On the official calendar, Royals pitchers and catchers are slated to report to spring training before the end of the day Tuesday. In reality, many of the club’s pitchers and catchers have already been on site for nearly a week, throwing bullpens and working out here at the club facility on the outskirts of Phoenix.
And then there is reliever Kelvin Herrera, who took the idea of a prompt arrival to the extreme. He landed in Arizona on Jan. 13 and has been a fixture here for the last month.
“It’s the right place to be right now,” he said.
Herrera’s choice was mostly pragmatic. Tired of the rainy winter in his native Dominican Republic, Herrera sacrificed a few extra weeks with his family back home and headed for the dry environs of Arizona. Yet the early start also provided an outlet to move on after a frustrating season in 2017.
In his first season as the Royals’ primary closer, Herrera posted a career-high 4.25 ERA and required a safety net in multiple high-leverage situations. The official diagnosis was forearm tightness as he battled erratic command and composure. He eventually relinquished the closer role in September. But on the eve of a new season, Herrera offered a more blunt description for his problems.
“I was a mess,” Herrera said. “I was completely a mess — the first half and the second half, pretty much the whole year.”
Herrera, 28, is now seeking a fresh start as he enters a pivotal season of his career. It is one that could feature persistent trade rumors. A two-time All-Star, Herrera is entering his final season before he reaches free agency. After avoiding an arbitration hearing this winter, he will make $7,937,500 in 2018.
The salary obligation could turn Herrera into a possible trade chip as the Royals seek to curb spending and gain future assets at the start of a rebuilding process. For Herrera, this reality came into focus in January when he watched the team trade relievers Scott Alexander, Joakim Soria and Ryan Buchter in two separate deals.
“I knew the Royals were rebuilding, or they are rebuilding,” Herrera said. “I wasn’t worried at all. I tell you: I’ll do my job wherever.”
As he stood near the Royals’ clubhouse on Monday morning, Herrera mostly brushed off the trade speculation. The Royals have been the only organization he has known. He has been a member of all-time great bullpens in Kansas City and appeared in two World Series. He has dominated in the postseason and struggled as a closer. He is a veteran now, ready and willing to take on any role, he said.
“I’ll pitch wherever they want me to pitch,” Herrera said. “And (I’ll) just focus and do my job the best that I can.”
For now, that could mean a return to the closer role as the Royals seek to rebuild their bullpen following the departure of Mike Minor in free agency and Alexander, Soria and Buchter in trades. At the moment, there are few candidates to supplant Herrera. But the answers will come later. One month after arriving in Arizona, Herrera is ready for camp to start.
“I’m well rested,” he said. “I was with my family pretty much the whole offseason.”
Regulars already in camp
One day before the official report date, Royals starter Danny Duffy threw his second bullpen here in Arizona. He was joined by newly acquired right-hander Trevor Oaks, reliever Brandon Maurer and a host of other pitchers. Projected starters Jason Hammel and Nate Karns also worked out on Monday. So did a slew of young prospects, including Kyle Zimmer, Richard Lovelady and Scott Blewett. Catchers Salvador Perez, Drew Butera and Cam Gallagher are also here.
A collection of position players are also here a full week before full-squad workouts begin on Feb. 19. Second baseman Whit Merrifield joined center fielder Paulo Orlando and third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert in the batting cages on Monday morning.
Arbitration hearing set for Thursday
Reliever Brandon Maurer is set to attend a salary arbitration hearing on Thursday in Arizona. Maurer, 27, filed at $3.5 million, while the Royals countered at $2.95 million. If the two sides fail to come to a settlement before Thursday, a third-party arbitrator will listen to both sides and rule in favor of one.
Maurer, acquired last summer from the San Diego Padres, posted a 6.52 ERA in 68 appearances last season, including an 8.10 ERA in 26 outings with the Royals. He made $1.9 million last season.