2018 rotation picks, why wasn’t Dozier called up & answers to other Royals questions

Right-hander Nathan Karns, who underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in late July, should compete for a rotation spot next spring.
Right-hander Nathan Karns, who underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in late July, should compete for a rotation spot next spring. jsleezer@kcstar.com

It has been 217 days since pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, seven months since a collection of Royals started a season together for the last time, and now I’m sitting inside a coffee shop in a neighborhood a few miles from downtown Toronto.

There is a lot to discuss. The Royals are 73-76 after losing three of four in Cleveland. They are 18-28 since July 30, the day they acquired outfielder Melky Cabrera from Chicago and six days after they traded for three pitchers from San Diego. Once all in with a group of former World Series champions, they have faded down the stretch and will not* make the postseason for the second straight year.

*Barring a miracle

There are 13 games left, beginning with a three-game series in Toronto that starts Tuesday night. So we know this: Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas will at least have 13 more games as Royals. Nothing is guaranteed after that. So let’s get to the mailbag questions.

The podcast recommendation is Ken Burns and Lynn Novick on Maron. The music recommendation of the week is Alex Lahey’s “Everyday’s The Weekend.”

Here we go.

I asked Ned Yost about Dozier at the start of the month. I was curious, too. He mentioned a few things: The Royals have four players on their roster who can play third base, not counting Raul Mondesi: Moustakas, Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield and Ramon Torres. At some point, logistics play a part in these decisions and teams don’t need a clubhouse full of players who aren’t going to play.

It’s the same reason, Yost said, that the club did not give Billy Burns a call-up. They have Terrance Gore and Mondesi to pinch run. They have Jorge Soler, Jorge Bonifacio and Paulo Orlando on the bench. Burns was kind of redundant.

I’m not sure I would read too much into Dozier’s non-callup. But he did have a frustrating year at Class AAA Omaha. Oblique strain at the end of spring training. Broken wrist in June. Limited to just 33 games at three levels, Dozier, 26, batted .243/.341/.441 with four homers.

For me, the Dozier question is a simple one: Where does he play?

Is he a better option than Cuthbert at third base if Moustakas signs elsewhere? Is there any room in the outfield?

Karns underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in late July, which should give him plenty of time to be healthy for spring training.

We’ve seen that thoracic outlet can offer some unpredictable outcomes: Luke Hochevar had the procedure last summer and then missed all of 2017 after experiencing some post-surgery complications.

For now, all signs are positive with Karns, who should compete for a rotation spot next spring.

In fact …

I think it’s possible that this could be the group heading into spring training. A couple of things: A rival scout recently said he viewed Karns as the key guy here.

If Karns can bounce back and deliver the performance of a No. 3 starter, you have a true No. 2 type in Danny Duffy — with his ceiling even higher — a No. 3 in Karns, possibly another No. 3 in Ian Kennedy (Yes, I know that’s generous, but if he can be closer to his 2016 performance) and then Jason Hammel and Jakob Junis at the back end.

Junis has been a revelation of sorts during the second half, posting a 2.98 ERA with 40 strikeouts and four walks in his last 45  1/3 innings. That will do.

But he’ll still need to prove himself as a reliable starter over the long term. Some scouts still view him as closer to a rotation swingman. But his slider, improved fastball command and composure on the mound have been very impressive.

The Royals, of course, will still need some depth. They will lose Jason Vargas (more on that in a minute) and salary constraints could limit their options on the free agent market. They have Sam Gaviglio under club control for a bit if they choose to hold onto him through the offseason. They have Eric Skoglund. And we’ll see about the progression of Josh Staumont and the health of Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer.

And oh yeah, there was a Hochevar question in there, too. At this point, I have little information to share, other than the fact that it seems likely that Hochevar, given his age (34) and injury history, may have to sign a minor-league deal and prove himself during spring training. In that case, it seems likely the Royals would be interested. The relationship between the two sides remains strong.

Hochevar, of course, could also try to throw for teams this offseason and prove himself worthy of a guaranteed major-league deal. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. Is that deal out there? We’ll see.

In the parlance of this front office, the Royals rarely close the book on a player. They’ll monitor Vargas this offseason.

On the other hand, Vargas will be 35 in February. He followed up perhaps his best half season with one of his worst. He is 16-10 with a 4.19 ERA in 29 starts this season.

There will be a market for Vargas. I mean, just look at some of the starters being trotted out by potential playoff teams.

He was also a valuable signing in Kansas City — even with Tommy John surgery sidelining him for nearly a season and a half. He helped the Royals to the World Series in 2014. He pitched like an All-Star for half of 2017. In 71 starts across four seasons, he has posted a 3.89 ERA and a 109 ERA-plus.

But at this point, the Royals may be better served trying to identify the next Jason Vargas in free agency.

Good question, Dong City.

The Royals, of course, would love to retain Lorenzo Cain. Who wouldn’t? What might scare them off, though, is his age, injury history and the years you’d have to guarantee to win a bidding war.

Cain will be 32 years old next April. The Royals likely aren’t handing out another four-year deal to an aging outfielder in his 30s. That’s reality. But maybe if that market doesn’t materialize and Cain has to settle for a shorter deal … maybe then?

Jarrod Dyson, of course, is even older. So take that into consideration. He also just had season-ending surgery for a sports hernia. But if he could be had for a reasonable one- or two-year deal, maybe it’s something you consider.

It’s a good question. The Royals have been pretty vague about the severity. When Moustakas first tweaked his knee running out a fly ball against the Rockies on Aug. 23, manager Ned Yost said there was no structural damage. But obviously, it’s sapped his power production and stopped him from smashing Steve Balboni’s franchise record.

As of Monday, Moustkas had just one homer in 21 games since first injuring the knee. He later reaggravated it in Detroit.

But is he only playing because of the record? No. I think the Royals viewed him as the best option while they were still in the hunt for a wild card.

But will Moustakas continue to play on a sore knee if the Royals are eliminated and he still doesn’t have the record? Yeah, probably.

Schwindel, a former 18th-round pick out of St. John’s in 2013, had a monster year while splitting time between Class AA Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. A 6-foot-1, 205-pound first baseman, he batted .329/.349/.541 with 23 homers and 43 doubles in 133 games. He played so well that he forced the Royals to send first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, another intriguing offensive prospect, back to Northwest Arkansas. It wasn’t a demotion so much as a way to get O’Hearn consistent at-bats with the first base and DH spots crowded at Omaha.

Schwindel, a right-handed slugger, doesn’t walk a lot — just 16 times in 553 plate appearances this year. He’s a bit of a free swinger. On defense, he is basically limited to first base or designated hitter. He’s already 25.

I asked a Royals official if Schwindel was similar to Clint Robinson, a first baseman who was drafted out of college and put up huge numbers in the minors. Robinson hit left-handed, had a lot better plate discipline and put up more gaudy numbers in the minors. So, no, not really.

But their career arcs could perhaps be similar. Schwindel’s value will have to come from his bat. He’ll have to hit. But he certainly elevated his stock this year.

I’ve spent the last week listening to “Sleep Well Beast”, the seventh studio album from The National and the first since “Trouble Will Find Me” in 2013. I have many thoughts. So here they are in list form.

1. I think The War on Drugs’ “A Deeper Understanding” is my favorite album of the year. The second tier includes The Japandroids’ “Near to The Wild Heart of Life,” The Menzingers’ “After The Party,” and Jason Isbell’s “The Nashville Sound.” The third tier includes Waxahatchee’s “Out in The Storm” and Father John Misty’s “Pure Comedy.”

I think “Sleep Well Beast” is firmly in that second tier. But it might end up as its own tier at some point.

2. I think The National is the best American rock band of the 2000s. And I’m not sure it’s particularly close. I don’t think another band has a five-album run like “Alligator,” “Boxer,” “High Violet,” “Trouble Will Find Me” and “Sleep Well Beast.”

3. I tend to group “Alligator,” “Boxer” and “Trouble Will Find Me” into a three-way tie for my favorite National album, with “High Violet” slightly behind — though admittedly “Terrible Love,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Lemonworld” are a potent 1-2-3 combo. The depth of great songs on “Alligator,” “Boxer” and “Trouble Will Find Me” is staggering.

So yes, I think I will group “Sleep Well Beast” closer to “High Violet.” It’s not their best album. It’s not them at the height of their Nationally powers. It might even signal a descent of sorts. But it is still terrific.

4. I think I would rank the 12 songs on the album in this order (“Empire Line” is very underrated):

1. “Carin at the Liquor Store”

2. “Turtleneck”

3. “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”

4. “I’ll Still Destroy You”

5. “Born To Beg”

6. “Guilty Party”

7. “Dark Side of The Gym”

8. “Empire Line”

9. “Day I Die”

10. “Nobody Else Will Be Here”

11. “Walk It Back”

12. “Sleep Well Beast”