Sometimes, the KC Royals work in mysterious ways. Seemingly strange, and occasionally inexplicable, personnel moves and strategies dot General Manager Dayton Moore’s 15-year Kansas City tenure.
Add to the list of mysteries the recent change the Royals made to their bullpen, one resembling a simple replacement of an injured reliever. But it’s more than that, this move that came six days ago when Kansas City put Ronald Bolanos on the 60-day Injured List and called up veteran reliever Anthony Swarzak from Triple-A Omaha to take his place.
It’s odd. Perhaps more odd than why Swarzak was available in the first place.
At its core, and as discussed previously in this space, Swarzak’s signing was curious. Although the Royals were just emerging from their devastating 11-game losing streak when they brought Swarzak into the organization in mid-May, they had no pressing need for another reliever. And certainly not one who, at 35 (36 in September) and working in his 11th big league season, was just three weeks past being released by Arizona, which was well on its way to becoming the worst team in baseball. He was 0-1 with a 9.64 ERA when the Diamondbacks let him go.
Swarzak, though, seemed on the way to vindicating the Royals—he was 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA in nine games for Omaha when summoned to Kansas City last week. His first appearance came against Boston the day after the Royals selected his contract; he was first out of the pen in the club’s 7-1 loss to the Sox and retired the side in order in the sixth.
But things were different against New York Thursday. Chosen by Manager Mike Matheny to pitch the sixth inning again, this time with KC trailing 4-1, Swarzak surrendered a leadoff single to DJ LaMahieu, a double to Aaron Judge, and a three-run homer to Gary Sanchez before getting the first out. He also hit Rougned Odor after getting Luke Voit on a fly and before striking out Clint Frazier to end the inning and his day’s work. (New York won 8-1).
The KC Royals bypassed a deserving reliever when they promoted Swarzak.
So what is it, after just one rocky performance, that makes Swarzak’s promotion questionable? It’s not so much who came to Kansas City as it is who was left behind. There was a much better choice for the Royals, but he’s still at Omaha awaiting a chance for another big league shot.
And Gabe Speier deserves it.
Speier, nine years Swarzak’s junior at 26, has pitched 17 times since the Storm Chasers’ season began May 4. He’s 1-0 with a microscopic 0.98 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 18.1 innings, and hasn’t blown a save in five chances. He hasn’t given up a home run and is holding opponents to a .129 average. His WHIP is 0.82.
And therein lies the mystery. Why the KC Royals chose Swarzak for their bullpen, and not Speier, defies logic. Maybe Speier is hurt. Maybe there’s something about Swarzak now that Kansas City likes better than Speier. Maybe the club is reluctant to take another chance on Speier after his 7.36 ERA in nine 2019 games with the Royals, and his 0-1, 7.94 eight-game record with them last season.
But the reason or reasons the KC Royals bypassed Speier for Swarzak aside, they should make Speier their first choice when the next bullpen vacancy arises.
Kansas City recently added Anthony Swarzak to the bullpen. Gabe Speier deserves the next promotion to the Royals’ relief corps.