KC Royals: Why keeping Greg Holland was right move

The KC Royals made a roster move Thursday that, but for the previous night’s embarrassing and headline-stealing loss in Baltimore, would have drawn more attention than a smattering of social media complaints suggests it did.

The Royals activated veteran reliever Greg Holland, who right shoulder impingement syndrome had kept on the Injured List for several weeks. To make room for Holland on the 28-man roster, the club sent third baseman Emmanuel Rivera to Triple-A Omaha.

And therein lies the rub. The Royals sent down an infielder and didn’t replace him with Bobby Witt Jr. Instead, they kept a pitcher whose best days are obviously far behind him, and who many probably would have preferred seeing DFA’d. That, however, is the wrong way to analyze and react to any supposed snub of the Royals’ top MLB Pipeline prospect.

Demoting Rivera wasn’t the motivation for Thursday’s pair of moves; reactivating Holland was and, whether fans like restoring him or not, someone had to go. Perhaps things would have been different if the Royals needed another infielder at this point in the season, but they didn’t and they don’t.

The two-pronged transaction made sense.

The KC Royals can use another pitcher during the season’s final weeks.

To say Kansas City’s pitching has been a mixed bag this season is to understate the obvious. Carlos Hernandez is the only regular starter (a status he’s achieved only since moving into the rotation in mid-July) with a winning (6-1) record and, especially lately, the bullpen runs hot and cold. Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, Ronald Bolanos, and Richard Lovelady are all on the Injured List, and Brady Singer, Kyle Zimmer and Jake Brentz all spent time there in August.

So adding Holland was, if nothing else, logical. The club needs arms more than it does infielders right now (more on that in a moment). And if they’re thinking about re-signing Holland, which would be a questionable move and another story entirely, the Royals need to see how he looks after a stint on the IL.

Another KC Royals infielder shouldn’t be a priority down the stretch.

No matter who it could be, Kansas City simply doesn’t need to add an infielder with a little more than three weeks left in the season. Not even Bobby Witt Jr.

Take a trip around the horn. First baseman Carlos Santana isn’t enjoying a great season—he’s hitting only .223, but has 19 home runs, 63 RBIs, and a respectable .323 OBP to go along with adequate defense. His two-year deal makes him likely to return next year unless the Royals decide to make him a DH, trade him, or eat the final year of his contract, and promote Nick Pratto. The club has a pretty good idea what Pratto is capable of, and bringing him to Kansas City with his Omaha Storm Chasers embroiled in a playoff race isn’t going to happen.

Second base belongs to Whit Merrifield, so there’s no reason to audition anyone there.

The same goes for shortstop Nicky Lopez, a fact proven by the Royals’ decision to play Adalberto Mondesi at third and DH for the rest of the season which, together with Hunter Dozier’s ability to play the hot corner, also negate the need to evaluate another third baseman.

And Hanser Alberto is all the utility infielder the KC Royals need.

But what about Witt Jr.? Why not bring him up to face three weeks of big league pitching?

Because it just isn’t necessary. The season he’s having between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Omaha—30 homers, 89 RBIs, 23 steals, and a .297/.363/.594 slash through Thursday—tell the Royals all they need to know, even more so than Pratto. Like Pratto, Omaha’s presence in the playoff hunt means a call to Kansas City probably isn’t coming.

And three weeks in the majors isn’t that critical. It’s a relatively short span in the grand scheme of a full big league season; Witt is certain to be on the Opening Day roster when the Royals open at Cleveland March 31, so there isn’t really anything for him to prove in 2021.

Bringing Witt up now would also complicate KC’s evaluation of Mondesi at the hot corner. The Royals appear solidly committed to Lopez at short, and need to see how Mondesi handles third in case they’re considering him fitting a super-utility role next season.

Seeing Witt in a Royals uniform can wait. After all, it won’t be long.

The Royals’ decision to activate Greg Holland and option Emmanuel Rivera was the right one.