Why the KC Royals came out ahead on Trevor Rosenthal

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals didn’t land Trevor Rosenthal, but in the end that’s all right.

In a perfect world, Trevor Rosenthal would still be a Royal, preparing for the coming season in the warmth of the KC Royals’ Arizona spring camp.

But the world of baseball, for all its charm and allure, isn’t perfect. Instead, it’s a hard business, and that business reportedly took Rosenthal to the Oakland A’s Thursday. The Athletics gave him 11 million reasons to sign with them when so many believed he’d jump aboard a club with more realistic designs on the 2021 World Series.

But had all gone as Kansas City fans hoped, Rosenthal would have returned to the franchise that gave him a chance to his liking when it appeared no one else would last winter. General Manager Dayton Moore gave him a shot at KC, offering him a $2 million minor league contract (with incentives) and a spring training invitation. Considering Rosenthal’s miserable pitching efforts with Washington and Detroit after his performance fall from grace in St. Louis, the deal was more than reasonable for both sides.

The relatively inexpensive risk paid off for the Royals. Rosenthal recaptured his old National League form from the beginning and maintained it until a trade deadline deal took him away to San Diego. The perfect world that isn’t would have swept Rosenthal back to the Royals and the area he grew up in to close out his career with the hometown team.

But Rosenthal was probably never coming back, even if he and the Royals wanted him to. The business of baseball made certain of that. Spending on Rosenthal the kind of money he seemed sure to command this winter would have been unwise for Kansas City—although he pitched even better (17 strikeouts, one walk and no runs in 10 innings) for the Padres than he did for the Royals in the regular season, his sudden decline in the playoffs (six runs, five hits and five walks in four innings) can’t be overlooked, and he’s just one short season removed from a disastrous 2019.

And the Royals didn’t need to spend big to secure a closer for just one year, not with Greg Holland, who filled Rosenthal’s shoes as soon as he left, returning in 2021 for a reported base of $2.75 million. And not with the likes of Josh Staumont and Scot Barlow apparently capable of closing if Holland can’t.

That Rosenthal remained unsigned for so long and settled for Oakland’s $11 million suggests the A’s were the only club willing to go that high, unless some were but had no chance of winning, or Rosenthal simply didn’t want to pitch for them. Paying him that much for a year isn’t the kind of deal Kansas City typically makes under the circumstances, even with the team’s more liberal approach to free agents this winter. With a solid back of the pen already in place, principal owner John Sherman can spend the money elsewhere. Not signing Rosenthal was a good financial move.

But that isn’t the only reason the KC Royals will come out ahead on Rosenthal. He isn’t returning, but what he did in his short time with the club can’t, and won’t, be forgotten.

Rosenthal came to the team when its bullpen hadn’t been good for a long time. It needed help and required stabilization, and Rosenthal came through. An excellent but abbreviated spring training gave him the leg up on the closer’s job, and when the game resumed in July, he took it. He saved seven games, struck out 21 in 13.2 innings, and had only one bad outing, giving up three runs in 1.1 innings in his last KC game. The subpar outing skewed his ERA from a stellar 1.46 to 3.29.

Rosenthal looked like the lockdown closer the club had lacked for too long; although Ian Kennedy saved 30 games the season before, he didn’t seem as dominating as his successor.

And Rosenthal helped restore credibility to the bullpen and reignite fan interest and confidence in the team itself. Because it was predictable, fans grudgingly accepted the fact of his trade deadline departure, but didn’t like it.

He played his part in sparking the fledgling winning atmosphere and mentality that shows signs of taking solid hold after losing became the name of the Royals’ game.

In short, Rosenthal made the KC Royals better.

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Trevor Rosenthal didn’t come back to the Royals, but the club still came out ahead.