There’s not much that needs to be said on the Rick Ankiel signing that Craig, Rany and Will have not already covered. Truthfully, Dayton Moore is batting .500 on my ledger for the off-season. I like the Teahen for Getz/Fields trade, don’t mind the Ankiel signing, am rather unenthusiastic about Scott Podseknik and completely bored (rapidly becoming angered with each new signing of a catcher across the league) with the Jason Kendall signing.
The current roster construction has led even Craig into my world of conspiratorial theories with each acquisition. He, along with many others, will join those of us who have waited for the ‘follow up trade’ to these moves for the entirety of the Dayton Moore era. One of these days, there actually will be an accompanying move that ties all the preceding signings into an actual logical thought process…….maybe.
Anyway, let’s move on in our ‘If Everything Goes Right’ series and quickly cover the bullpen before we finish up with the starting rotation on Wednesday.
While most agree that the potential starting pitching depth in the Royals’ system is THE strength of the organization, I would offer that the stable of relievers, while not near as exciting, is almost as promising. Of course, the very nature of relievers means that trades, signings, implosions and resurrections of careers will be commonplace in this area over the next three years. For the Royals, as long as none of the four occurrences are mentioned in the same sentence as Joakim Soria, the bullpen will at least have a star to close out games. Now, getting there is another thing entirely.
Barring a catastrophic injury, the Royals should be able to count on one of top five closer in baseball to anchor the back of their bullpen from now until at least 2013. Soria’s injury troubles early last season probably put an end to any speculation of him becoming a starter at some point, so let’s just assume that Joakim stays healthy and remains effective (I can’t see him faltering if he stays healthy – in fact, I see him becoming even better) for the next four seasons.
Who fills the spots in front of Soria in 2010 remains something of a mystery for right now, but if everything goes right, Juan Cruz bounces back with a dominant first half setting up Soria and is shipped out for something of use at the trade deadline. I trade Cruz because he is expendable due to the emergence of Carlos Rosa as the primary setup man for years to come. Rosa had some struggles last year, but he can be dominant and possesses maybe the best fastball in the organization. Having struck out nine plus batters per nine innings, there is little left for him to prove in AAA.
If Rosa emerges in 2010 as THAT guy, then the bullpen picture gets easier down the line: with Rosa and Soria, we have nailed down the 8th and 9th innings for 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Now, there will be a lot of guys coming and going during this timeframe. The nature of the bullpen means you’ll have the Dusty Hughes, Matt Herges, Ramon Colons of the world, with yet to be named veterans, journeymen and promising young arms all coming and going. What will will focus on here is the guys who will come up and hopefully stick to fill out the pen.
For mid to late 2010, that means an arrival of the two Chris': Hayes and Nicoll.
Submariner Chris Hayes is something of a blogosphere icon: loved and hated. In fact, it has kind of become the cool thing for the ‘knowledgeable’ fan to say Hayes is nothing but hype. I don’t buy it. As long as there are just a handful of submarining pitchers in the game, I think the likes of Hayes has a use in a bullpen. Sandwiched between fairly traditional fastball/curve starters and Carlos Rosa throwing 97 in the 8th, I think a change of pace guy like Chris Hayes has a real role. While he struggled enough in Omaha late last season to make one think that Hayes is more of a middle inning guy than a seventh or eighth inning pressure guy, I like him in the Royals pen by mid-season and sticking there in one role or another for several years.
Chris Nicoll, who has already flamed out as a starter and come back to life as a reliever, is a more traditional pitcher, but one with potential to pair up with Rosa in the later innings. Nicoll was not able to duplicate his 4.5 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio of 2008, but still had fashioned a nice season in AA (58 K in 61 innings) before struggling in Omaha. Due to roster problems, however, Nicoll started in five of the six games he appeared in at AAA and I expect a few months back in his relief role might have the big club looking to him for a mid-season promotion in 2010.
The Royals, should it all go right, could then open 2011 with a bullpen of Soria, Rosa, Nicoll and Hayes (probably Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna, too, but there is talk of him as a starter, also). That group would look for mid-season additions from Greg Holland (183 K in 172 innings) who has gone from rookie ball to AAA in three seasons, and quirky Louis Coleman. Just drafted last year, Coleman pitched at both levels of A-ball last year, striking out 22 in 21 innings and allowing just 10 hits. He projects as a fast mover through the system, so I don’t think relief appearances by mid-2011 are out of the question.
Coming along behind those two would be Henry Barrera, who was good enough to earn a 40 man roster spot last winter only to have his 2009 season washed away by injuries. A huge strikeout guy, Barrera could join or even replace Rosa as the primary set-up man….if everything breaks right.
Also expect undrafted Barry Bowden to be along in this timeframe as well. All Bowden has done since being bypassed by all 30 teams through 50 separate rounds is strike 125 batters in 95 innings while allowing just 61 hits. He finished up in High A last year and will be in AA to start 2010. He could be in the majors by late 2011.
Already, by spring of 2012, I have more guys than fit in a bullpen (even Trey Hillman’s bullpen), which is a good sign, because not everything does or will go right. Yet, we have not brought Blake Wood, Jason Godin, Blaine Hardy, Patrick Keating or Brandon Sisk into the discussion, either.
Bottom line, I like the arms in the system that profile out as relievers over the next two to three years. I like them enough to believe that any contract to a veteran reliever that is more than a one year deal is simply a bad idea. Trading for bullpen help? I like that idea even less. The nice thing about the bullpen situation is that, unlike the tremendous potential of the minor league starters, a lot of these guys are months, not years, away from the majors.