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Royals' projected 2021 Opening Day roster

@FlannyMLB
November 6, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- The biggest decisions the Royals will have to make in terms of their 2021 roster likely will be in the outfield. Currently, only Whit Merrifield is a lock to start somewhere in the outfield, either in right or center field. And, of course, there are questions about

KANSAS CITY -- The biggest decisions the Royals will have to make in terms of their 2021 roster likely will be in the outfield.

Currently, only Whit Merrifield is a lock to start somewhere in the outfield, either in right or center field.

And, of course, there are questions about which players will fill out the bullpen.

So here’s a very, very early look at a roster projection for 2021:

Catchers (2): Obviously, Salvador Perez, who will be in the final year of his contract, is back as the starter after a shortened season in which he totaled 12 doubles, 11 home runs and a .986 OPS in just 37 games. Who gets the backup job will be interesting. Both Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria are out of options, so it might come down to which one the Royals think they can slide through waivers and back to Triple-A Omaha. Then the backup will go to the other.

First base (2): Hunter Dozier has taken over as the Royals’ first baseman of the future, at least in the immediate. Dozier’s defense down the stretch has convinced the Royals that he is the direction to go, at least until prospect Nick Pratto -- No. 12 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- is ready. The backup here will be a Spring Training battle between Ryan McBroom and Ryan O'Hearn.

Second base (1): Nicky Lopez was a finalist for a Gold Glove and probably should have won -- he had a plus-6 in Statcast’s highly scientific Outs Above Average, and no second baseman in baseball was better than that. Yes, Lopez needs to improve offensively -- .552 OPS in 2020 -- but general manager Dayton Moore values defense first. He has said that he can live with one of his middle infielders not hitting, just not both. That’s good news for Lopez.

Third base (1): Maikel Franco was a very pleasant addition in the clubhouse and on the field. He led the team in doubles (16) and RBIs (38) and is arbitration eligible. What a great signing.

Shortstop (1): Adalberto Mondesi’s spectacular finish has the Royals optimistic that he has put worries about his shoulder surgery from 2019 behind him. Mondesi had six doubles, six home runs, 16 stolen bases and a 1.130 OPS in his final 22 games.

Outfield (5): This is where it gets tricky. Franchy Cordero likely will get the first crack at replacing Alex Gordon in left field. Merrifield probably will start in right field. Will Edward Olivares claim center field? Bubba Starling is out of options, but is so good defensively that he likely will grab a backup spot. Speedy Nick Heath could be another backup option, or the Royals could search the free-agent market for a starter or for more depth, though finances will be incredibly tight. There also could be a wild card that emerges out of Spring Training. Prospect Kyle Isbel (No. 7)? A position change for shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 1)?

DH (1): Jorge Soler, who is arbitration eligible, is under club control for one more season. He is the weapon that opponents have to account for every night.

Utility (0-1): Expect Moore and his staff to once again search for a backup middle infielder on the free-agent market, much like they did last year with Matt Reynolds. Yes, the Royals have Merrifield, who could back up Lopez at second base, and yes, Lopez who could then back up Mondesi at shortstop. Better odds that Moore finds a cost-efficient veteran for this role. But the roster shuffling could come down to either adding a utility infielder, a backup first baseman or carrying seven or eight relievers. That’s the numbers crunch.

Starting pitchers (5): With lefty Mike Montgomery now a free agent, the Royals’ rotation could look like this: Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Carlos Hernandez (No. 10). Duffy is in the final year of his contract. There also could be a surprise with a rookie prospect such as Daniel Lynch (No. 3) or Jackson Kowar (No. 4) emerging.

Relievers (8): Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Tyler Zuber, Jakob Junis, Greg Holland, Jesse Hahn, Kyle Zimmer, Trevor Rosenthal. Adding Holland, and especially Rosenthal, are probably pipe dreams, given how tight the Royals’ finances will be after owner John Sherman took a financial beating in his first year of ownership. The Royals have great interest in bringing back Holland, and they think they have a chance. Rosenthal is a longer shot because he’ll probably get a market deal too rich for the Royals. But you never know. Junis could emerge as a shutdown reliever as he transitions from the rotation to a setup man or closer.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.