KC Royals: Will this hurler reappear on club’s radar?

(Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports) /

The surprising success the KC Royals enjoyed earlier this season, when they led the American League Central for almost a month, turned out to be a cruel tease of sorts, at best a glimpse into some future time when the club will legitimately contend. The Royals, losers of seven of their last 10, are 20-38 since the last day they occupied first place and have taken up residence in the Central cellar, 15.5 games out of first when today’s games started.

With this campaign almost certainly lost, thoughts will soon turn to offseason moves the club should make. It’s too optimistic to believe this winter will mirror last, when Kansas City uncharacteristically added several new components; don’t expect General Dayton Moore to get the green light to bring in a collection of players like Carlos Santana, Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor, or Mike Minor. Instead, look for KC to hope prospects Bobby Witt Jr., Jackson Kowar, and maybe even Nick Pratto, can fill key gaps.

Rely on Moore, though, to continue at least one Royal offseason tradition—he’ll at least consider a new pitching reclamation project, for him a seemingly irresistible quest.

His results have been mixed.

Take, for example, the stark contrast between Moore’s two most recent winters. Bringing back Wade Davis, a once dominant reliever in the midst of an injury-plagued downturn before he returned to KC this past offseason simply hasn’t worked. His current stint on the Injured List and Opening Day save aside, Davis has been a bust—his 8.06 ERA says it all. The Royals would do well to cut their losses and move on from him.

The 2019-2020 winter, though, was wildly successful. The KC Royals rolled the dice twice on Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland, signing Rosenthal and then Holland a week later to minor league deals. Rosenthal quickly became the club’s closer and saved seven games before Kansas City dealt him to San Diego in a trade deadline deal that reaped Edward Olivares; Holland pitched well from the start, stepped into Rosenthal’s closer shoes, and finished 3-0 with six saves and a 1.91 ERA.

Whether Holland returns next year remains to be seen. And don’t close the door on Rosenthal, who’s suddenly at a crossroad that could put him right back on the KC Royals’ offseason radar.

Rosenthal once again fits the KC Royals’ low-risk, high-reward profile.

After going 1-0 and saving four games without giving up a run for San Diego, Rosenthal entered the offseason one of the most sought after relievers on the market. He signed late, inking a one-year, $11 million, heavily backloaded deal with Oakland after the Athletics opened spring camp.

Then misfortune hit. Rosenthal underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in April and now faces surgery to repair a torn hip labrum. He hasn’t, and won’t, pitch this season.

Rosenthal is again a once-great pitcher in disrepair, which makes him a likely target of Moore’s attention this winter. Moore’s fondness for beleaguered hurlers is well-known and well-established, and Rosenthal fits the bill.

His won’t be a case of hitting the free-agent market on the heels of a poor season; instead, his most recent work was stellar, so his health is the controlling factor. Rough and rugged will be Rosenthal’s road: it doesn’t appear to be publicly known if he had completely recovered from thoracic outlet surgery when his newest injury occurred, and thoracic outlet injuries are notoriously difficult.

The two injuries will reduce Rosenthal’s market value, a good thing for the Royals if they’re interested in a reunion. A pitcher who hasn’t competed for a year and who’s coming off two not insignificant surgeries won’t command top, or even mid-level, value, making Rosenthal a financially-inviting prospect for KC. He’s probably signable on the same kind of terms Moore snagged him two winters ago—a $2 million minor league deal with additional money available only if he made it to the majors.

And the Royals needn’t worry about the $8 million deferred money remaining on Rosenthal’s one-year Oakland contract, an obligation the A’s presumably own lock, stock, and barrel.

Perhaps Rosenthal and the Athletics will work out a nominal deal to secure his return—after all, he hasn’t thrown a pitch for them and they surely want to realize some kind of return on their $11 million investment.

But if the two sides can’t get together, don’t be at all surprised if Moore gives Rosenthal a call. It worked once, and could work again.

His latest pair of injuries make Rosenthal an even greater risk than he was in January 2020. But that might not stop Dayton Moore.

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It looks like Trevor Rosenthal will be back on the free agent market this winter. Time will tell whether the KC Royals look him up.