Why the KC Royals need to move on from Matt Sauer

The pitcher has untapped potential, but Kansas City needs production now.
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On Friday night, pitcher Matt Sauer had a six-run cushion to work with. In the ninth inning, manager Matt Quatraro entrusted Sauer with the ball in front of a raucous Kauffman crowd. The bats came alive, starter Cole Ragans pitched a gem, and the 2014 AL champion celebration lit up the nostalgia meter. A shutout series opener against the visiting Oakland Athletics would not only secure a win but also set a strong tone for the series.

Oakland catcher Shea Langliers, at bat with two outs, would write a different end to Friday's game.

You can hear the Royals crowd deflate. It wasn't a game-losing play at all, but it felt more similar to the 2023 Kansas City team than the 2014 squad at that moment. Langliers smashing that ball 421 feet to dead center didn't just break the shutout; it broke my hope in Sauer staying in Kansas City.

The KC Royals gave Matt Sauer what New York couldn't: a chance.

I love a good underdog story, and there may be no more common underdog than a Rule 5 Draft pick. That player, while deemed not worthy of a 40-man roster spot, must stay on his new club's 26-man roster for the entire next season. More often than not, a Rule 5 player doesn't last the season with his new club, either ending up on waivers or back with his original organization.

Kansas City gave Sauer a change of scenery by plucking him from the New York Yankees organization. Injuries and the lost 2020 season derailed Sauer's progression there, but he remains a solid starter at the Double-A level. The Royals took him from that level and threw him into the MLB fire, a learning curve that not many players survive.

If Kansas City wants to send Sauer back to the minors, there are several more steps than usual. Sauer would be placed on outright waivers, exposing him to all 29 other teams. Even if he does pass through waivers, Kansas City must offer him back to New York for $50,000. They would not have the same optioning limitations, making reacquiring him an enticing option. Only if they decline, which I imagine they wouldn't, could Sauer be optioned down to the minors.

That is a lot of teams saying no to a young pitcher with starter potential and bullpen experience. I would expect the 2023 Royals to take a chance on Sauer if another team was in the same situation.

The KC Royals have better options than Sauer waiting for a chance.

Despite all the possible pitfalls, Kansas City should look for an upgrade over Sauer this season. We are no longer in the small-sample-size territory, with Sauer appearing in 13 games and pitching 15⅓ innings. His 6.13 FIP and 1.96 WHIP both rank dead last in Kansas City, with only Will Smith having a mark higher than Sauer's 6.46 ERA. He still walks more batters (11 BB) than he strikes out (8 K), thanks to his lack of a true get-out pitch.

His four-seam slider-curveball combination is his bread and butter, but none of those pitches overwhelm batters. His stuff doesn't work well inside the zone, with only 37.5% of his pitches landing in the strike zone. That is the lowest mark among all Kansas City pitchers and the 24th-worst among AL pitchers too.

I still believe the 25-year-old Sauer has long-relief potential, but the Royals cannot afford to explore that this year. Several relievers, both on the 40-man roster and off, have demonstrated consistent performance and skill that warrant a spot on the 26-man roster. Guys like Will Klein and Steven Cruz are ready, while Walter Pennington and Sam Long could benefit from the 40-man spot opening up.

If this were last season, with a team clearly out of postseason contention, there wouldn't be harm in keeping Sauer around. But if the Royals want fans to believe this team can win, then they must make moves that reflect it, Sauer still has potential, but Kansas City should prioritize production out of the bullpen.

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