The most recent scuttlebutt (that’s right: scuttlebutt) out of camp reveals that Ned Yost is leaning towards a seven man bullpen and four man bench. That certainly is a more sensible approach to roster management.
The first three bench spots are locks: Jarrod Dyson, Eric Kratz and Christian Colon. The same Royals.com article that suggests the prevailing winds are blowing towards a seven man pen also speculates that the fourth spot would likely belong to one of Paulo Orlando or Moises Sierra. I would, however, offer that infielders Ryan Jackson and Ryan Roberts might also be in the mix, if only because they can play the position that is likely the weakest in the lineup: second base.
All four of those players hit right-handed. Roberts has a ton of big league experience and can play some outfield if necessary. Sierra has played 180 games over the past three seasons in the majors, while Jackson has limited big league time. Orlando has been in the organization for seemingly forever. If you squint just right, you can see some potential upside in Sierra, but in the end you have four guys who are, not so shockingly, ‘last guy on the bench’ guys.
The bench – you know, the place that Ned Yost really didn’t discover existed until the post-season. Kudos, however, to Yost for what I really thought was a good job of managing both his bench and bullpen (Ventura in relief excepted) during that time. Does that mean that he will continue to use it to such an extent? I’m skeptical, if only because long term change is hard (I’m an old guy, and basically immune to change myself) and also because the American League regular season simply does not lend itself to using the bench much.
How could Yost utilize a four man bench this season, should he so choose?
Well, we know Kratz is going to catch…once in a while. The Royals might try to assign Kratz to a particular starter if only to force Yost to not write Sal’s name in the lineup every fifth day. They could simply go with the old ‘day game after night game’ plan, which would give Perez every Sunday and some Thursdays off. Whatever it is they need to plan it out and stick to it.
The second part of the backup catcher equation is that Yost, like many managers, is absolutely terrified of not having his backup catcher waiting on the bench for that one foul tip that knocks his starting catcher out of the game. While Kratz has some appeal (not a lot, some) as a pinch hitter due to his moderate amount power, Yost will almost never, ever use him in that role simply because the idea of having Perez go down with a late-game injury and not have a bonafide catcher ready to go in.
Colon is the utility infielder, a guy likely to get a start at second every week and maybe one a third every other week. I don’t see him pinch-hitting for either Infante or Moustakas (or anyone else for that matter) and, short of continuing nagging injury issues with Infante, getting more than six or seven starts per month. Standard utility infielder sort of stuff. We can lament that a fourth overall pick in the draft turned into this, but it is what it is at this point.
In the end, the entire discussion about the bench and it being three guys or four, really comes down to how Yost wants to use Jarrod Dyson. If the Royals were hellbent on roster flexibility, they likely would opt to keep Ryan Roberts, who has played some outfield in addition to his usual infield roles (although not much short, by the way), but that they are thinking the fourth bench spot will be possessed by an outfielder tells me they want the freedom to use Dyson more often.
In particular, they want to pinch-run Dyson for Kendrys Morales – likely any time Morales gets on base after the sixth inning. In reality, Yost should really use Dyson to run not just for Morales, but also Moustakas and Infante as well (yes, Perez, but refer to the above and just accept it). We can speculate all we want about how to really, REALLY, utilize the bench, but when the real games start and Ned Yost is in command, bench utilization comes down to when and if to insert Jarrod Dyson into a contest as a pinch-runner. That is your entire Kansas City Royals bench equation.
Now, after a few months pass, the Royals may grow weary of Alex Rios’ defense in rightfield and using Dyson as a defensive replacement might well come back. We know that the best defense alignment the Royals have – regardless of whether we see ‘good Rios’ or ‘disinterested Rios’ – is Gordon-Dyson-Cain. I doubt that we will see any sort of regular defensive substitutions in the outfield until summer time.
Given the Royals’ lineup and their manager’s preference for playing his regulars regularly, it is not necessarily a criticism that the entire theory about who and how many players to carry on the bench centers around how much the team utilizes Dyson as a runner. In fact, given the realities of the situation, it is probably the right way to look at the situation.