Opinion

With Franklin Morales signed, Royals show need to stock up on relievers

Franklin Morales
Franklin Morales

The most apparent strength of the Kansas City Royals, besides outfield defense, is the team’s bullpen. The thesaurus contains many suggestions, but the operative word to describe the trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera is "ferocious." All three pitchers emasculate hitters on a nightly basis. They populate the game’s most formidable late-game formula.

Yet the behavior of the Royals in recent days reveals their interest in bolstering the unit. The team signed southpaw Franklin Morales to a minor-league contract on Thursday. In the week prior, they dispatched scouts to observe tryout sessions for free-agent lefty Phil Coke and free-agent swingman Alfredo Aceves.

The effort represents a sifting from the bottom of the open market’s barrel. Morales lugs around a 4.72 career ERA. Coke never proved reliable during his time as a Tiger. Aceves is famed for his combustibility. His 5.39 ERA since 2012 doesn’t help his cause.

So why is Kansas City pursuing pitchers like this? Despite the talent in the back end of the bullpen, the middle is still vulnerable. The club predicts excellence from Luke Hochevar. But he is less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. He is at least a week behind his teammates in his throwing program, and may not be ready for heavy duty when the season starts. His condition is tenuous enough for team officials to consider using an eight-man bullpen that allows Hochevar extra time to recover after appearances.

Who else will be in the bullpen? Jason Frasor is a credible middle reliever. The favorites for the next two spots are Tim Collins (4.80 FIP, 1.36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2014) and Louis Coleman (5.69 FIP, 1.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio).

Also available is Rule 5 pick Jandel Gustave. His fastball can reach 100 mph. He also posted a 5.01 ERA in Class A ball last season. Filling out the pack include Ryan Madson, Joe Paterson, Joe Blanton and others.

The elephant in the room is not a particularly big fellow. Brandon Finnegan excited team officials with his performance as a reliever in September and October. He displayed unnatural poise for a 21-year-old a few months removed from college baseball. The team believes he could dominate in relief again this season.

They also drafted him in the first round last June because they feel he can become a useful major-league starter. The path to the rotation involves a detour in either Class AA Northwest Arkansas or Class AAA Omaha. A sizable portion of the front office wants Finnegan to take this route.

So why do the Royals continue to search for extra pitchers? Because you can never have too many arms. Because Hochevar is still a question mark. And because their best left-handed reliever belongs in the Texas League.

FROM THE STAR

1. Dayton Moore arrived at spring training fresh off completing an exhausting round of arbitration settlements.

2. Here is a transcript of Moore’s remarks on Thursday.

3. Ryan Madson is considered healthy and without limitations, even though he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011.

4. Lorenzo Cain wore a shirt with a pithy saying on it, and spoke aloud in this video.

HERE IS SOME ROCK MUSIC

"Seasons (Waiting On You)" by Future Islands.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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