Last year, I did a monthly speculation on what the Opening Day roster would be.  Obviously, it changed dramatically from month to month and likely will again this year.   Certainly this projection is open for debate and likely to change, but….

In reality, baseball’s off-season has barely even begun, but the possibility exists that Dayton Moore’s activities this winter may already be done.   The signing of Bruce Chen to a two year deal makes me believe that the Royals dipped their organizational toe in the off-season waters and determined that there was little chance of rationally acquiring a starting pitcher for a better value than Chen.

If Moore was truly planning or even hoping for a big splash via either free agency or a trade then it would seem unlikely that he would have forfeited the compensation draft pick that would come with another team signing the mighty Chen.   If the Royals thought that it was more than a remote possibility of getting a top of the rotation type starter, then you almost have to believe the draft driven Royals would have waited before signing Chen and forsaking the extra draft pick next summer.

Now, we don’t really know what the thought process was, but I’m pretty sure one of the following (no idea which) pegs it:

  • We really, really like Bruce Chen and want him to pitch for us for the next two years.
  • This market is stupid crazy.  Not only are we not going to sign anyone decent, somebody is going to give Bruce more than we are.
  • Bruce Chen will help the Royals contend in 2012.
  • This market is stupid crazy.  Come summer, Chen is going to look like a great deal to some contender.

Truth is, whatever the thought process, Bruce Chen is a Royal for 2012 and your starting rotation is almost assuredly going to be Chen, Jonathan Sanchez, Felipe Paulino, Luke Hochevar and Danny Duffy.   I will admit to being much higher on Duffy than a lot of people, but I saw a young pitcher with dynamic stuff who simply needs to learn how to put away major league hitters when he is ahead in the count.   You don’t learn that in Omaha and, frankly, that puts Duffy light years ahead of the likes of Hochevar or Davies at a similar age.

The Royals are certain to give Everett Teaford, Luis Mendoza, Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow a look at starting this spring, but it would seem extremely likely that the five mentioned above will be the starting rotation.   The question come April may well be whether Teaford and Crow start the season in the 2012 major league pen or honing their craft as starters on the Omaha mound.

 So, what about the Opening Day Roster?

Starting Rotation – Hochevar, Sanchez, Paulino, Chen & Duffy

Bullpen – Joakim Soria, Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Everett Teaford, Aaron Crow and Blake Wood

Yes, I think the Royals will go with an eight man bullpen – even in April.  When you have Sanchez and Duffy, both of whom are possibilities to put up some short starts on a regular basis due to their high pitch counts, I think an eight man pen is almost, ALMOST, logical.  Frankly, the bullpen is a strength and the rotation is still a weakness.  Why not count on three plus innings every night from the pen and limit the exposure of your weaker unit?

Catcher – Salvador Perez

First Base – Eric Hosmer

Second Base – Johnny Giavotella

Shortstop – Alcides Escobar

Third Base – Mike Moustakas

DH – Billy Butler

Left Field – Alex Gordon

Center Field – Lorenzo Cain

Right Field – Jeff Francouer

With the possible exception of second base, this lineup is  a virtual lock.   When it comes to second, I think the organization is pretty much committed to giving Giavotella a shot.   After all, the list of average to good major league players who sucked their first six weeks in the majors is very long.   Should Johnny show up and hit decently and not be a total butcher during spring training, I think he will get the nod at second.   After all, he might be Marcus Giles.

Bench – Brayan Pena, Jarrod Dyson, Eric Duncan or Yamaico Navarro

The real spring training competition will be for these three (four if they go with a now traditional 7 man pen) spots.  Chris Getz is, of course, in the mix – particularly if the Royals want Navarro to play everyday in Omaha.   Getz really can’t play shortstop or third on a daily basis, but he can manage it for a game or two if Escobar or Moustakas had an in-game injury.   You can throw Irving Falu into the mix as well as his versatility would play well on a team with a three man bench.   I think Dyson gets the nod over Mitch Maier because he brings one ‘plus tool’ (and a bunch of minus tools as well), which is one more than Maier has.

In the end, I don’t think the Royals put anyone on the bench that they have big plans for in the future.  Honestly, barring injury, how often is the bench going to play?   If they commit to giving Giavotella half a season, which I think happens, then your bench guys maybe play once a week.  That’s why I don’t think Navarro is on the roster as he is still young and with potential and why a journeyman like Duncan maybe does make it.

Well, there is your first pass at next year’s twenty-five.    With the Winter Meetings just a week away, things are very possibly going to look different sooner rather than later.