A speedy and popular player has had two stints with the KC Royals. Does an impending major league roster rule change warrant a third go-round with the club?
Speed is the very essence of Terrance Gore, the element of his game that keeps him on the radar of major league clubs looking for that extra clutch-moment edge good base stealers provide. Indeed, speed is really the only reason the KC Royals brought him to the major leagues, then welcomed him back after he spent a season with the Chicago Cubs. And speed is what the Yankees sought when they acquired him from the Royals last August.
But now that he is a minor league free agent, are Gore’s fleet-of-foot ways enough to warrant a third Royals’ look at him–does the impending expansion of big-league rosters to 26 players create a spot tailor-made for this essentially one-dimensional player?
Whether these are questions the Royals are asking themselves this winter as they ponder the uncertainties of their roster, and the new rule’s impact, is unknown. If Gore is a consideration, the club is keeping it quiet, playing its cards close to the vest as it so often does in matters of player personnel.
But the very nature of Gore and his history with the team mean the questions will, and should be, raised. He is so speedy that three teams–the Royals, Cubs and Yankees–have given him roster spots based on that trait alone, one of such apparent value that it outweighs obvious shortcomings when he’s at the plate instead of on the base paths. He is a Kauffman Stadium favorite, his legend in club lore secured by electrifying swiftness and postseason appearances despite the fact he’s averaged less than 18 appearances in five different KC seasons.
And Gore’s career .224 batting average, a clip significantly elevated by his wholly uncharacteristic .275 (14-51) with KC last season, doesn’t strongly commend him for a major league roster spot, even on a team for which several weak hitters played in 2019.
But the new roster rule may again open doors for Gore. Scheduled to take effect Opening Day, the rule will expand rosters one spot to 26, making it easier for teams to add specialists like Gore. Although most base stealing wizards, like Rickey Henderson, Maury Wills, Lou Brock and the Royals’ own Willie Wilson, were also regular position players, speedsters employed primarily to run are rare.
Gore is one such rarity; the most famous is Herb Washington, the former world record-holding sprinter signed by the eccentric but innovative Charles O. Finley to be his Athletics’ “designated runner,” a title perfectly befitting the one and only thing Washington ever did for the A’s–pinch run. He never appeared in any other role and stole 48 bases in 74 attempts, a success rate of almost 65%.
It is impossible, even with the rules change, to believe any contemporary club would sign a Washington-type player. For one, the game has its eccentric owners, but none as eccentric as Finley; for another, Washington had absolutely no value but speed, a point proven by the fact the A’s never utilized him in any other way.
Gore is different: speed is his primary marketable commodity, but his surprising ability to handle a bat last season hints that he might–just might–hold his own as a 26th man. His .275/.362/.353 2019 slash far exceeds his six-season .224/.325/.353 slash and he increased his major league hit total from one to 14, although the latter accomplishment is in part a product of the 58 plate appearances that more than tripled his pre-2019 total. He rarely plays in the field but has been somewhat reliable when he does, making just one error in 40 chances.
Gore’s chief job, now and forever, is to run. That’s what puts him in the big league conversation. Opponents caught him stealing five times in 13 attempts last season, an atypical, but not ominous, statistic for a still-fast 28-year old whose body isn’t battle-battered by the grueling grind of playing nine innings every day. No one doubts he is one of the biggest base theft threats in the game today
All things considered, including his blazing speed, disruptive impact on the bases, and the glimpse of decent bat work he displayed in 2019, is Gore worthy of a season-long roster spot? The KC Royals brought him back last season, but the full year of Gore the club contemplated didn’t last–after sending him to the Yankees in August, General Manager Dayton Moore didn’t discount Gore’s value but strongly hinted his is a skill set better suited for contending teams.
Even with the extra roster spot, Moore is probably correct. As non-contenders, and as discussed previously in this space, the Royals don’t need a situational pinch-runner at this point in their rebuild. A pitcher makes more sense (although the new rules limit clubs to 13 hurlers). The club doesn’t need utility players–many of the Royals are versatile and Whit Merrifield is the best utility man in the game–but Merrifield’s move to center field and Adalberto Mondesi‘s propensity to injury means another utility player wouldn’t hurt.
The new rules allow the Royals to carry only 25 players, but a team coming off two straight 100-plus loss seasons can’t afford not to stock up when it can. Hopefully, Moore will think twice before filling his new roster spot with a Chris Owings or Lucas Duda, and he may now, with the roster-shifting acquisition of Maikel Franco, regret letting Cheslor Cuthbert go.
The KC Royals will get their 26th man. But while Terrance Gore’s speed will always bring him into the discussion, it probably won’t be him.
Terrance Gore might be, at the right time, the ideal 26th man for the KC Royals. But this isn’t that time. The club won’t contend this season and probably won’t until at least 2021–what it needs now is not a situational player whose greatest value is close game, late-inning pinch-running. But that doesn’t mean the topic of Gore won’t come up again.