With the signings of Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen this past weekend, the Royals have to make a couple of moves to free up space on the forty man roster for those two. While this seems like a fairly easy process (for those of us who don’t have to call a guy and say, ‘Hey, how’s your winter going? By the way, you’re being designated for assignment. Take care.’), I have almost never guessed correctly which players Dayton Moore decides to remove.
A quick glance at the current roster probably would lead almost all us to think the decision comes down to a quartet of relievers: Henry Barrera, Jesse Chavez, Dusty Hughes and Kanekoa Texeira. Looking at pitching makes sense given that the two guys the Royals just signed are pitchers. Taking a chance on losing relievers is logical given that Bruce Chen can pitch out of relief and also because the first wave of the actual Process that is going to reach the majors is predominately relievers.
It is very possible the Royals break camp this spring with Tim Collins in the bullpen. Certainly, Blake Wood, now that he has learned it is okay to strike guys out, will be part of the twenty-five that go north. They might well be joined by Louis Coleman and/or Greg Holland, with Blaine Hardy not far behind. Those names are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to good bullpen arms in the organization.
Digressing just a moment, perhaps the impending arrival of a number of rookies (or near rookies in the case of Wood and Holland) in the bullpen is as good a reason as any for the Royals to sign Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis. Signing those two veterans, even if they turn out to be Scott Elarton and Mark Redman revisited, buys time for the young starters we are all counting on. Heck, it buys time for Sean O’Sullivan for that matter. It also buys time for the young relievers.
Let’s say Danny Duffy makes his major league debut on August 1st. He allows two runs through five plus innings, but gets into trouble in the sixth. It makes a lot more sense to have Louis Coleman, with nearly a full season of experience under his belt, come in with two on and one out in the sixth than if he was also just weeks into his major league career. Tim Collins, also with four months in the majors on his resume, would come in to pitch the seventh and Blake Wood, now with over a year of experience, would polish off the eighth.
That is a whimsical little scenario, of course, but what I am trying to illustrate is that the Royals have a chance to pair a very young 2012 starting rotation with a young, but experienced, bullpen corps. I think there is genuine value in having that mix and doing so without spending four million on veteran relievers next winter.
Anyway, back to our 40 man roster dilemma – if you can call it that.
Of the four pitchers mentioned above, Henry Barrera does one thing the others to not: strike guys out (10.3/9 over his career). Health has been an issue for him and with less than half a season above A ball, Henry is the only one of the four who has virtually no shot at being on the early season 2011 roster. That said, I hang on to Barrera.
After that, designating either Hughes, Chavez or Texeira for assignment will not cause me to lose any sleep. First off, there is a real chance that those guys do not get claimed by another team and end up right back in the organization just as Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadski did. If not, does it matter in the long-term? Does it even really matter in the short-term?
In the end, I would probably cut loose Texeira and Chavez simply because Dusty Hughes did manage to throw over 50 innings of marginally passable major league work in 2010. If the Royals want to give Coleman, et.al. a month or so in AAA, then Hughes is the stop-gap guy they can turn to. Left-handers who have pitched in the majors are also less likely to make it through waivers than right-handers who have yet to, you know, get anyone out.
While the long-term success of the Royals is hardly going to be effected by this decision, it is a roster decision that will give us an idea as to the make-up of the early 2011 bullpen.