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. 

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