KC Royals Roster: Wade Davis in, Nicky Lopez out

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

The KC Royals made two key moves Sunday. A pitcher stays, an infielder goes.

The vibes have been there for days. Two important roster moves had become inevitable for the KC Royals, and it was just a matter of time before both occurred.

The transactions finally happened Sunday.

Wade Davis will be in Kansas City Opening Day. Nicky Lopez will not.

News of the moves came at different times—the selection of Davis’ contract before Sunday’s exhibition game against Colorado, Lopez’s demotion to Triple-A Omaha after the team beat Davis’ old club in Kansas City’s next-to-last Cactus League game of the spring.

Not that long ago, the farming out of Lopez would have been a stunner. He entered spring training as the presumptive second baseman, a status owing primarily to his spectacular defense. The Royals, a franchise owing its greatest moments to great defense and pitching, seemed content to overlook his deeply flawed hitting as long as his glove remained among the best in the business.

The offseason acquisitions of switch hitter Carlos Santana and lefthanded bat Andrew Benintendi appeared to make Lopez’s job even more secure—their presence had the potential to relieve at least some of the pressure on lefty Lopez to produce at the plate.

Related Story. Nicky Lopez might thank Andrew Benintendi. light

But things only worsened for Lopez as spring training progressed. He played in his last game Wednesday and was slashing an awful .118/.231/.147 with 13 strikeouts in 34 at-bats. (He hit .201 in 56 games for the Royals last season).

But those weren’t the only signs of Lopez’s impending departure. The offseason acquisition of versatile free agent infielder Hanser Alberto, who spent most of the last two campaigns as Baltimore’s main second baseman, seemed to signal Lopez might be in trouble; Whit Merrifield appeared destined to play right field this season, but has been seeing far more of second base than the outfield lately. And Kansas City brass had grown almost silent on Lopez for several days.

Related Story. Alberto signing could have big impact. light

Now, Lopez is set to begin the season back at Omaha, a place where he’s been much better offensively. In parts of two campaigns with the Storm Chasers before his 2019 promotion to the majors, he hit .304 with a .396 OBP. The KC Royals will operate an alternate training site after they break camp this week; it will last at least until May’s scheduled start of minor league play, and Lopez is a likely candidate to report there.

Will Lopez return to the big leagues, where a Gold Glove seems to be in his future? That depends on one thing only—whether he can begin to hit well enough to see Kauffman Stadium again.

The return of former KC Royals star reliever Wade Davis wasn’t surprising

Davis is rejoining the Royals, but things could have turned out much differently. He became the offseason beneficiary of General Manager Dayton Moore’s propensity to find veteran pitchers to rebuild, signing a minor league deal in January that carried with it a non-roster invitation to spring training.

There was reason to be dubious about the transaction—the once excellent set-up man for KC Royals closer Greg Holland in 2014 and most of 2015, then great closer with KC and later the Cubs and Rockies, fell victim to injuries in 2019 and 2020 and eventually lost his job as Colorado’s closer. He went 1-6 with an 8.65 ERA two years ago, then 0-1, 20.77 while missing much of the 2020 campaign.

Davis, though, regained much of his old form in this spring’s Cactus League games. He seems free from those Colorado injuries: he didn’t make it into Sunday’s game against the Rox, but hasn’t given up a run in six appearances. Exactly where Davis will pitch for Mike Matheny will be determined more by Matheny’s preferred best match-up approach than Davis’ past as a set-up man and closer. But he’ll probably see his share of high-leverage situations.

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Sunday’s transactions should make the Royals better. At least for now, Merrifield’s better bat makes him the best choice for second base, and Davis should bolster the club’s improved bullpen.

Next. This player shouldn't make the team. dark

The Royals took two big steps Sunday toward paring their roster down to the 26-player Opening Day limit. A veteran pitcher rejoined the team and a promising young infielder is headed back to the minors.