KC Royals: Does Randy Rosario have a Royal future?

(Photo by Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo by Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports) /

Does Randy Rosario, who had a sizzling 2020 spring training for the KC Royals but fizzled during the season, have any future with the club?

Spring training, despite its allure and promise of a baseball season to come, is an imperfect measure of future performance. Mismatches abound, as major league pitchers work against their position player peers for only brief stints, and big league hitters face minor league hurlers trying to impress the big clubs. But all imbalances aside, 2020 spring training gave the KC Royals reason to be excited about Randy Rosario.

With little more than two weeks left before Opening Day Rosario, one of the few left-handers vying for a spot in the Kansas City bullpen, had been almost untouchable. He’d solved most of the hitters he faced, holding them to a .188 average and minuscule 0.47 WHIP, converted three of four save opportunities and surrendered only a run in six games.

Arizona had indeed been kind to Rosario; his performance there continued the fine pitching he’d given the Royals after the club plucked him off the waiver wire the previous September. Managing his last couple of weeks before retiring, KC skipper Ned Yost squeezed Rosario into six games in the final two weeks of the 2019 campaign, and his new reliever came through. He didn’t give up any earned runs (and only one unearned), giving Kansas City hope that it had a valuable new bullpen piece.

That work, although based on a small sample size, was better than Rosario’s career 5.00 ERA, a mark accumulated in two games with Minnesota and 57 with the Cubs. His best season, a 4-0, 3.66 ERA 2018 campaign with Chicago, culminated with the scoreless inning he pitched in his team’s heartbreaking 13-inning loss to Colorado in the National League Wild Card game.

So it was that the KC Royals were justifiably high on Rosario as the 2020 regular season neared.

Then came the sudden, pandemic-driven halt to all things baseball. When the game resumed, Rosario remained squarely in the Kansas City mix—predictably, the club included him in its 60-man Player Pool and he seemed destined to make the delayed Opening Day roster.

Unfortunately for Rosario and the Royals, however, arm tightness landed him on the Injured List just a day before the season started. It was late August before he recovered and was ready to pitch. Unscored upon in his first two outings, Rosario appeared not to have missed a beat when he returned.

That all ended Aug. 26, when Rosario entered KC’s contest against St. Louis in the ninth inning to protect his club’s 5-2 lead. The moment was tense—Trevor Rosenthal, reliable all season up to that point, left the bases loaded for Rosario, who promptly plunked Yadier Molina to force in Paul Goldschmidt from third base. Tyler O’Neill immediately tagged Rosario for a two-run, game-tying single. Dylan Carlson walked to re-load the bases and Rosario walked Kolten Wong to give the Cardinals the win. The Kansas City left-hander blew the save and took the loss.

Cleveland put an end to Rosario’s once-promising season six days later when they battered him for five hits (including a home run) and two runs in 1.2 innings; the southpaw’s only solace was the fact the Indians also tagged starter Matt Harvey for five runs and reliever Chance Adams for two.

Because Rosario was out of minor league options, the KC Royals designated him for assignment and, when he cleared waivers, outrighted him to their alternate training site. He didn’t make it back to Kansas City and opted for free agency in early November.

Rosario is now free to sign with any club. Will the Royals, who seem never to say never to any pitcher, show any interest in him?

Possibly. The three-batter rule, new to the game in 2020, hasn’t completely eliminated the role of left-handed relievers, and the Royals are short in that area. He’ll be 27 in May, so he’s still young enough to give a team several years; he also isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2023 and free agency until 2026, so he’ll be under any signing team’s control for some time. And he’s proven before that he can pitch.

Being out of options is, as explained in one of our pre-2020 season stories, a downside, but that shouldn’t stop the Royals from taking another look at Rosario. The club entered 2020 with eight players in that position and they all saw time in the majors.

All things considered, the KC Royals could do much worse than giving Randy Rosario another opportunity.

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The Royals have little, if anything, to lose by signing Randy Rosario to a minor league deal and inviting him to spring training. He’s a chance worth taking.