still debating among Paulo Orlando, Moises Sierra or Whit Merrifield for that final spot. Yost appears to prefer that route, rather than carrying Madson.
“You would like to take him on your club,” Yost said. “But I still feel like he needs to be protected a little bit. So in order to protect, you probably have to go with an eight-man bullpen, which makes it more difficult. Because you lose a bench player who can help you win a game.
“So you have to try to decide what wins more games for you, 13 pitchers or the extra bench player. Then you make your decision and go.”
The need for an extra outfielder stems from the organization’s zeal to rest Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon early in the season. Cain has a history of leg issues, and Jarrod Dyson figures to spell him on occasion. Yost also would like an outfielder around if Gordon requires a day off to rest his surgically-repaired right wrist.
If Yost he stocks an eight-man bullpen, that forces Dyson into action more often and limits Yost’s flexibility for using a player like Orlando as a pinch runner for slower players such as Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas.
The seventh spot in the bullpen comes down to Louis Coleman and Brian Flynn. Flynn has outpitched Coleman this spring. Coleman is out of options. The team could remove him from the 40-man roster and hope he clears waivers.
Madson, 34, pitched in nine games and finished with a 3.00 ERA in the Cactus League. The team stayed conservative with his usage, as they did with Luke Hochevar, who will begin the season on the disabled list.
“He hasn’t pitched in three years,” Yost said. “So you really don’t know. It’s all a guess. I mean, when you look at it in a positive light, yeah, can he be that guy? Yeah. But there’s still a lot to be seen.”
So Yost must wait. The Royals have to gauge if other clubs are willing to grant Madson a major-league contract. If an offer appears, the team must decide if they want to hamstring their bench to retain him.
“They’re all tough decisions,” Yost said. “I would love to keep them all. I would love to. But you can’t. You’ve got to get it down.”