KC Royals: What Saturday’s transactions could mean

The KC Royals made some roster moves Saturday. What impact could those transactions have on the club and players?

The KC Royals, 10 games below .500 and squarely on the cusp of mathematical elimination from playoff contention heading into Saturday night’s game with Pittsburgh, mixed up their roster just hours before hosting the Pirates. With just 14 games left before they watch others play in October, the Royals could have easily and comfortably maintained their status quo; instead, they made moves that could impact the lineup and roster beyond this season.

The centerpieces of the day’s transactions were Ryan McBroom, Nick Heath, Kelvin Gutierrez and Matt Reynolds. The Royals optioned McBroom to their alternate site, recalled Heath, activated Gutierrez from the Injured List and restored him to the active roster, and designated Reynolds for assignment.

The club also traded outfielder Michael Gigliotti to Tampa Bay, added young pitcher Alec Marsh to the Player Pool and released pitcher Ofreidy Gomez.

What might this flurry of moves mean? Let’s examine them one by one.

McBroom to the alternate site.  Sending McBroom down, which is the essence of being moved to the alternate training site, is the most surprising of Saturday’s transactions. The KC Royals were clearly high on the first baseman/outfielder when they acquired him from the Yankees late last season, a move that almost instantly created a competition with Ryan O’Hearn for the first base job.

But recent events suggest something may be afoot at first that, combined with his recent drought at the plate, might be problematic for McBroom.

Hunter Dozier, displaced at third base by Maikel Franco’s offseason arrival, seemed comfortable enough in right field, but has, including Saturday, started seven straight games (and nine of the last 12) at first. It’s not unfamiliar territory to Dozier—he’s played a little less than a third of his major league games there with a .993 fielding percentage.

And the recent move to first hasn’t hurt Dozier’s offense. He hit .280 in those six consecutive games he’d started there before Saturday, a mark well above his season .241 clip.

Have the Royals decided to move Dozier to first base? They’re obviously giving it serious thought; what other significant reason could there be for playing him, and not McBroom or O’Hearn, there so often this month? If Dozier becomes the first baseman of choice, and considering manager Mike Matheny’s apparent preference for O’Hearn over McBroom, the club’s crowded outfield, and his 1-for-20 slump over his last 10 games, McBroom may be the odd man out, at least for this season.

The Royals might be hoping McBroom can solve his hitting woes sooner with regular work at the alternate site, but their current need for him has diminished. He has two minor league options left after this season, though, so Kansas City probably isn’t giving up on him.

Heath is back.  Nick Heath is the latest of the club’s talented young outfielders to be added to the roster, but this isn’t his first time with the Royals this season. He hit .333 (2-for-6) in five early games before landing on the Injured List with a hamstring issue and then spending time at the alternate site.

The Royals covet speed everywhere and Heath has it. He led the minors in stolen bases last year and, as his career minor league average and on base percentage (.266 and .348) demonstrate, is serviceable at the plate.

As reported by mlb.com Royals beat writer Jeffrey Flanagan Saturday, Heath will definitely see playing time down the stretch:

Heath back in the fold is good for the Royals but may not be good for Bubba Starling, whose hold on a reserve outfield spot was tenuous before Heath’s recall. Starling isn’t hitting (.227/.271/.318 slash with one home run and five RBIs in 28 games) and Edward Olivares’ recent arrival and stellar performance pushed him out of any meaningful chance to play regularly.

If Heath hits, Starling’s time with the Royals may be over when the season ends. He’s out of options, hasn’t proven he can hit big league pitching, and there are too many other good outfielders, like Heath, Kyle Isbel, and Khalil Lee, closing in on major league readiness.

Gutierrez returns.  Kelvin Gutierrez, a versatile left-side infielder, had been on the Injured List since mid-July when the Royals activated him and immediately inserted him into Saturday night’s lineup against Pittsburgh. Gutierrez followed Matt Reynolds at third base; Reynolds had started the last three games there while Franco, dealing with a leg issue, serves as the designated hitter.

The KC Royals like Gutierrez. As a third baseman and DH last season, he hit .260 with 11 RBIs in 20 games before a broken toe sidelined him in September. The 26-year old seventh-year pro can also play shortstop.

With Franco playing well and under team control, and Dozier well-experienced at third, Gutierrez seems destined more for a utility, rather than regular, role with the KC Royals. And he’s a career .284 hitter in the minors, making him more suitable than Reynolds for a full-time big league job.

Reynolds DFA’d.  The fact Matt Reynolds can play a variety of infield and outfield positions made him attractive to the KC Royals. Signed last November to a minor league contract, he might have been a candidate to spend time at shortstop had Alcides Escobar not been healthy; instead, he was on the Injured List and worked at the alternate site before the club called him up Sept. 8.

Reynolds started at third three times, was 0-for-11, and was designated for assignment Saturday. Hitting has been his big league enemy—his career slash is .212/.282/323—and considering he was likely signed primarily as insurance, and Gutierrez is healthy again, Saturday’s move wasn’t surprising.

Other moves.  The club also traded outfielder Michael Gigliotti to Tampa Bay. Gigliotti turned out to be the “player to be named later” in an interesting late July deal with Tampa Bay. The Royals wanted to keep Rule 5 draftee Stephen Woods Jr. on the active roster, but couldn’t for the entire season, which means they could have lost him “back” to the Rays; KC returned him but Tampa immediately traded him back for the PTBNL.

The Royals also placed pitching prospect Alec Marsh on their 60-man Player Pool. Marsh, selected in the second round of last year’s amateur draft, is currently ranked by mlb.com as the franchise’s 29th best prospect. He was 0-1 with a 4.05 ERA, 10.3 SO9 and 1.1 BB9 in 13 starts for Idaho Falls last season.

Kansas City also released right-hander Ofreidy Gomez, who had a 28-45 record and 4.32 ERA in seven minor league seasons with the organization.

Next: Singer will go farther than Lopez

The KC Royals made a number of personnel moves Saturday. They’ll have short and long term impacts.

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