This is the week that rosters will likely change the most from start to finish, so let's see what the Royals will be doing.
Two big dates on the calendar this week impact the way rosters are shaped for the 2024 season. The first is tomorrow (November 14) and it’s the deadline to add players to the 40-man roster who would otherwise be eligible for the Rule 5 draft. The second is Friday (November 17) and that’s the deadline to tender players on the 40-man roster a contract for the 2024 season. That’s only for those players who do not have a guaranteed deal. It’s commonly referred to as the non-tender deadline because if a player isn’t tendered a contract, they are non-tendered.
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I’m going to get to the deadline that’s coming up in just a few hours (or maybe just passed, depending on when you’re reading this), but I want to talk about the non-tender deadline and the aftermath real quick. As I said, these are decisions that are made on all players on the 40-man roster who are not already under a guaranteed contract for 2024. It doesn’t mean they’ll even make the team. The Royals last year agreed to a deal with Ryan O’Hearn and then DFA’d him a few weeks later. And when a contract is reached, it will likely be announced as a one-year deal. Every year when those contracts are announced, people lose it, so hopefully this will help.
Players who have not yet reached six years of service time and have not signed a guaranteed contract extension will simply sign year to year. The reason for that description is this exact deadline. They can be non-tendered the next season. With some exceptions that aren’t worth getting into, once they’re tendered a deal, they’re guaranteed their salary for the following season.
So when word comes out that the Royals agreed to a one-year deal with Brady Singer, it doesn’t mean anything more than they tendered him a contract this week and agreed to a deal later. It’s the same with players who are not yet eligible for arbitration. There will, at some point, be a quiet announcement that they reached a one-year deal with Maikel Garcia or Nick Loftin or Kyle Isbel or Nelson Velazquez or whoever. It doesn’t mean they only have them for one year. It just means they agreed on this particular one-year deal and without an extension before next year, they’ll do it again. Okay, that’s out of the way. So let’s talk about the deadlines.
Rule 5 Deadline
This is the one that I find most interesting every year. If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know that I put together a spreadsheet of every player who I think is interesting who will be Rule 5 eligible for that draft on the last day of the winter meetings. I then wait until, well, tomorrow evening to cross off the names of players who were protected by their teams. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m going to put out some of my favorite names for the Royals to take in the Rule 5 either Wednesday or Thursday. So keep an eye on that.
But the Royals also have to protect some players. For a bad team, often that protection comes during the later months of the previous season. The Royals are no exception. Loftin, John McMillon and Anthony Veneziano were added toward the end of the year. They don’t have too many candidates left, which is partially a result of the 2020 draft year being so odd with just five rounds (this is the year those players become eligible for the Rule 5 if they aren’t on a 40-man), but also because the system isn’t in especially great shape. Let’s take a look at the candidates.
The Obvious Adds
Tyler Gentry - If the Royals don’t add Gentry, I’ll be legitimately shocked. The overall numbers from 2023 don’t stand out - .253/.370/.421 - but the path to get there does. After hitting .321/.417/.555 between high-A and AA in 2022, he started the year in AAA and did not exactly hit the ground running. He had a .660 OPS through April, but the underlying numbers were pretty solid. Pairing a 14.3 percent walk rate with a solid enough 24.1 percent strikeout rate should have produced better than that.
He had an OPS of .822 from that point forward with a 14.1 percent walk rate and 21.7 percent strikeout rate. He doesn’t have huge power, but he should do well with the big alleys of Kauffman Stadium and he’s a good enough defender. I think the biggest mistake the team made in 2023 was not getting him 50-75 at bats late in the year. I would have loved to have gotten a little big league data on him. The Royals are on the hunt for outfield bats, but I wonder a little if they’ve got one already.
Will Klein - Klein is a hard-thrower who occasionally knows where it’s going. He struggled after getting promoted to AAA, but still struck out 28.2 percent of the batters he faced. Could he be part of the 2024 bullpen? Sure. But if they don’t protect him, they’re going to lose a guy with the sort of stuff that you don’t want to lose. It may never work out totally, but that’s not a risk worth taking, especially with the lack of talent they currently have on the pitching staff. Had he pitched better after his AAA promotion, I’d guess he’d have gotten some big league innings in September already.
Who I’d Add
Devin Mann - I don’t know if I’m on an island here, but I think Mann is a big leaguer. I don’t think he’s likely a 150-game regular, but I could see a world where he plays a little first, a little second, a little third and a little outfield and gets into 95-110 games. Put him in the right spots and watch out. He didn’t really have a platoon split last season but he was outstanding against lefties the year before.
The roster construction is a bit unclear for 2024 with guys who have a tenuous hold on their spot on the team due to potential trades, but being able to spell guys like Michael Massey and MJ Melendez against tough lefties is a nice selling point. He didn’t hit for Omaha, but he has an excellent grasp of the zone (14.4 percent walk rate) and enough swing and miss to struggle to play every day. The Royals infield defense is good enough to carry a bat first utility player, in my opinion.
Who I’d Consider
Tucker Bradley - I’m not sure that Bradley is a big leaguer, but he is a professional hitter. Nothing he does is going to wow you, and his power might actually disappoint you given that he’s only a corner outfielder, but he’s just a solid hitter and he’s a pretty solid outfielder as well. I don’t know that I necessarily see a real spot for him on the roster, but I could also see losing him to a team like the A’s and watching him become a non-2019 version of Mark Canha. If they protect Bradley, they’re making other moves that will get people’s attention.
Christian Chamberlain - I’m almost to the point that I’d add Chamberlain because I think there’s a chance the Royals lose him if they don’t. The positives are that he’s a lefty who can get strikeouts. He throws hard with interesting movement and has a really good curve. He doesn’t throw strikes, which is a problem, but the kind of stuff he has is something you really don’t want to lose. He gave up just 13 hits in 31.2 AA innings this past year, but struggled when he got to Omaha. He’s right on the edge for me.
Tyler Tolbert - Similarly, I think Tolbert is close too. He made headlines in 2022 by going 60 for 60 in steals. He wasn’t perfect in 2023, but he stole 50 bases again and added some power to his game. He came into the year with 10 minor league home runs in more than 1,100 plate appearances and then hit 10 in AA in 574 plate appearances. Prior to this season, he’d never shown any ability to impact the ball, which made him basically a pinch runner/defensive replacement only. Now, there’s some utility potential as well. What’s interesting to me is that he added that power while reducing his strikeout rate. Plus, he can play middle infield and center field. There’s big value in that. I might be talking myself into him being on the above list as I write this.
Beck Way - I would not add Way, but I do think there’s a long conversation to be had about it. He was an absolute mess in the rotation. He had a 9.23 ERA with a walk rate of 18.5 percent and a strikeout rate of 17.5 percent. Those are “release me” numbers. But in the bullpen, he posted a 1.93 ERA with a 10.7 percent walk rate and 28.6 percent strikeout rate. Those are “promote me” numbers. I don’t know what he is, though. He has a fastball in the upper-90s and a slider that is flat out nasty. Maybe 2023 was just a weird year for him. He was good as a starter in 2023, even after coming over from the Yankees. I don’t think he gets picked, but I could see an argument for him to be protected.
The Rest of the Real Decisions
CJ Alexander, Jonah Dipoto, Clay Dungan, John Rave, TJ Sikkema, Evan Sisk, Jacob Wallace
I’d definitely add three players and I’d consider two more seriously and two more a little less seriously. I don’t think any of the final group gets real consideration, but you never know. The Royals seem to always throw in a surprise. Either way, no matter how many they add, that’s as many as they need to get rid off of the 40-man roster because it sits full at 40 right now. Which gives them a head start on the next deadline this week.
A team that finished with 106 losses and doesn’t have, let’s say, the best farm system should have a ton of options to cut loose to make room for players who might actually be good options moving forward.
Jonathan Bowlan - I don’t think Bowlan loses his roster spot, at least not this round. But he didn’t come back from Tommy John as strong as he went into it. He just wasn’t very good in the minors and had a brief big league audition where he looked fine, but I could see the Royals moving on at some point.
Max Castillo - There’s nothing especially interesting about Castillo. But sometimes that’s okay and useful to have a guy who will generally throw strikes and give some innings here and there. He only has one more year of options remaining, so there isn’t a lot of time left on the Castillo train, which might make him someone to purge sooner than later, though.
Austin Cox - It was great to see Cox get to the big leagues last year and he was pretty successful. I’m not sure he can be a late-inning reliever, but he was capable in the middle innings. Where he finds himself in trouble, in my opinion, is that he got hurt and will likely miss a good portion, if not all, of the 2024 season. Inventory is important and Cox won’t take up a 40-man spot once the 60-day IL can be used, but he’d have to take one up all offseason and I’m not sure he showed enough to keep that spot in use all winter when they can likely do something similar to what they’ve done in the past and re-sign him to a minor league deal.
Jonathan Heasley - On one hand, Heasley has shown next to nothing. On the other hand, he’s another pitcher working with Tread this winter to help add a little something to his repertoire. I still believe short relief may be the way to go for Heasley, but he’s also going to be out of options after 2024 and has yet to be anything better than vaguely serviceable.
Diego Hernandez - A year ago Hernandez was added after a breakout minor league season that ended with him playing well at AA. Then he hurt himself in spring training and missed about half the year. He came back and just wasn’t good at that same level. He’ll only be 23 in 2024, and I don’t know how likely it is that he gets cut, but I think he’s put himself in jeopardy with a rough season in 2023.
Jackson Kowar - Helping Kowar stay on the roster is that he showed flashes of being a good reliever. Hurting him is that he showed more flashes of not being very good in that role. Hurting him even more is that he’s out of options, so he could be taking up a 40-man spot all winter only to have to be exposed to waivers as a DFA candidate if he doesn’t land on the big league roster. I’m not sure if he’s the first to go to make room for the Rule 5 guys, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if he doesn’t make it past Friday.
Logan Porter - It was a great story when Porter got the callup to the big leagues, but it took quite a few circumstances to go his way with the Royals deciding Melendez isn’t a catcher, Freddy Fermin getting hurt and Salvador Perez getting hurt. They do usually keep three catchers on the 40-man and I think there’s a real chance that Salvy gets dealt, but even so, I’d say Porter’s 40-man spot grip is tenuous at best.
Nick Pratto - I don’t think Pratto is at real risk right now, but I don’t think he’s guaranteed a 40-man spot heading into the season. He will have an option left in 2024, so that helps, but he just hasn’t been good enough and I can’t imagine a world where a first baseman who can’t hit is part of the solution.
Collin Snider - My prediction for the DFA when a roster move has been made in the past is almost always Snider. And yet, he’s still on the roster. He’s such an enigma because you can watch him pitch and really see what the organization has seen in him. But then the results are what the results are. Ultimately, the results have to win and if the Royals are serious about improving the bullpen, Snider isn’t an answer. Like so many others, he’ll be out of options after 2024 as well.
Josh Staumont - Ahh what could have been. Sadly, Staumont’s career has been derailed, a lot by injuries. Now he’s dealing with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is often a career killer. I just don’t see a way he comes back from it, at least not with the Royals and not on the 40-man roster for much longer. It’s unfortunate, but that’s life, I guess.
Josh Taylor - I know there was a lot of consternation about getting Taylor for Adalberto Mondesi and he did post a negative fWAR, which makes him less valuable than Mondesi even though Mondesi didn’t play a single game, but I was fine with the trade. I think Taylor could be a good enough lefty in a deep bullpen with his great slider. But he had injury issues again and wasn’t effective when he pitched. My guess is that it could go either way with him, but I think he’s on borrowed time.
Samad Taylor - I don’t think this Taylor deserves to be on the chopping block. He hit well in Omaha, but didn’t really perform well in his big league opportunity. Why he’s on this list is because of how the Royals used him. He was used quite sparingly and then demoted and didn’t come back in September. I think that’s telling and while I think he ultimately is tendered a contract, I won’t be surprised if he isn’t.
I don’t feel especially good about a few of these, but at some point, production has to happen. Three above, Cox, Staumont and Josh Taylor, could easily be let go because of injuries, which is pretty crappy, but it’s also the reality of the world we live in. I think the option situation with Kowar hurts him quite a bit and I wonder just how many chances Heasley is going to get to prove his worth to the organization. Hernandez and Porter are guys who I think could easily go Friday as well. There is a lot of dead roster weight that can get trimmed and that’s not even accounting for trading off the 40-man roster at some point too.
Tyler Gentry photo by the incredible Minda Haas Kuhlmann