The Royals and the 40-Man Roster Crunch
Decision time is looming...
The issue with a 40-man roster is that there’s a limit of 40 players allowed to be on it at one time. Okay, sure, suspensions and 60-day injured list players can allow more to appear on it, but still, there’s a limit, okay? And this is where the Royals might find themselves in a bit of a pickle come the off-season. First, let’s take a look at the players involved in said crunch and then we can talk about what it might mean for them this season and beyond.
The Royals currently have 38 players on their 40-man roster. That includes Daniel Tillo, who will eventually go on the 60-day IL as he’s going to miss the entire season, but he’ll also need to be added back after the season, so for these purposes, we’ll count him. They’re likely going to add Wade Davis and Hanser Alberto before the start of the season, and they might add Brad Brach to the bullpen as well, so there are some moving parts here, but on that roster, there are a few players who are not under contract beyond 2021.
Michael A. Taylor
This doesn’t account for the three minor league free agents I mentioned who have a good shot at the 40-man roster, two of whom will be free agents after the season.
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I think the odds are pretty good that Perez will stay around, and I feel like as long as the Royals feel like Holland has it, he’ll be back. I also wouldn’t be too surprised if Taylor is back as well given the dearth of center fielders in the system and on the market, though it’s hard to say how likely that is. Even with those two, let’s only re-add Perez, knowing that it’s nearly a lock that he’ll get an extension before free agency. That’s six removed, but there are a handful of possibilities to be removed at some point now and when they need to add players to the 40-man roster:
I don’t know if they’re all likely to be removed in some way, but let’s say three of the five are. Now we’ve seen 10-13 players cut off the current 40-man and then Tillo added back, so we’ll say the 40-man is sitting at 29 after the season. And this is where the crunch comes. The Royals have a lot of players who have a case to be added to the roster after the season to avoid being exposed in the Rule 5 draft. One more list, I promise. They are:
That’s 15 players. Now, not all will have seasons that force them to be added to the roster. A couple others could potentially find their way onto deserving this list like Dairon Blanco or Juan Carlos Negret and the Royals almost always have some sort of surprise inclusion, but for now, let’s pretend like it’s 15 players. The roster we’ve already discussed is too full for all 15. Even if it’s 10 of the 15, though, the Royals would probably not like fill their roster almost to the brim before they even get to free agency.
Okay, now that we’ve gone through the whole background, we need to discuss what this could mean. And just so you know, these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
Trades Are Coming
The easiest way to clean up some excess roster is to make some trades. It can be done with multiple players for one or they can push the cart down the road and trade for prospects maybe a year or two away from needing to be added to the roster. Where the Royals sit right now, they appear to be getting close to the time where they are looking to fill specific holes. I mentioned a center field need moving forward. Maybe two prospects can bring back Trent Grisham from San Diego or something like that.
Whatever the move is, the Royals could use their impressive pitching prospect depth to fill whatever holes they deem are left on this team after evaluating throughout the 2021 season. They could also go the other way and move a guy like Brad Keller for prospects since they have so many pitchers on the way. Or it could be another veteran, but they can either clear some space on the roster for incoming players or trade some of those incoming players.
Trial by Fire
The Royals have enough DFA candidates and will likely have to use the 60-day IL at some point to open some spots throughout the season. At those times, they can bring up some of these players who will have to be added eventually. For some, like Dye, Miller and Rivera, the trial by fire could lead to a DFA of their own either in-season or before the roster moves need to start after the season. It would actually make a lot of sense to give them a shot before they have to add anyone and determine where they fit.
For the rest, though, the trial by fire could be what leads to a trade of them, though that’s risky. One of the things the Royals telegraph is which of their prospects they’re interested in dealing by not actually bringing them to the big leagues. They did that with Wil Myers back in 2012 when he was clearly the best right fielder in the organization and I think they did that with Khalil Lee this past season, though I’m not sure they extracted maximum value out of him unless he was a key to the Andrew Benintendi deal.
This path is predicated on having the actual spots available, which will be true for a few guys, but not all of them.
Let it Ride
The third option, as I said before, isn’t mutually exclusive. The organization is going to be doing a lot of evaluating this season in the minors. All 15 listed above, plus a handful of others who are probably on the periphery of this list, will need to be evaluated especially heavily. A guy like Melendez, for example, basically has no shot to make the big leagues with four catchers currently on the 40-man (though it’ll probably be three by the time we hit Opening Day). Pratto also has next to no shot without injury. Same with Matias.
But some of the pitchers do have a shot given the nature of the 2021 season and the likelihood of more injuries than we care to admit. But a pitcher like Morel doesn’t have much of a chance, though with his stuff is a very likely candidate to be plucked from them in the Rule 5 draft, a la Elvis Luciano a couple years ago. Maybe the Royals just realize that’s a cost of doing business with so many pitching prospects, but who knows?
So they’ll spend the year determining who is worthy of those valuable roster spots.
What are the impacts?
I’m glad you asked. For one, the number of players needing to be added after the season could be bad news for prospects who might be close to ready but don’t have to be added before the 2022 season. The two names that come to mind here are Asa Lacy and Bobby Witt, Jr., neither of whom have to be added before December of 2023. I hope the Royals, if they’re contending, wouldn’t worry about that and I don’t think they will. But if they’re not, I could see that being a factor.
Edited to add: Bobby Witt, Jr. has decided that he doesn’t like me continuing to not project him on to the roster at any point in 2021 based on hitting absolute bombs in spring training.
And it impacts pending free agents. I’m sure Duffy wants to stay with the Royals long-term, but look back at that list above. There are eight pitchers on that list alone and others who aren’t far behind. Whatever your thoughts on Duffy, I’m not really sure they have the room to keep him around without moving some other parts, which is certainly possible, but I don’t know that they’ll shuffle the roster for him.
This is a good problem to have. And things to tend to work out, but as of right now, the Royals have to be preparing to have a lot of tough decisions over the next eight months or so with a lot of talent knocking on the door of the 40-man roster. How they handle it will have a reasonably large impact on the next few years of Royals baseball, so it’s no small task.