Royals keep tweaking roster as shortened season looms
The Kansas City Royals had the entire offseason, all of spring training and, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic putting sports on hold, much of the summer to consider ways to tweak and improve their roster going forward.
They were still making moves a week before their abbreviated 60-game schedule was set to begin.
The team traded left-handed reliever Tim Hill to the San Diego Padres late Thursday for talented but injury prone outfield prospect Franchy Cordero and young right-hander Ronald Bolanos. The move came after the Royals decided their lousy bullpen from a year ago had been sufficiently upgraded and with an eye toward next season and beyond, when several of their outfielders are due to become free agents or potentially retire.
The 25-year-old Cordero was the big prize for Kansas City. He only has played 79 big league games over parts of three seasons thanks to a slew of injuries, which last year limited him to just nine games. But along with a .240 average, Cordero flashed power by belting 10 homers and scoring 36 runs in his relatively modest work load.
"I think all of our guys understand we have some talent in our outfield and this is another player that's been on the horizon as a rising star," Royals manager Mike Matheny said, "so it's going to be nice to watch how he develops."
The Royals appear set in the outfield heading into next Friday night's opener against the Indians in Cleveland. But left-fielder Alex Gordon signed a one-year deal and could be playing his final season, right fielder Jorge Soler can become a free agent after the 2021 season, and outfielders Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips are out of options as they contend for a spot on the 30-man roster. All of which leaves Hunter Dozier as the only outfielder under long-term club control.
"Franchy is really one of the more tooled-out players that you'll see," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "He has unbelievable power from the left side. He has above average defensive skills. He has tremendous makeup. Unfortunately, for the last two years he hasn't been able to stay on the field for whatever reason. He's still very young."
Matheny acknowledged that keeping Cordero on the field will be crucial to reaching his full potential.
"We've known Franchy for a while, understand he has an elite skill set in a number of ways with what he can do at the plate," Matheny said. "A lot of it's going to be whether or not we can keep him healthy. That will be up to the medical team and strength-and-conditioning guys to put a template in place. How do we protect him?"
Matheny didn't rule out Cordero or Bolanos, who made his big league debut last September, from helping the Royals this season. The unpredictable nature of the coronavirus coupled with expanded rosters puts flexibility at a premium – a point driven home when catching prospect Nick Dini and pitcher Daniel Tillo tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.
Moore said Cordero and Bolanos will likely begin the season at the Royals' alternate training site, though.
As for the bullpen, which was historically abysmal last season, the Royals believe the depth they added during the regular offseason coupled with the emergence of some young power arms will allow them to better hold late-inning leads.
"We do feel like we have some quality left-handed arms," Moore said. "I'm not going to say they're more accomplished than Timmy Hill at this point, but we like the emergence of a lot of our power arms, and we think that we're going to utilize them in some of those more meaningful roles."
On Monday, the Royals placed right-handed pitcher Jacob Junis on the injured list. Junis’ start in summer camp was delayed by a positive test for COVID-19 but he was cleared to return a week ago to return to baseball activities. However, he is not ready for competition yet, he said.
“It’s unfortunate, but I need to take a step back and get caught up before I’ll be able to contribute the way I feel I’m capable to help this team,” Junis said in a press release. “My start in camp after the quarantine period was delayed due to a positive COVID-19 test and while I’ve been cleared, I am not built up to be where I need to be to start the season.”