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Crown Jewels: 40-Man Decisions, Trading Singer and Honoring Ned
The goodwill from the Royals winning streak is now gone and we're back to 2023 baseball.
For a few days, it was fun to be a Royals fan. That’s not fair, it was longer than that. The Royals were playing a much more exciting and fun brand of baseball. I don’t think they’ve intentionally gotten away from that over the last week, but they’ve certainly hit a bit of a wall offensively. I know I’ve written this many times, but any time a team is struggling to score runs, it looks like they’re not playing hard. Well sure. You might wonder where the stolen bases are and where the aggressive baserunning is, but they just finished a series where they had 19 men on base in three games. I’m no genius, but it’s hard to be aggressive on the bases when you can’t get on the bases.
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The offensive slump happens. I’m still encouraged by a lot of what we’ve seen from some of the young guys as most of them are going through a full season for the first time. We are still witnessing one of the best power and speed seasons ever. In some ways, it’s manipulating numbers, but in others, it’s just basing it off the season Bobby Witt Jr. is having. He has 24 doubles, eight triples, 27 home runs and 38 stolen bases. He’s one of five players (six instances) in the history of the game to reach all four of those numbers. The other four are Carlos Beltran, Willie Mays (twice), Jimmy Rollins and Mike Trout. That’s pretty impressive company. So there are at least positive stories to keep an eye on.
The pitching staff feels pretty hopeless, I’m not going to lie. There’s one bright spot right now: Cole Ragans, who should be named American League Pitcher of the Month at some point today. He’s finished the month fourth in innings, first in ERA by 32 points, first in strikeouts by 10 and first in strikeout rate and he’s even tied for fourth in wins if that really matters. I know player of the month awards don’t really mean much, but if he doesn’t win, there’s something wrong with that voting. But outside of Ragans, there’s a lot to be concerned with when it comes to people on the mound for the Royals. That’s where the offseason focus should and likely will be.
As it stands right now, the Royals have 46 players on their 40-man roster. If you don’t know how that’s possible, it’s because players on the 60-day IL don’t count against the number and there are six players on that. Of the six, only Brad Keller has an outside chance to come off that list this season, but even so, the Royals have some work to do. It’s not that they can’t find players to cut because there is plenty of dead weight on that roster, but there’s still work to do.
The free agents who will be automatically removed are Zack Greinke, Brad Keller and Matt Duffy. So that’s three. It might be shorter to make a list of players who are locks to be kept, but I’ll still give you the names of the 16 who could easily be cut or moved in some way to make some room for guys who need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. They are:
Some of these are more likely than others. Clarke, for example, is cheap, was solid enough in 2022 and has been actually quite good in 2023 outside of six weeks where he was horrific. I know that “outside of” is doing a lot of work there, but the Royals are likely not going to be in the business of moving off potentially competent relievers with options. And see, that’s where it gets interesting for a few players.
On the list above, Beaty, Davidson, Hearn, Kowar, Olivares, Staumont and Zerpa will all be out of options in 2024. Who on that list matters much? The Royals might believe they can get the best out of Davidson and Hearn, but also they don’t have much skin in that game. I feel like they’re a little like Anthony Misiewicz last year. They’re here to pitch innings because someone has to and they’ll be gone next season. Staumont, if we’re being honest, may never pitch again. Beaty just doesn’t serve much of a purpose on a team with Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto.
So that leaves Kowar, Olivares and Zerpa and that’s a tricky trio. Kowar clearly has the stuff to be a big league reliever and the Royals don’t exactly have an overabundance of those types. Since he’s been back in the big leagues, it’s been a mixed bag. He’s given up five runs on six hits and walked seven in 6.2 innings, so way more bad than good, but he’s also looked good a couple of times. Does he get one final shot with a short leash? It’s not like he’ll be making much money. I don’t know.
Olivares is a big league caliber bat, but he plays the outfield with a frying pan for a glove and doesn’t hit quite enough to make up for it. I don’t think he just gets non-tendered, but maybe. Or maybe they can find a trade partner in a minor deal. And Zerpa has regressed quite a bit. He ended up pitching pretty well on Wednesday night after a rough start to the outing, but also hasn’t been especially good, displaying some rough command which belies what we saw from him in his previous big league stints. Again, though, can the Royals afford to jettison starting pitching?
There are others who will have options next year. If Snider was called up over Barlow, I don’t think they have much use for him. Castillo feels like an organizational arm who they could keep or could dump and nobody would notice. Heasley is probably not worth holding up a roster spot. McArthur has good stuff, so maybe they give that another go for a year. Taylor can’t be counted on. Eaton may just be a roster casualty of other guys who can do what he does. I don’t think Bowlan has a whole lot to worry about, but he hasn’t bounced back from Tommy John like so many do, so you never know.
I guess the question is how many spots do they actually need? Someone is getting DFA’d today (or I suppose moved to the 60-day IL) with Nick Loftin getting called up. I think they’ll also end up adding Christian Chamberlain, Tyler Gentry, Will Klein, Devin Mann and Anthony Veneziano, so that’s six spots. They usually surprise with someone like Luinder Avila, so let’s call it seven to be safe. That means they need to clear 13 spots from the current 40-man roster. Three are easy free agents. If they move on from five of the seven out-of-options players and keep Kowar and Zerpa, that’s eight spots. Cut Barlow, Castillo, Heasley, Snider and Taylor and you’re right under the gun.
That leaves no room to add anyone else, so they’re going to have to move on from more than 13 players from their current 40-man roster when the season ends. It’s not that they have a dearth of choices for that honor, but it’ll at least be interesting to see what they do.
The Case for Trading Brady Singer
I wrote a lot about the 40-man roster, so it’s pretty far up the page at this point, but you might recall that I mentioned Ragans is the only pitching success right now. Maybe that’s not fair because Singer has been generally fine and often good since his horrific start to the year. I have said multiple times that there isn’t a wrong answer with Singer because of who he is. If they want to shop him and move him, I get it. If they want to give him a five-year deal because they need someone to throw 160 innings, sure. If they just want to go to arbitration every year with him and get those innings without any sort of guaranteed cost and then bid him adieu in free agency, yeah, why not?
With so few successes on the pitching staff, it’s easy to look at the 2024 roster and wonder how the Royals could possibly entertain trading Singer. I get it. If Alec Marsh or Zerpa or Daniel Lynch IV or anyone else had stepped up this year to show that they could give you competent innings, it would change things, but we’ve only seen it in spurts. I suppose there’s still time for Marsh and Zerpa to do that, but we can only discuss what we know right now. And still, there’s a strong case for trading Singer.
That case actually grew a little stronger in my mind than it was a week ago when the Royals acknowledged that he had some arm fatigue and he was going to skip a start. They say all the imaging came back clean and I don’t know why they’d lie about that. Maybe this is just a blip and nothing else. But when a pitcher starts to show sign of injury, it moves the needle some. It’s tough because it’s not like every other team in the league can’t read and doesn’t know that Singer will have missed one of his final six or seven starts because of a tired arm, but if he comes back and pitches well for those final five or six starts, the Royals need to move quickly.
That’s not to say you trade him for anything, but I wouldn’t necessarily be holding out for $1.50 on the dollar for him. I’m generally fine with that for players with so much control, but if you feel there’s any risk, find a fair deal and move on. Does the 2024 club matter that much anyway? I think there is a path to contending next year because the division is so weak, but it would require making more moves than most teams make and hitting on like 80 percent of them. It could absolutely happen, but let’s just say I’m not going to be putting my money on the over next spring.
What does matter is 2025 and beyond. If it feels like I’m moving the goalposts, I probably am, but not by choice. As I’ve written so many times, the reality is what the reality is. The Royals should have been ready to jump into contention in 2024, but they simply aren’t. Nobody can change where the organization is now, it can only be changed moving forward. The Reds had interest in Singer at the deadline. That park is a bandbox, but he gets grounders. That could work. The Red Sox could use some arms. The Angels, Diamondbacks and Dodgers would be a fit. If he’s healthy, a guy like Singer fits on a lot of contending teams.
Can they get back a top-six prospect for him? I think it’s certainly possible. If the Dodgers offered Gavin Stone, Ronan Kopp and Austin Gauthier, I’d keep them on the phone while I called the commissioner’s office to make sure they didn’t have time to change their minds. If the Reds offered up Chase Petty, Lyon Richardson and Leonardo Balcazar, same thing. I don’t know if that’s what Singer can bring back, but with a strong final month, I do think there’s some very real value there and that value can help the Royals a lot more in seasons where they don’t theoretically have to have everything go right. Again, I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer, but there is a case to move him.
A Fun Weekend Ahead
The play on the field might not inspire anyone, but we’re looking to a pretty fun weekend of Royals baseball as they’ll be honoring Ned Yost by inducting him into the team Hall of Fame. So that’ll be really cool. There’s a blue blazer ceremony tonight featuring current members of the team HOF and then the induction on Saturday will feature a ton of Royals who played for Ned. They say to be in your seats by 5 on Saturday night if you’re going to be there and probably in front of your TV by about 5:10 if not.
On the field, the Royals will be taking on the Red Sox. When the Royals were in Boston early in August, they were playing good baseball. They just spent a week losing five of six to the Dodgers and Astros, though, and now their playoff hopes are sort of on life support. They sit 6.5 games out of the last wild card spot with 28 games to play. Luckily for them, the Royals are metaphorical paddles, so I’m sure they feel like they have a chance to make up some ground this weekend. Royals killer, Pablo Reyes, won’t be active for this series as he’s on the IL and Jarren Duran is also out, but their offense is pretty much what the Royals saw other than that. It’s a really good group, but there are holes.
The Red Sox look like they’ll be sending James Paxton, Tanner Houck and Chris Sale to the mound while the Royals will counter with Jordan Lyles and then probably Alec Marsh and Zack Greinke in some form. The Royals saw Paxton in Boston and he threw 5.1 shutout innings but they worked him hard. It was kind of weird. They got him to throw 98 pitches without walking a single batter. Houck and Sale were both on the IL, but Houck has looked okay in his first two starts back and Sale has been pretty uneven. Organizationally the Royals are familiar with Sale, but he actually hasn’t pitched against KC since 2019 and has only made four starts against them since 2016.
My hope is that the Royals can get the offense back on track a little bit and give the Red Sox some trouble because if you can’t be good, it’s at least fun to play spoiler a little bit. I’ve said all year that this Royals team is more resilient than they have any business being, and this would be a good series to show that.