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Inventory a key factor in Royals’ roster decisions

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, March 16, 2013, at 3:35 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, March 16, 2013, at 5:50 p.m.

Know the rules

It can be tough to navigate through baseball’s complex rules regarding waivers, options and service-time considerations. Here’s a quick (though incomplete) primer:

40-man roster: This is actually the major-league roster. A player on the 40-man roster must be on the 25-man active roster, the disabled list or sent to the minors on an optional assignment.

Options: Players generally have three option years (there are exceptions). A player can be sent to the minors on an optional assignment for three years after being placed on the 40-man roster. The option years do not have to be consecutive, but there are service-time considerations.

Service time: A player with at least three years of major-league service can refuse an optional assignment and choose to become a free agent. If he does so, he forfeits the remaining value of his contract. A player with at least five years of major-league service can refuse the assignment, become a free agent and still receive the balance of his salary.

Waivers: A player on the 40-man roster who no longer has an option year remaining (i.e., out of options) must be sent through waivers before he can be sent to the minors. The waiver process permits any other team to claim the player (and the terms of his contract) but they are then subject to the same conditions — the player must be kept on the 25-man active roster or sent through waivers (or released).

Prior outright: A player who is out of options can, if he clears waivers, be forced to accept a minor-league assignment once in his career — unless he has sufficient service time to refuse the assignment.

Minor-league contract: A player who is in camp on a minor-league contract — i.e., not on the 40-man roster — can simply be reassigned to the minors without being exposed to waivers.

Rule XX (B): This is a relatively new rule that pertains to major-league free agents who sign minor-league deals. The Royals have three such players: infielder Miguel Tejada, infielder Xavier Nady and outfielder Endy Chavez. They must be told by March 26 if they will make the 25-man roster. If not, and they agree to go to the minors, they receive a $100,000 “retention” bonus and June 1 opt-out date to become a free agent.

Separation dates: Clubs had until 1 p.m. Central time last Wednesday to release players on non-guaranteed contracts and limit their financial obligation to roughly one-sixth (30/183rds) of the player’s contract. They have until 1 p.m. Central time on March 27 to limit their obligation to roughly one-fourth (45/183rds) of the player’s contract.

— It’s that time of year. The Royals have less than two weeks left before they break camp. The tougher roster cuts are fast approaching. Remember one word.

Inventory.

General manager Dayton Moore and his staff spent the off-season stocking the organization’s depth in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year’s injury-exacerbated problems.

“We’re not going to have to run out and try to get somebody this year,” manager Ned Yost said, “if something happens.”

The point is this: Don’t expect the Royals to throw that work away over the next several days. Keeping maximum inventory will be a key element in all upcoming roster decisions before the Royals open the season April 1 in Chicago.

“It is (a factor) because you want to retain as much quality depth as you possibly can,” Moore said. “Part of that is you want to manage your roster effectively so can keep and maintain the depth of your organization.”

In short, if competition is close — or even reasonably close — the Royals will almost always opt for the decision that preserves maximum inventory. (So, too, does every other team.)

That protocol favors players already on the club’s 40-man roster who are out of options. Players who have options remaining, or who are in camp on a minor-league contract, are at a disadvantage.

A player with options can be sent to the minors without going through waivers. Players on minor-league contracts can simply be reassigned.

That preserves inventory.

For example:

Let’s say the battle for the last bullpen spot comes down to a choice among three right-handers: J.C. Gutierrez, Louis Coleman and Dan Wheeler, who have all pitched well at times.

But…

Gutierrez is on the 40-man roster and out of options. Coleman is on the roster but has options remaining. Wheeler is in camp on a minor-league contract. Consequently, Gutierrez has a big advantage.

(Again, this is just an example. The last spot currently seems likely come down to a choice of left-handers. Even so, the point holds.)

“We’re going to try to keep as much quality depth as we can,” Moore said. “It’s 162 games, and you’ve got to have that depth. We want to put a team together than can compete and win over 162 games.”

The Royals have 10 players on their 40-man roster who are out of options: Bruce Chen, Jarrod Dyson, Jeremy Guthrie, Gutierrez, Brett Hayes, Luke Hochevar, Elliot Johnson, George Kottaras, Luis Mendoza and Felipe Paulino.

Notice that list includes Hayes and Kottaras, the two waiver-claim acquisitions battling with Adam Moore to serve as the backup catcher to Salvy Perez.

That means the Royals are likely to reassign Moore to the minors and choose between Hayes and Kottaras. The loser in the Hayes-Kottaras battle is likely to be shopped unless the Royals can slip him through waivers.

Notice, too, that Chen and Mendoza are out of options. That’s a big reason why whichever one fails to get the final spot in the rotation will shift to the bullpen as a long reliever.

Here’s the breakdown on the remaining positional battles:

Second base: It’s a true competition between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella because both have options remaining. One guy wins the job; the other goes to Omaha.

Utility infielder: Elliot Johnson is out of options. If the Royals keep two, as everything suggests, that probably means either Miguel Tejada (minor-league contract) or Irving Falu (who has options remaining).

Backup outfielder: There’s probably only room for one — and Jarrod Dyson is out of options. That’s a big hurdle for David Lough, who is having a heck of a spring but has options remaining.

Bullpen: If the Royals go with a seven-man bullpen, as expected, that means one opening. Gutierrez is the only top candidate who is out of options, but that might not matter if the Royals want a lefty. Either way, everyone else has options or is in camp on a minor-league contract.

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