Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Royals Continue Flurry of Roster Moves

Yesterday, the Royals announced that Lorenzo Cain would be heading to the 15-day disabled list after suffering a strained groin while trying to beat out a ground ball on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, “the Royals announced that Lorenzo Cain would be heading to the 15-day disabled list” is a phrase we’ve read far too often in the last few years, which is why the team opted to keep Justin Maxwell on the big league roster when spring training ended.

Because it’s highly undesirable for teams to play with just 24 players on the roster, the Royals decided to call someone up from the minor leagues to take Cain’s place. If you’re like me, you thought the team might take this opportunity to fill the backup middle infielder position. But if you’re like me, you’re wrong a lot. Instead of bringing up Johnny Giavotella or Christian Colon, the Royals chose to promote left-handed pitcher Justin Marks.

Marks was a part of the trade that sent David DeJesus to Oakland in exchange for Marks and the infamous Vin Mazzaro. In his 3+ seasons with the Royals organization, Marks has pitched mostly as a starter (77 appearances, 64 starts), although he was being converted to a reliever this season, since he couldn’t seem to produce good results in the rotation (4.80 ERA in 122 IP as a starter in 2013, 4.50 ERA in 92 IP as a starter in 2012).

You’ll notice, however, that Marks has yet to play a professional game as a middle infielder. Considering the team’s biggest roster need was for a player who could step in at second base and/or shortstop, the decision appears to be a peculiar one. The Royals already had their coveted 12-man pitching staff, and with the outfield corps now at 4, it would make perfect sense to finally fill the roster with an actual utility player.

Not many teams employ 13-man pitching staffs, and for good reason. This move leaves the team with a bench of just 3 position players, one of whom is the backup catcher, which essentially means Ned Yost has even less of a bench to use in late inning situations. Granted, Yost isn’t very fond of pinch hitting and the drastic impact it can have on certain players’ craniums, but it’s still nice to have options, just in case.

The Royals will need another position player. As Andy McCullough notes, the organization will make another move today to call-up that needed position player. And that need will be even needier now, because Jarrod Dyson will be going on bereavement leave. So the Royals will be without their starting center fielder, and their backup center fielder. But hey, at least they’ve got enough pitchers for a 17-inning game! Dyson’s replacement will be announced some time this morning.

That move will mark the 8th time this season that the Royals will have added a player to their 25-man roster. Aaron Brooks, Michael Mariot, Donnie Joseph, Louis Coleman, Giavotella, Danny Duffy, and Marks were the first 7 added. Teams shuffling their rosters is not a new concept, obviously, but that many transactions happening before the team plays its 15th game of the season is pretty crazy.

How rare is it for the Royals to need that many moves, this early in the season? I’m glad you asked, because otherwise all of this research would be kind of pointless.

In 2013, the Royals called up 0 players by April 18, and 2 total in the month of April, both of whom were Will Smith, and both of whom were solely for doubleheaders.
In 2012, the Royals called up 2 players by April 18, and 6 total in the month of April.
In 2011, the Royals called up 1 player by April 18, and 2 total in the month of April.
In 2010, the Royals called up 4 players by to April 18, and 8 total in the month of April.
In 2009, the Royals called up 2 players by to April 18, and 5 total in the month of April.

In the previous 5 seasons, by today’s date, the Royals called up (or activated from the DL) 9 players total. In 2014, by today’s date, the Royals will have called up (or activated from the DL) 8 players. With today’s upcoming move, this Royals team will match the highest number of roster additions in any April in the last 5 seasons, and there are still 13 days to go.

I don’t know if there is any real significance to this data, but I do find it interesting that the Royals have made so many roster moves. Obviously injuries happen, and injured players must be replaced. However, some of the specific moves the front office has made thus far have left me scratching my head.

- Why get rid of Pedro Ciriaco, when there aren’t any other backup middle infielders on the roster?

- Why demote Donnie Joseph, who was the last lefty in the bullpen?

- Why demote Johnny Giavotella, when there aren’t any other backup middle infielders on the roster?

- Why call-up Danny Duffy as a reliever, when other lefty relievers are available?

- And if having a lefty in the pen is important, why demote Joseph two days earlier?

- Why call-up Justin Marks as the 13th pitcher on the staff, on a day on which James Shields will be pitching, when there aren’t any other backup middle infielders on the roster?

- Why wait until today to call-up that other position player, when he could’ve been the one to take Cain’s spot on the roster?

McCullough mentions that Marks could be used as a long reliever for Bruce Chen‘s start on Saturday, since Chen has been dealing with some pain in his backside. But Saturday still comes after Friday on most calendars, which means Marks could’ve been called up today. I just don’t get it.

Despite my confusion, the net impact of all of these moves hasn’t been much. However, the longer the Royals go without a proper roster, the longer they’ll be playing with fire. I do think the organization needs to stop messing around and put a backup middle infielder on the big league roster to give them more flexibility, but I’m not saying these moves have doomed the Royals or anything like that. What I am saying is the Royals have made plenty of confusing roster decisions in the last several years, and it appears that this year isn’t much different in that regard.

The biggest difference this year is that they have more talent to help compensate for less-than-ideal roster management. The Royals still have a thin margin for error, but it’s quite a bit thicker than it was a few years ago. They have players who can pick up the slack – on most nights – when their teammates are struggling, and it doesn’t take a perfect night of baseball to win a game. I’m still not a fan of the way the Royals have handled their roster (13 pitchers? Really?), but players performing well can help mitigate those issues.

Regardless of the merits of each transaction, it would be great if the Royals didn’t have a need to make any more roster moves in the next couple of weeks, since that probably means everyone is performing well and staying healthy. Healthy, productive teams don’t need to call in reinforcements every few days, so hopefully, we’ve seen the last of the Royals’ early-season call-ups. 

Next Royals Game View full schedule »
Saturday, Aug 2323 Aug7:05at Texas RangersBuy Tickets

Tags: Kansas City Royals

  • moretrouble

    Those are good questions, Hunter, but ones that will likely go unanswered. Many fans, myself included, are not privy to the deliberations that take place behind the scenes. Why do you use “coveted” in regards to a 12 man pitching staff? That’s the common number among teams. I know many here on this site have gone off the deep end about shorting the pitching staff to keep extra position players — who will see virtually no playing time — but sometimes conventional wisdom is best. Didn’t your mom tell you to brush your teeth every night?

    • Michael Engel

      Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s the right way. For the Royals in spring training, following their bullpen dominance last year, it seemed like they could get by with an 11 man ‘pen if it meant a platoon option for Moose (Valencia) a true utility guy (take your pick), the backup OF AND the Cain insurance, and the backup catcher.

      Every comment all spring wouldn’t even consider an 11 man bullpen though. Hence, coveting. Even if the Royals could have been a team to use such a configuration well.

      Now maybe Ned won’t use those bench guys, but Aaron Brooks didn’t even stir in the bullpen. If Chen is fine for Sunday I doubt Marks does either, and Mariot got some low leverage token work, so it’s not like the 12th man in the bullpen is seeing much work either.

      But I think a middle infielder would have been helpful after Infante was beaned for the rest of that game and – mostly – the game after. But they tried to roll with Valencia at 2nd and there’s an easy case to say it may have cost them in the Tuesday game against Tampa.

      I don’t know why Ned doesn’t use his bench more in situations where it might benefit, but that also helps to show that the regulars are “better” than most years. Basically, deeper bench means more options for defensive replacements, pinch-runners, etc.

      Another example – on Wednesday, Butler was on second late and could have been pinch-ran for, but Dyson and Hayes were the only guys on the bench, and Dyson had to go in for an injured Cain. It was a moot point because the inning ended but if someone would have singled with Billy on second, he’d have been held at third most likely, whereas any other runner would have been sent.

      • moretrouble

        I don’t mean any disrespect by saying this … a reliever warms up in the pen … 20-25 pitches … comes in and throws 6 more from the mound … then, let’s say he has a clean inning, maybe 13 pitches. That’s anywhere from 40-45 pitches. Two days in a row — up to 90 — three days in a row, well you do the math. A starter would get 4 days off after throwing 90 pitches, by the way.

        What happens if one guy is struggling out there and need a few days off to do side sessions — it’s not unusual for guys to need mechanical adjustments.

        The other night, KC used 4 relievers in one game. Now, let’s further suppose the starter gets shelled the next night, pretty soon they are using guys back to back … and back to back to back. It’s easy to see why in a day/night DH where the rosters are expanded by one — it’s usually a pitcher who’s called up. It isn’t long before a manager is looking down the bench for a position player to mop up.

        One of the most important aspects of running a club is the intelligent use of your pitching staff. And, one of the reasons KC’s bullpen was so effective late last season was Yost’s management of his bullpen.

        With all due respect given, conventional wisdom is correct. All of baseball thinks so … but for some reason, there are a bunch of fans in KC who think they know more than the professionals. So, brush up that resume, take it to the winter meetings, look those guys in the eye and tell them you’d like a job because you know more than everyone working in the game today. See what they say.

        • Michael Engel

          I think there’s an understanding that the side session, the warmups, the pre-inning warmups aren’t really factored in too much when they look at who might go back to back. And if they have a clean inning, that’s a low stress, likely low effort day. I just wouldn’t assume a coaching staff is going to worry much about that. Now they won’t likely want to go back to back to back because of that, but I don’t see those warmups as the huge factor here.

          I get your point on keeping a deep bullpen, but I think you’d more likely see them using everyone more frequently, rather than having one guy in there as your mopup/blowout guy (like Mariot is kind of doing right now). If they were that concerned with keeping every arm available they can find, they’d probably not pitch the same guys all the time, plus it’s not as if some guys can’t keep up with that regular work. It’s not one size fits all.

          In this case, the Royals weren’t even considering doing anything but going with convention. And if they choose to stay conventional, hey, fine. But if the best roster is one that allows for some flexibility and insurance and maximizing plate appearances with a platoon advantage, they should have been more open to going that direction, and in my opinion, they’ve ran into more issues of getting the most out of their offensive players and potential defensive replacements than finding a capable arm to come out in relief of someone.

  • jimfetterolf

    My guess is that they are unsure of Chen’s glute and Marks may be plugged in as emergency starter Saturday, Bring him up a few days early so a plan can be developed and the staff can see what he has in a bullpen and play to his strengths.

    Nice to see understanding dawning on why Maxwell was kept.

    • Eric Akers

      Could Duffy have served as the emergency starter?

      • jimfetterolf

        He could, but do the Royals think that would be best at the moment? DD has embraced relief, he is thriving in it, it has allowed his curve to return to being a weapon, it is helping overcome his cuteness and nibbling, so Maybe they don’t want to disrupt that for one start while losing his availability for about four games as a reliever. Should Chen go on the DL for 15 days, then Duffy would be an obvious idea, but for one game probably not.

  • Aaron Reese


  • cardsfanatik

    I think its something like Major League. Maybe Glass has a buyer, but said buyer wants to move the team, and if they are shitty enough, then they can move the team. The Royal’s for some reason, make some of the stupidest moves, that make NO sense to ANYONE in the baseball world.