The Kansas City Royals occupy first place in the American League Central heading into Friday night against Detroit. They remain atop the division despite untrustworthy starting pitching and a rash of injuries and suspensions. This weekend will be another test of their fortitude.
But, until then, there is plenty to discuss. Welcome back to our weekly edition of the Royals mailbag. Let’s get to it.
During spring training, while writing a story about the team’s bullpen, I talked to Dave Eiland. He offered a reminder about his opinion of the source of the club’s success as a pitching staff in recent years:
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“People don’t understand,” he said. “You’ve got three great relievers. But you’ve still got to play six innings to get to them. So let’s not discount all the people who pitch before them. I think that’s gotten lost here in the last year or so. We discount what our starters have done…
“There’s an old saying: What makes a good bullpen? It’s a good starting rotation. It’s no different here. You look at all these ‘great’ rotations in the American League. We out-pitched most of them. Detroit, all these guys, we out-pitched them all. But nobody wants to talk about that because our bullpen is so dominant at the back end, it’s overshadowed those other guys.”
This assessment sounds reasonable. So, yes, the Royals do need their starters to go six innings. They also need them to go seven. They need them to go eight. If they can provide a complete game, all the better.
The bullpen depth this club has assembled is admirable and impressive. It also is a volatile asset. Greg Holland has already landed on the disabled list once this season. Kelvin Herrera could experience regression. Both Madson and Hochevar have already torn the ulnar collateral ligaments in their elbows.
The team expects to lean on all of these men heavily in the second half. Ned Yost cannot afford to burn them out early because the starting rotation didn’t pull its share of the load.
There are a few points to make here.
1. As of Thursday morning, Colon was hitting .267/.313/.333. This rates as an 80 OPS+, which makes him a well-below average big-league hitter. He has shown some adeptness in the field, especially on barehand plays, but he still does not possess the range of a starting shortstop on a championship club.
2. The Royals are not going to trade Alcides Escobar, unless they are somehow getting a better shortstop in return. Escobar is not a prototypical leadoff hitter, and the team would be better off if Alex Gordon remains there even when Escobar returns. But Escobar hits .291 and plays good defense. He is on a team-friendly deal through 2017. There is no reason to trade him, at least until Raul Mondesi Jr., is making noise.
3. Kansas City was willing to deal Omar Infante during the winter. But it is hard to find takers for a 33-year-old middle infielder with nagging elbow issues (although his throwing has been much improved during the regular season) and a .548 OPS in 22 games this season.
A new weekly reminder!
It is far too early to say who Rios will replace when he returns. Far too much can happen between now and then. No one could have predicted Alcides Escobar’s concussion or Erik Kratz’s plantar fasciitis or the acquisition of Drew Butera.
That said: Paulo Orlando has options. Jarrod Dyson does not. If Kansas City must choose between the two, they will almost always aim for roster flexibility. Dyson looks much more comfortable in right field in recent days. So, if everything remains the same — which it won’t — I suspect the Royals option Orlando to Omaha to make room for Rios.
It means a lot more than just giving up Miguel Almonte, one figures. If Johnny Cueto hits the market, he’ll be the most sought-after pitcher. All 29 other teams can chase a guy one year from free agency, while the contract of Cole Hamels would prohibit some clubs (like maybe the Royals) from getting into the mix with Philadelphia. The first ask from Cincinnati would almost assuredly be Raul Mondesi. From there, they would seek players like Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan and, yes, Almonte. Maybe the Royals could bundle one of those prospects with a lesser prospect like Jorge Bonifacio.
A (too late) disclaimer: This is all speculation, and it is all somewhat useless. The Royals may not require a starting pitcher. The Reds may contend. The Reds may decide to open up their bank account to retain Cueto. So much can happen between May 8 and July 31.
You will not see Mike Moustakas play right field for the Royals, unless something has gone horribly wrong during the course of a game. His core value lies in his defense, which is far more reliable than his offensive revival in April.
As for Cuthbert, if he continues to hit, the Royals will try to find a place for him in the lineup. So it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play some second base or either of the corner outfield positions later in the summer.
1. Manaea: Assistant general manager Scott Sharp indicated Manaea might be able to leave extended spring training by the end of May. Manaea strained an abdominal muscle in March and missed most of the spring. He still needs to build up his pitch count before he can join Class AA Northwest Arkansas, which was his intended destination before he got injured.
2. Mondesi: He strained his back on April 9, which was Opening Day in the Texas League. He has been rehabilitating in Arizona ever since. Assistant general manager J.J. Picollo classified the injury as “day to day,” even after nearly a month away from the diamond. “He’s getting closer,” Picollo said.
Here is Ned Yost’s explanation: “It would probably be Colon. Because he’s smart enough not to try to be Nolan Ryan.”
Here are the last five albums I bought on iTunes:
1. That Turnover record. So good.
2. Cloakroom — “Further Out.”
3. Torn Hawk — “Let’s Cry and Do Pushups At The Same Time.”
4. My Morning Jacket — “The Waterfall.”
5. Real Estate — “Atlas.”
Gregg Alexander’s lasting legacy as a rock frontman is two-fold: He wore a bucket hat for utility (to conceal his displeasure with singing in the band after “You Get What You Give” exploded) and he perfected the snarling rock bridge. So I’ll take “Flowers.”