If you’re looking at the Royals lineup tonight as they take on Minnesota, you’ll notice two names missing. Earlier today, both Bob Dutton and Mike Swanson have announced that RHP Juan Cruz has been released and RHP Luis Mendoza has been designated for assignment.
Mendoza appeared in four games for the Royals in 2010, compiling a 22.50 ERA and surrendering four homeruns. His departure is neither surprising nor disappointing. The Royals acquired him in the last weekend of spring training from Texas. He has a career 8.43 ERA in the majors. By being designated for assignment, the Royals have ten days to trade him, release him or send him to the minor leagues. My guess is he’ll simply be released.
Juan Cruz being released is a bit more surprising. While not dominant, Cruz had a 3.38 ERA in 5 appearances for the Royals, striking out 7 in 5.1 innings. Cruz was it the second year of a contract signed before 2009 after two strong seasons in Arizona, though injuries and walks prevented him from repeating his success in 2009, as he finished the year with a 5.72 ERA.
To fill their spots on the 40-man roster and with the active roster, Kansas City called up LHP Bruce Chen and RHP Brad Thompson from Omaha. Chen had a 1.31 ERA in three starts in Omaha in 2010 after making 17 appearances (and 9 starts) in Kansas City in 2009 posting a 5.78 ERA in that span. Thompson signed in the offseason as a non-roster invitee to spring training and had a 5.40 ERA in 3 starts in Omaha. Prior to 2010, he’d been a perfectly average major league pitcher for St. Louis, with a 4.36 ERA in 185 appearances there dating back to 2006.
Both pitchers will likely pitch in middle relief for the battered Kansas City bullpen which has blown five saves in 15 games. Roman Colon was designated for assignment on April 16 and has accepted an assignment to Omaha after putting up an ERA of 18.00 and WHIP of 3.500 in five games to start the year.
Cruz’s release is surprising and disappointing, as he was brought in to be the 8th-inning setup man for Joakim Soria after serving in that role in Arizona. The Royals signed him to a 2 year, $6 million deal in February 2009. He’ll get paid $3.25 million and the Royals will pay every cent (unless he signs with another team, then they’ll only pay $2.85 million of it). Cruz had been the subject of some preseason trade talks, so those must have cooled or weren’t as heated as reported to begin with. There may be injury concerns as well. That the Royals lost a 2nd round pick in 2009 for signing him (as a Type B free agent) is probably the worst part of it, as they got poor production for a high-priced reliever and lost the draft pick.
The good news is that the front office is willing to make moves to improve the bullpen and the message is clear – perform or pack up.