Splash Hits: Pitchers and catchers have reported
So let's chat about the pitching.
It’s a simple sentence, but one that provides boundless optimism.
“Pitchers and catchers have reported.”
It’s the surest sign that, yes, spring is around the corner. Baseball is back, pandemic be damned, and soon we will find ourselves in it’s familiar rhythms. It’s something all of us could use.
Like most of you, I was somewhat surprised that the Oakland A’s were the landing spot for Trevor Rosenthal. At first glance, a one-year, $11 million deal seems like more than a fair deal for a reliever of the quality Rosenthal exhibited last season between Kansas City and San Diego. If you want to compare relievers, look at Brad Hand and his one-year, $10.5 million deal with the Nationals. Hand has a more consistent (and injury-free) and recent track record. It was surprising that the budget-conscious A’s were the team to splash that kind of cash on a reliever.
And then we learned the details of the contract.
As Ken Rosenthal clarified, the deal is about deferred money. You can’t backload a one-year deal.
And remember that old saw about there being no such thing as a bad one-year deal? I think we just found…something.
But even prior to learning the contractual details, the fact that the Royals could’ve used Rosenthal in their bullpen, had a past relationship, yet chose to not go down that road, was intriguing to me. What did it mean?
On one hand, I think the Royals have finally decided that it doesn’t make any sense to throw big money after relievers. What was the last bullpen arm the Royals signed to a big-money kind of deal? I’m not thinking about guys like Kelvin Herrera who made their money through being eligible for arbitration. I’m talking free agency or trades.
It could be Greg Holland who signed for $2.75 million this winter. Don’t laugh but for some reason I’m thinking of Wily Peralta who smoke and mirrored his way through a 2018 season and cashed in with $3.25 million. If you don’t accept that, then it’s the reunion with Joakim Soria in 2016 where the Royals awarded him $25 million for three years.
Basically, the Royals haven’t been too keen on throwing good money at what can be an erratic reliever market. There’s the Holland contract and he’s the current top earner in the Royals’ bullpen. They obviously weren’t comfortable going into eight figures for a reliever, even if it was for an arm who probably would have projected to be the top performer in the bullpen. And while the Royals have never been shy about walking away from a poor deal and footing the remaining bill, deferring payments for two years on a one-year deal isn’t appealing economics. And as we heard Dayton Moore speak to all winter, the fit may be there between the player and the team, but the financials are part of the equation.
It also says the Royals are happy with their bullpen as currently constructed. Recall from my initial foray into a roster projection, the ‘pen is tilting to the right with what could charitably be described as limited left-handed options. Maybe this is the year Richard Lovelady gets a real shot. Maybe Danny Duffy moves from the rotation back into a relief role.
But the Royals are gunning for respectability and the fringe of contention. If they crunched the numbers and decided that Rosenthal wouldn’t move the needle much beyond what’s already on the roster, at that cost, then they’re obviously going to drop out of the sweepstakes.
Moore has been what I would call cautiously aggressive in his pursuit of players this winter. There’s something comforting (to me at least) in that he didn’t blow up a solid blueprint just to chase some saves.
Matheny held his first Zoom call of Spring Training on Wednesday and was asked about the possibility of going to a six-man rotation. Here’s what he had to say:
“Early on, it doesn’t make a lot of sense with so many off days. I think that’s pretty standard. It doesn’t even look like we would need a number five starter until the 13th, 14th, right around there.”
Obviously, Matheny knows what he’s talking about. With the early off days packed into the season’s first week, teams seldom go with a five-man rotation from the jump, so there’s zero chance of seeing a six-man rotation in April. The Royals can set their rotation the first two weeks of the regular season where their Opening Day starter pitches on the 7th (game 5 of the season) and then on the 12th (game 9). The second starter can follow, but the Royals would need another starter to slot in the rotation on the 14th (game 11).
So we probably shouldn’t look for a six-man rotation in the season’s first month. But what about a little further down the road? Matheny’s answer was…maybe?
“Are there some times or some stretches where it makes sense where we’re giving some guys more rest and maybe not to others. I’m open”
If I may take the liberty to read between the lines here, it doesn’t look like Matheny is talking about a true six-man rotation. It sounds like he would prefer to keep some pitchers (presumably his veterans) on a regular schedule. Someone like Brad Keller, Mike Minor and Duffy (if he remains in the rotation) will likely want the ball every fifth day. That’s just how they’ve always done it. But a younger starter like a Brady Singer or Kris Bubic (or any of the other prospects) could be served by having their turns spaced out on occasion.
The 2021 season is going to be strange. A late-starting minor league season coupled with limited action from the previous year will have an impact. Teams may be hesitant to ramp up innings for young pitchers individually. It’s a matter that’s crucially important to the Royals, given how they’re banking on their plethora of prospect arms. How many innings will they be comfortable giving Singer? Or Bubic? And how about Daniel Lynch and Asa Lacy and the others who only saw action at the alternate site? (Or in Lacy’s case, limited college games.) It’s a balance teams will be figuring on the fly. Matheny acknowledged as much.
“We’ll continue to figure out what’s going to be best for each individual player, to protect them on the health side, but also to give our team the best shot each night.”
Here’s a random GIF of Scott Barlow throwing a bullpen on Wednesday in Surprise. I’m posting it here in honor of his player profile I wrote up earlier this week.
I’d like to end this edition of the newsletter with heartfelt thanks. It’s been extremely gratifying to have you subscribe and read and respond to this Royals-centric newsletter. Several of you have reached out with positive comments and it’s very much appreciated. So if you’re enjoying the newsletter, feel free to tell a friend or two. Spread the word. I’m just getting started and will be here all summer.