If the MLB season were to end right now, which it effectively has for an eliminated Kansas City Royals team, the Royals would be carrying 38 players on their 40-man roster. Salvador Perez, Jesse Hahn, and Trevor Oaks would be added from the 60-day IL, Alex Gordon would be a free agent, and the Royals would have just two spots left on the 40-man roster to protect players from this offseason’s Rule 5 Draft.
Luckily for the Royals, they are currently in the midst of what is sure to be another 100-loss season and have plenty of room to work with when it comes to purging their organization of the glut that currently occupies the back-end of the 40-man roster. Before we get into the candidates to be DFA’d this offseason (and maybe even by September), let’s take a look at why we’re here in the first place.
Here is a list of players that I think deserve at least some consideration to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft:
- Nick Heath, OF: ++ speed, good defensive outfielder, some on-base skills
- Xavier Fernandez, C: serviceable defender, has shown some ability with the bat
- DJ Burt, UTIL: ++ speed, good defender at 4-5 positions, could be option on 26-man roster
- Ofreidy Gomez, RHP: big frame, 3 pitches, still developing
- Grant Gavin, RHP: + spin rate, good curveball, good SwStr%, results at every level in bullpen
- Yunior Marte, RHP: good fastball, dominated AA this year
- Erick Mejia, UTIL: + speed, good defender all over the field, some offensive rebirth in PCL
- Foster Griffin, LHP: decent results in PCL, could eat some innings in big leagues, still 24
- Carlos Hernandez, RHP: 100-mph fastball, big frame, good mix of pitches
- Gabe Speier, LHP: good results at AA, intriguing left-handed reliever
- Sebastian Rivero, C: defensive wizard, would not hit nearly enough
- Janser Lara, RHP: great “stuff”, could be another Elvis Luciano situation
That’s 12 players that I would entertain conversations for Rule 5 protection this offseason, and the Royals have just two spots in total at the moment. I know the Royals like to protect their “inventory,” but in the middle of consecutive 100-loss seasons, it’s time to unload the weight that’s carrying the team down and try again. The Royals have had plenty of time to evaluate the guys on their roster and it’s time to make some decisions.
With that being said, here are some guys I think could fall victim to a 40-man roster purge this winter:
Cheslor Cuthbert, INF
Cuthbert has not been very good since rejoining the big league club this summer. He recently broke out of an 0-40 slump and has been worth -0.4 fWAR in his 280 PA. Cuthbert has now accumulated a total of -0.6 fWAR in parts of five big league seasons. He filled in admirably for Mike Moustakas in 2016, but given his lack of defensive usefulness and offensive ineptitude, it’s time to part ways with the 26-year old infielder
- Jacob Barnes, RHP
Barnes is a 29-year old reliever with a 7.71 ERA and a career worst 5.40 BB/9 this season. If he was still 26 or 27 years old, then maybe, but he’ll be 30 right after the 2020 season begins and I’m not sure how much value the Royals should expect to get from him moving forward. I’d just assume see the Royals pay for a free agent or call up one of their own.
- Kevin McCarthy, RHP
Another reliever just taking up roster space and eating innings, I wouldn’t mind keeping McCarthy around that much if there wasn’t significant changes that needed to be made to the organization. He had a really good 2017 and was just fine in 2018, but the low velocity sinker balling reliever may have showed his true colors in 2019. The 27-year old has an ERA of 5.02 and doesn’t seem to be in the picture long-term.
- Jorge Bonifacio, OF
Bonifacio can't run well, defend anything, and has a career 94 wRC+ and .319 OBP. He’s got a wRC+ of *64* in Omaha this year. It’s time to move on.
40-man roster count: 34
- Nick Dini, C
I’m really glad that the Royals gave Dini a shot to prove himself in the big leagues this summer. He absolutely earned it with his performance with AAA Omaha and, in a lost season, the Royals ought to be rewarding their home grown kids with chances to get a cup of tea in the big leagues, in case this is their last chance. With two catchers, that in my opinion are potentially better for the organization moving forward, potentially needing Rule 5 protection this offseason, Dini could just be a numbers casualty.
- Jesse Hahn, RHP
Dude is 30 years old, hasn’t been good since 2015, and has never thrown 100 innings in a season in the big leagues. Maybe you can just 60-day IL him forever, but I’d rather see the Royals go with a youth movement in 2020 than running out Hahn and Kennedy from the bullpen. I say all of this with the caveat that the Royals probably aren’t cutting a guy they’ve been sticking with through two years of rehab. I would, but we’ll see.
- Trevor Oaks, RHP
A going-to-be 27-year old that struck out just 4.91 batters per 9 IP at AAA last year and hasn’t pitched this year. In what probably won’t be a playoff season for KC in 2020, I’d rather see them take fliers on big fastballs and see if one or two pan out. I say this with the caveat that Trevor Oaks is a fantastic human being and I wouldn’t mind if KC kept him around one bit. Just wouldn't be my preferred “baseball” move.
- Glenn Sparkman, RHP
Sparkman has an ERA of 6.53 over his last 71.2 IP and will be 28 years old not long after the beginning of the 2020 season. He’s not really that old, but he doesn’t strike out nearly enough hitters to be excited about as we get closer to his 30’s. He’s been fun to watch in KC and has had his moments, but I can’t be excited about a career 5.63 K/9 until KC proves they can develop pitchers better than they are currently.
I would be okay if the Royals stopped their purge here. That would open up eight spots on the 40-man roster, giving them ten open spots going into the offseason to play around with the upper levels of their organization a bit. I would certainly listen to cases for cutting more guys, like Bubba Starling or Ryan O’Hearn or Humberto Arteaga, but I think all three bring just enough to the table to give them one more shot in 2020.
With MLB rosters looking like they’ll expand to 26 for the 2020 season, it’s really hard to guess how big league teams will approach the Rule 5 Draft this offseason. High RPM arms like Grant Gavin, who maybe wouldn’t have been taken in the past, could intrigue some teams that can stash some extra bullpen depth. Guys like DJ Burt that haven’t hit much in the minors stand a chance because of their speed and defensive versatility.
With all that said, here’s a little break down of what I’d do with the open roster spaces:
- Protect Gavin, Hernandez, Heath, Marte, and Mejia from the Rule 5 Draft (now at 35)
- Save two spots on the 40-man roster for potential Rule 5 picks (now at 37)
- Add Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar to the 40-man roster (now at 39)
- Save room for a free agent, with more roster casualties to follow in the event of trades or other free agent signings
The big league roster seems like it might be pretty set headed into 2020. The Royals have starters returning at almost every position, save for LF, and seem like they’re probably going to give most of those guys another shot at regular playing time next season. This allows the Royals to protect several players that will almost certainly be minor leaguers at the beginning of 2020.
Adding Singer and Kowar to the 40-man roster is a noted power move. The Royals need to push some of these kids and they need to show both the players and the fans that they’re ready to win again, now. Putting two of your best pitching prospects on the 40-man roster and starting them both out with AAA Omaha in 2020 would certainly be a bit of a wake-up call to the pitching staff.
I certainly am not capable of reading the future and I have no idea what the Royals front office has planned for this offseason. If it were up to me, I’d start making some sweeping changes. Not that this season wasn’t expected to go poorly from jump street, but the front office needs to make it very clear to the rest of the organization, and to the fans, that 100-loss seasons are no longer acceptable. Stuff happens, and I think we all saw this coming to an extent, but this season has been bad enough to justify a complete purge of the roster and maybe even the coaching staff. Losing is fine when it’s done right, but that’s not how I’d describe this team.