Since October, I have been visiting and revisiting the projected Opening Day roster for the Royals.   Usually, this column appeared right around the first of the month and was rather routinely outdated in short order by Dayton Moore.   We have seen this group of twenty-five change due to the DeJesus and Greinke trades, the signings of Francouer, Cabrera and Francis and more than one comment from the organization.

Now, on the heels of the first spring training game, we are really getting closer to knowing (barring injury) who is actually going to break camp with the Royals.   That may seem funny to say with all of nine innings of exhibition ball in the books, but I think it is true.   Ned Yost, after all, observed that the lineup from Sunday could very well be the Opening Day lineup and that should not have surprised anyone.    I already had the exact nine hitters that started today in this column as the starting lineup on March 31st (admittedly not in that particular batting order) and I imagine a lot of you had the same group…..for better or worse.

Without further delay, let’s get to this month’s addition of the Opening Day 25.

POSITION PLAYERS – The Starters

  • Catcher – Brayan Pena
  • First Base – Billy Buter
  • Second Base – Chris Getz
  • Shortstop – Alcides Escobar
  • Third Base – Mike Aviles
  • Leftfield – Alex Gordon
  • Centerfield – Melky Cabrera
  • Rightfield – Jeff Francouer
  • Designated Hitter – Kila Ka’ahuie

I think each month’s column has had a different player in centerfield, but my guess is Cabrera might be locked into the position.   While it is just one spring training game, I found it telling that when Lorenzo Cain was subbed in on Sunday, it was to play rightfield.   That hardly sounds like a move a team makes if they are legitimately giving a guy a shot at winning the job.   It’s early and that is an admittedly knee-jerk reaction (if Yost gives Cain 45 innings in center this week, I will be delighted – and incredibly surprised), but I doubt the Royals are seriously considering Cain as their Opening Day centerfielder.

The big name missing from the above lineup is, of course, Mike Moustakas.   It has been discussed in detail nearly everywhere by everyone, but it is worth reiterating that there are two time-lines when it comes to Moustakas.   The first is free agency and the second arbitration eligibility.   A player needs six full years (a year is defined as 172 days on the major league roster or disabled list) to become eligible for free agency and the Royals could essentially get a ‘free’ seventh year out of Moustakas by simply waiting until just mid-April to bring him up. 

When it comes to arbitration, however, Dayton Moore would likely need to keep Moustakas in Omaha until sometime into June to avoid him becoming a ‘Super Two’ and be eligible for arbitration (and hence more expensive sooner) an extra year.   The arbitration and free agency clocks have nothing to do with one another.  

Frankly, right now, I am all for getting that seventh year of team control, but less interested in avoiding Super Two status.    The Royals are being coy in this regard, with Dayton Moore mentioning this weekend that ‘some in the organization believe Moustakas needs more time in the minors, but others believe he is ready to go right now.’   In the end, Moustakas will not make the Opening Day roster for reasons related to free agency, arbitration AND experience.  

It would take little to persuade me that Mike might indeed be served well by another 150 AAA plate appearances and, hence, if it is June before we see Moose in Kansas City that is probably okay.   Of course, I will tolerate that a lot more if we see Lorenzo Cain in Kansas City by then as well.    Anyway, don’t look for Moustakas or Cain on the short bench.

POSITION PLAYERS – Bench

  • Catcher – Lucas May
  • Infield – Wilson Betemit
  • Outfield – Mitch Maier, Gregor Blanco

That is an unimaginative group, I know, but the Royals seem much more cognizant of who has options and who doesn’t as opposed to who can play and who can’t.   Hopefully, this is the last spring where we can say ‘it really doesn’t matter right now.’   I think the odds are tremendous that the above four bench players will not even be on the 2012 roster.

PITCHING – The Starting Rotation

  • Luke Hochevar
  • Jeff Francis
  • Kyle Davies
  • Bruce Chen
  • Vin Mazzaro

We will hear a lot about the ‘competiton’ for the rotation this spring and the names of Aaron Crow, Danny Duffy, Everett Teaford and many others will be bandied about.  In truth, the first four guys are locks and Mazzaro will almost surely beat out Sean O’Sullivan (who is still young, by the way) for the fifth spot.    Mazzaro-O’Sullivan is the only relevant starting rotation battle this spring.

The Royals, should they so choose, could juggle the roster around a little early in the season as they won’t need a fifth starter until April 9th.   It may be more likely that they would use the fifth starter as a reliever for the first week of the season rather than make another roster move.

PITCHING – The Bullpen

  • Joakim Soria
  • Robinson Tejeda
  • Blake Wood
  • Jeremy Jeffress
  • Tim Collins
  • Nathan Adcock
  • Greg Holland

The last couple of spots in the bullpen are always the ones that go to down to the last day of camp.   I will admit to using a good deal of ‘hope’ in compiling the above list.   Quite honestly, the last two spots could have been written:

  • not Jesse Chavez
  • not Kanekoe Texeira

Pretty much everyone is on the Jeffress and Collins bandwagon, but I think Greg Holland is going to prove to be much better this spring than he appeared to be last fall.   I am also guessing that the Royals keep the Rule 5 acquired Adcock around because, well, it’s not like they can’t afford the time to give him a good long look.   That Louis Coleman is not on this projected 25 does not mean that I don’t expect to see him in Kansas City sooner rather than later.

Well, that is the ‘best guess’ for this month.  Thirty days from now, the guessing will be all over.