SURPRISE, Ariz. — 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.
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.
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.
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.