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Three Outs: Bullpen Arms Everywhere

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What do do with all them pitchers?

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Tim Hill (54) pitches against the New York Mets during the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Tim Hill (54) pitches against the New York Mets during the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell
William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Three Outs, the weekly column that isn’t sentient and doesn’t know if it’s a holiday or not. This week: a veritable glut of bullpen arms, pontificating on surprise baseball teams, and a short rant about adult birthdays.

Out One: The Bullpen Cup Runneth Over

Every year, especially for bad teams like the Royals, there’s an offseason focus on bullpen depth, whether it’s stated or not. The fact of the matter is that somebody has to pitch, and you can’t just stick a non-pitcher there and fake it for weeks at a time like you could do by, say, putting a first baseman in the outfield.

The 2019 Royals bullpen was awful. They had the fourth-worst ERA (5.07), the third-worst strikeout percentage (21.4%), the sixth-worst walk rate (10.6%), and the absolute worst WHIP (1.54). And so the Royals set out to shore up their bullpen, acquiring the following pitchers:

  • Chance Adams
  • Stephen Woods Jr.
  • Greg Holland
  • Trevor Rosenthal
  • Braden Shipley

But here’s the thing: the Royals now have a bullpen crunch. Mike Matheny said last week that the Royals were probably going to go with an even split of 13 pitchers and 13 position players. That makes for eight bullpen slots. But in addition to those guys up there, the Royals have the following players also on the 40-man roster, all of whom pitched for the team in 2019:

  • Scott Barlow
  • Jesse Hahn
  • Tim Hill
  • Ian Kennedy
  • Jorge Lopez
  • Richard Lovelady
  • Kevin McCarthy
  • Jake Newberry
  • Randy Rosario
  • Eric Skoglund
  • Glenn Sparkman
  • Josh Staumont
  • Gabe Speier
  • Kyle Zimmer

That’s 19 guys competing for those eight spots. Now, some of this will work itself out, like it always does—some will get injured, some will perform poorly in spring training, and the like. But some of these guys have way more upside than others, and I just hope this glut of bodies doesn’t get in the way of bullpen progress.

Out Two: Who’s This Year’s Surprise Team?

It is the Age of Tanking, as we all know. Despite winning only 59 games last year, the Royals will pick fourth in the 2020 draft because three other teams were more brazen about being purposefully bad. The gap between the worst teams and the best times is as wide as it’s ever been.

As a result, some of the drama about which teams will be division champions has deflated like a balloon in the wind. The New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, and Los Angeles Dodgers all won at least 101 games in 2019 with run differentials of at least +185. For varying reasons, it’s hard to see a legitimate challenger for each of them, and all are heavy favorites to repeat. The NL East and NL Central are more competitive, but it’s hard to see a situation next year where it isn’t a Braves/Nationals fight in the East and a Cardinals/Cubs fight in the Central.

So who’s the surprise team this year? The one that beats PECOTA projections and industry pundits and sneaks up on everybody? Honestly, I’m not really sure. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s the San Diego Padres if I have to. The Padres have been bad for a long time, and they’ve got a lot of talent still, especially in the minors. I could see a situation in which the Padres make an aggressive move at the deadline will all their minor league firepower. But, really, who’s to say?

Out Three: Adult Birthdays

I started commenting on Royals Review when I was but a wee college student before I reached drinking age. Even after you crest the wave of 21 years of age, birthdays are still important. Most individuals that age aren’t financially stable yet, and those birthdays are important ways to get things that you want (or need) that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to acquire.

But as an adult, the entire equation is different. Not only does anybody really care whether you turn 26 or 29 or 31 or 34, but most adults eventually find a semblance of financial stability, and both factors forever alter how you interact with your birthday. I can’t speak for anybody else, but if there’s a video game I really want to play or a book I want to read and have on my bookshelf I just...you know...buy it. Why wait till my birthday?

Furthermore, the things I really want are significantly more expensive than they used to be, and you just can’t ask friends or family to buy those things for you. At the moment, I’m interested in a $300 Garmin hybrid smartwatch and a new patio door and blind set that could cost double that. I’m also interested in booking a trip to Europe which will end up costing a few thousand dollars. But just like nobody gets you that Nintendo Switch that you put on your wedding registry, nobody’s going to get me any of those things for my birthday.

That’s fine, really, but I just wish that all I wanted was the newest Lego set rather than a car that costs a thousand Lego sets. So it goes.