KC Royals: The many mysteries of a baseball January

(Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /
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KC Royals
(Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports) /

This year, not as many January questions surround the KC Royals’ bullpen.

Uncertainty swirled around the Kansas City bullpen as 2020 began. Ian Kennedy’s successful 2019 transition from starter to reliever didn’t guarantee a repeat performance in 2019, especially because he’d pitched only one game in relief before ’19. Whether Glenn Sparkman would start or relieve (or both) was unknown. Would Kyle Zimmer stay in the pen and, if so, could he remain healthy? And would the club’s efforts to salvage Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland succeed?

Even a short 60-game season provided definitive answers. Rosenthal knocked Kennedy out of the closer’s role as soon as the campaign began; Kennedy had a miserable 0-2, 9.00 ERA year.  Sparkman pitched just four times in an injury-shortened season, was released in late November, and is now with the Twins. Zimmer pitched superbly out of the pen (1-0, 1.57, 1.04 WHIP in 16 games) before landing on the Injured List in late September. And Holland successfully assumed closer duties when the club traded Rosenthal to the Padres in August.

What of the coming campaign? For now, Holland faces the same type of question that confronted Kennedy last January—can he repeat his good season as closer? The answer depends primarily on Holland himself, but could be answered by Rosenthal if he decides, unexpectedly, to return, in which case Holland could be moved to a setup or seventh inning role.

Then there’s Josh Staumont. Can the owner of the fastest Royal fastball have a second straight excellent season? He went 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA (188 ERA+) in 26 appearances and should be the setup man for Holland, and possibly Rosenthal in the unlikely event the latter returns.

The other major question is Zimmer’s health. Right elbow neuritis hit him late last season. Look for him to be ready for spring training.