Kyle Davies finally had a decent spring outing on Saturday and, in a weird way, somewhat clarified the bullpen situation for the Royals. Bob Dutton, who is always on the case, touches on this subject as well in his Sunday article in the Kansas City Star.

When you read the club’s comments on Davies, you can clearly see how desperately the Royals want Kyle to have the fifth starter spot. He has teased the Royals for two years: sprinkling a good start, sometimes even a good month, in amongst a collection of pretty painful outings. After three basically awful appearances to start the spring, Davies came up with a nice one on Saturday and is suddenly the ‘clear frontrunner’ for the job.

We can discuss this calamity another day (my personal over/under on the number of pitchers who will occupy the 5th starter spot this season is 4), for now though we are talking bullpen.

Given the Royals’ predisposition to lean towards Davies, the fact that he is out of options and my own personal horror of seeing a player with Kyle’s control problems and propensity to mentally implode come out of the bullpen, let’s assume that he will be given the fifth starter role to start the season.

That pushes Robinson Tejeda, who is also out of options, into the pen as well as Kyle Farnsworth, who is too expensive to just drop. The Royals have to keep Tejeda, if only because Davies will eventually pitch his way out of the rotation, and because Robinson goes through stretches where he is pretty dominant. As for Farnsworth, the idea of ‘Bradeen Loopering him’ is intriguing, plus someone has to pitch in blowouts.

Also given a courtesy look at the number five spot was Rule 5 draftee Edgar Osuna. He has not been spectacular this spring, but he has not been horrible, either. Considering his Rule 5 status, the fact that he is only twenty-two and left-handed, Osuna is an almost certain lock to make the team. All things being equal, it certainly makes more sense to keep a young lefty who might help you in the future as opposed to an aging righty (or lefty) who might help you a little now.

While on the subject of virtual locks, we can add Ramon Colon to that list. Whether it is organization hype, spring training skewed optimism or really the result of finally being healthy, Colon is on the verge of locking down a primary set-up role. He is throwing harder than last season and has a new and improved slider that has thus far eluded spring training bats. Those of you longing for ‘good character guys’ won’t enjoy it, but I could really care less as long as he gets people out while simultaneously staying out of jail.

So, at this point, here is the bullpen:

  • Closer: Joakim Soria
  • Setup 1: Ramon Colon
  • Setup 2:
  • Middle 1: Robinson Tejeda
  • Middle 2:
  • Middle/Long: Kyle Farnsworth
  • Long: Edgar Osuna

Barring a trade and there have been rumors of such, Juan Cruz gets one of the two remaining spots. In Cruz and Farnsworth, the Royals are obligated to pay over six million this year, which is another topic for another day. For the purposes of this discussion, all that means is both their names will be on the 25 man roster come April 5th.

As for the trade rumors, I would be delighted if the Royals could move Cruz for a minor league position player, even if it meant picking up all of his salary. The money’s gone, let’s get someone that might help the team down the road or, at least, be around down the road. Given that Dayton Moore and David Glass do not seem to think that way, I doubt a deal gets done as the Royals will be looking for payroll relief more than anything else.

Frankly, despite his dismal 2009, has a far better track record out of the pen than anyone else on the roster not named Soria, so keeping him around is no big deal.The best case might be having Cruz excel as a setup man in the first half of the season and flipping him for a prospect in July.

The brings us down to one final opening in the bullpen with the following realistic contenders:

  • Blake Wood- The former third round pick is kind of the sexy choice for this last spot right now and has had an excellent spring to date. Wood throws hard and there has long been rumblings of his eventual destination being the back of the bullpen, despite having started 68 of 73 minor league games. That said, Wood has never pitched above AA and has struggled at that level more than succeeded. While there is certainly some allure to having Wood break camp with the Royals, the wiser course of action would be to give him a couple of months in AAA to get some more seasoning as a reliever.
  • Dusty Hughes- With 606 minor league innings under his belt, there is little left for Dusty Hughes to prove in the minors. Last year, the southpaw got a September look with the Royals: doing okay, but missing time with an injury, too. In AAA last year, Hughes held left-handed hitters to just a .208 average, but over his career Dusty has not had such a dramatic lefty/righty split. Trey Hillman has professed a need for a lefty specialist in the pen, which is laughable considering he had one in Jimmy Gobble two years ago and not a clue as to how to use him properly.
  • John Parrish- Another lefty, Parrish is 32 years old with a 174 major league games under his belt and three season ending injuries over the last eight years. He can post some strikeout numbers (7.3K/9 over his career), but also struggles with control (6.1BB/9). Another pitcher who has had a nice spring, the Royals are a little concerned about Parrish’s ability to pitch on back to back days.
  • Josh Rupe- The 27 year old right hander posted a 6.67 ERA in AAA for the Rangers last year, although it is noteworthy that his FIP was just 4.12. When he is keeping the ball down and inducing ground balls, as he did when Josh was a legitimate prospect back in 2004-2005, Rupe can be pretty effective. When he is not, opponents beat him up. Prior to a tough outing this weekend, Rupe had been lights out in spring. Like Parrish, he is another guy with a skepticism inducing K/BB career ratio of just 1.17. Unlike Parrish, this pitcher is not a strikeout artist by any means.
  • Brad Thompson- Resume wise, this 28 year old right hander brings the most to the table with 185 career major league appearances that include 32 starts with the Cardinals. Thompson averages just over four strikeouts per nine innings, but counters that by allowing only two walks per nine innings and inducing twice as many ground balls as fly balls. You have to like his versatility and experience, but you wonder how much Thompson will suffer going from the NL to the AL and pitching in front of the Royals’ infield defense as opposed to that of the Cardinals.

Roster-wise, there is no problem with any of these guys. Hughes and Wood are both on the 40 man roster and both have options. While Parrish, Rupe and Thompson are non-roster invitees, the Royals have a 40 man spot in their pocket as all they have to do is put Jeff Bianchi on the 60 day disabled list to free up a spot.

Of course, there are some other guys floating around camp with an outside shot, too. Notably Anthony Lerew and Gaby Hernandez, each of whom is out of options. I get the sense, however, that the real competition is between the five we detailed above.

As is often the case, the last spot in the bullpen is traditionally the last spot secured when a team breaks camp. I do not envision the Royals doing much to even thin the competition before the first week of April, so we have a couple more weeks to analyze this battle a little further.

While some may find this spot mostly irrelevant the battle mostly boring, I might remind you that Jamey Wright was probably the ‘last guy in’ in 2009 and ended up effecting the outcomes of a lot of games during the regular season.