On Tuesday night, the Royals trotted out a lineup that really didn’t look like it would put fear into anyone, much less 21-year-old phenom Jose Fernandez. The Royals mustered four hits in ten innings and lost 1-0.
That sort of thing is likely to happen when the lineup includes a slew of singles hitters mixed in around Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. If any of those three aren’t producing, you’re likely to have a tough day.
The Royals are in a playoff hunt. Maybe they only have an outside shot at the wild card, but even being within five games is a difference that can be made up in a week if the right things happen. It’s not an absurd potentiality. We’re not dreaming as fans. Not yet. So with that in mind, the Royals have to do what they can to maximize their opportunities.
I discussed this a bit at the end of last month, pointing out that the stars couldn’t do it all and that the team needed contributions from a supporting cast. Still, after acquiring Justin Maxwell and Jamey Carroll, there are spots to improve. The roster has to be, top-to-bottom, getting the best out of each position. Unfortunately, there are areas where reasonable replacements can be found.
Early in the year, Mendoza was a perfectly fine starter. He’d pitched well in spring training and had been much better than I’d suspected in 2012. He earned his spot and his opportunity. Since, though, he’s hit a wall. He threw a lot of innings over the winter in the Caribbean Series and World Baseball Classic and it caught up to him.
He had a 4.08 ERA on June 14 after a six inning, two run start. Then the wheels fell off. He made a few more starts and was hit, including a 1.2 inning, five run game on July 7. From there, they put Bruce Chen in the rotation and moved Mendoza to the bullpen. He’s thrown twice since and gave up seven runs in five innings in those two appearances. He struck nobody out. He hasn’t pitched since August 2. Maybe he can still contribute, but really, he’s just taking up a roster spot. Once rosters expand and the Royals can add more arms, I don’t see a situation where Mendoza makes it into a game unless the Royals are getting crushed.
That ends up giving the Royals six options in the bullpen instead of seven. If they have to hide a player to avoid exposing him, then what utility does that player really have?
Will Smith is a better fit in the bullpen. He can be a specialist, he can be a spot starter, he can be a long reliever. He can pitch in tight spots, he can mop up. Most importantly, he has a use out of the bullpen. He isn’t a guy who comes in and you hold your breath. He’s left-handed, always a premium attribute.
What do the Royals lose by making that switch? Maybe some flexibility, as Smith has been up and down often due to having options, but it’s a playoff run – get as many weapons in as you can. And they even gain something by being able to go to Smith here and there rather than skipping over Mendoza to use Tim Collins again (even if he’s been solid lately, an extra day of rest here or there is not a bad thing).
After a hit on May 25, Johnson was at his peak, hitting .283/.303/.344. He’s never had impressive career numbers at the plate, so regression was expected, but what he’s experienced since hasn’t been regression, it’s been a freefall.
Since that day, Johnson has a slash line of .122/.173/.184.
Johnson has good qualities as a player. He’s an accomplished base stealer, can play multiple positions, and he’s the prototypical defensive specialist. He’s very good at those two things – being fast and being a good glove.
But in order to use his glove, Johnson has to enter the game, and that puts his bat into play and the performance just hasn’t been there. Plus, with the acquisition of Jamey Carroll, he’s a redundancy. Carroll can play second, can be a late-inning replacement, and can steal a base here and there. He’s not going to be a power guy but he should be able to hit better and get on base better, which I think can negate the defensive difference.
Enter Mark Reynolds.
Reynolds just got released by Cleveland after a horrendous stretch in July and August that saw him hit .133/.246/.150. Not much better than Johnson, right? Not at all, but what Reynolds offers is some upside. In April, he was a force, hitting eight homers and putting up a 1.019 OPS.
He offers power, and lots of it. He’s going to strike out. He might be just as bad of a hole in the lineup as Johnson. But it’s taking a chance on a guy who has a shot to contribute in a way that will help the Royals in a category that needs help – power and run producing. The Indians are on the hook for his contract, less the prorated league minimum. Johnson isn’t a big loss, and right now, with Mike Moustakas ailing, Reynolds could be a fill-in at third for a while as Moustakas heals from a tweaked calf muscle.
From there, he could be a platoon option or a late-inning pinch hitter with the potential to change the game with one swing. Even more, there’s no risk. Johnson is taking up a spot and is playing at a level that really makes him valuable for a couple of innings at a time. With Chris Getz back from the disabled list, there’s no Miguel Tejada at second, and less of a need for a defensive replacement in the late innings.
We don’t know yet how long Lorenzo Cain‘s oblique injury will keep him out, so until then, the Royals can rotate David Lough, Jarrod Dyson, and Justin Maxwell in the outfield, which will often enough leave one of the lefties available to pinch hit. That gives a bench of George Kottaras, Maxwell (or Dyson), Carroll, and Reynolds. All outfield spots are covered. All infield spots are covered. You have to bank on Carroll utilizing his platoon advantage against lefties and maintaining his ability to work counts and draw walks, and you hope for a power resurgence from Reynolds.
And if nothing pans out, you’re looking at just over two weeks until rosters expand and Irving Falu, Johnny Giavotella, Anthony Seratelli, Christian Colon, Quintin Berry, or Pedro Ciriaco could be brought up to supplement the bench. Some would have to be added to the 40 man roster, but Omaha can spare a couple of those guys. If Carroll or Reynolds don’t pan out, toss in the next guy.
If Will Smith isn’t great as Mendoza’s replacement (with his time in the big leagues this year – 3.26 ERA in 19.1 innings with a 20/1 K/BB ratio – as evidence, it doesn’t seem like that would be the case), there’s Danny Duffy, Donnie Joseph, Everett Teaford, perhaps even Yordano Ventura or Chris Dwyer as other options when September rolls around. And besides, they’ve hidden Mendoza for most of the last two months. They could hide that spot some more if necessary.
The Royals have to squeeze as much out of their roster as they can. If that means they have to lose some players to gain better ones (or players who can offer higher ceilings of performance), then it’s what has to be done. Options are out there and should be explored.
UPDATE: Mark Reynolds signed with the Yankees on August 15, so there goes that idea…
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