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Kansas City’s roster construction and usage has been baffling

What are they going for? Does anybody know?

There are two sides to roster construction for any sports team, baseball-related or not. The first is, well, construction, just as it sounds. From determining who is on the roster, you can figure out a bit about what the team thinks of their chances and expectation of winning baseball games, as well as their competitive window of opportunity.

The other side of roster construction is roster usage. Who is being used? How are they being used? This tells you about what the team thinks of those players, and it helps explain an organization’s view of their talent. Change in a player’s usage can often foretell changes in roster construction, too.

Generally speaking, these two points tend to add up: a competitive team will have a short leash on its young players while giving preferential playing time to skilled veterans they paid for in the offseason. Alternatively, a rebuilding team tends to play the young players and shy away from giving veterans playing time.

This all makes sense. What does not make sense is the 2022 Kansas City Royals, who I’ve watched plenty of and to whose offseason my position as an editor of Royals Review has demanded I pay attention.

Are the Royals trying to compete this year? That would be a hard no.

Kansas City won 74 games last year, but they went through a very quiet offseason. Essentially, they swapped Mike Minor for Zack Greinke in the starting rotation, a modest upgrade but not a game changing one. They added a left-handed bullpen arm in Amir Garrett and signed Taylor Clarke for peanuts as a bullpen reclamation project. Finally, they retained the inexpensive services of outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who provides poor offense but Gold Glove caliber defense.

So, then, one would think that the Royals are all-in on rebuilding. That, too, is clearly false.

The Royals have four young pitchers and six young position players who would be ideal to give playing time to. But the Royals began the season with Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto in Triple-A, and while they broke camp with Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares, neither have accrued significant playing time, and only Adalberto Mondesi’s injury opened the door for them to get some at bats. Meanwhile, Jackson Kowar only pitched in garbage time once before his banishment to the minors.

And Brady Singer, oh, Brady Singer; the Royals just sent him to the minors, too. The idea is that there are no spots in the rotation and they want him to develop that changeup and stretch out so he’s good for a starter’s workload. Dayton Moore said that it “doesn’t make sense” to keep Singer in the bullpen.

There’s just one issue there: the Royals are the ones who put him in the bullpen in the first place! If he’s “too talented” to be there, and the Royals were perfectly fine in sending him to Omaha, what why didn’t they do that to begin the year. Anne Rogers reported the Royals’ reasons for putting him in the bullpen initially and then sending him to Omaha now, but they don’t make much sense to me:

This spring, the Royals decided to put him in the bullpen to begin the season because of the unknown of how stretched out their starters would be; they wanted length in the bullpen in case they had to bridge the gap between a short start and the later innings.

If Singer is so talented and a clear starter and you’re worried about your starters being stretched out, why put him in a position that demands him be further stretched out when he gets shifted to the rotation? And why not put someone who is less crucial to the Royals’ long-term success in as said safety net—someone like Ronald Bolaños, who kicked off the year in Omaha?

I’m just so confused. For instance, what is Ryan O’Hearn doing on the roster? He has been consistently one of the worst hitters in baseball since 2019 and doesn’t play a premium position. He’s 28. He’s rarely seen the field. Is he insurance? Does he now have whatever compromising pictures of Ned Yost that Alcides Escobar must have had?

Then, like, what’s Carlos Santana doing on the roster? If they wanted to compete, they should have jettisoned him for someone better. And if they wanted to go younger, why didn’t they jettison him to give the aforementioned O’Hearn some playing time?

And what’s with Andrew Benintendi, for that matter? He’s a good player, but he’s on a lame duck contract. If they were trying to compete, why didn’t they extend him in the offseason? And if they were trying to rebuild, why didn’t they trade him for minor league talent and give his plate appearances to Isbel and Olivares?

And, and, what about Witt? Why did the club break camp with him if they weren’t going to commit to a youth movement? They sent Pratto and Melendez back to prove it in Triple-A. Witt could have gone with them and the Royals would have gained another year of service time. But here he is, the only position player on the roster younger than his age-26 season, struggling away.

Granted, some of this is because we currently have expanded rosters as a hedge against the shortened Spring Training; rosters will shrink from 28 to 26 on May 1, and some of this “why is player X on the big league roster” will go away.

Ultimately, my frustration and confusion regarding roster construction and usage has little to do with individual roster moves, which have their own often reasonable internal logic. Rather, the Royals simply do not seem to have an overarching roster strategy so far, a strategy that would inform individual roster moves and player usage. Kansas City would do well with a little proactive, purposeful approach to their roster and their roster usage. Maybe we’ll get there at some point. We’re not really here now.