KANSAS CITY -- The Royals’ Opening Day roster in 2020 may not look all that different from the active roster that finished the '19 season, especially among the position players.
Club officials have expressed content with their positional lineup moving forward. Now, when it comes to the bullpen, which finished second-to-last in the American League in ERA, there certainly is room for adjustments.
With that, let’s take a way-too-early stab at the Opening Day roster decisions for next March -- and keep in mind that rosters will expand to 26 next season.
Locks: Salvador Perez
Possibilities: Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria
There will be strong competition in Spring Training between Viloria and Gallagher. Both have options. There can be an argument made that Viloria has the higher ceiling and therefore would be better off getting more playing time in the Minor Leagues. But the Royals also believe Viloria could handle limited playing time at the big league level and learn behind Perez. Gallagher is a solid backup.
Possibilities: Ryan O'Hearn, Ryan McBroom, Cheslor Cuthbert, free-agent signing
The camp battle will be among O'Hearn, McBroom and Cuthbert. It's possible the Royals keep both O'Hearn and McBroom and platoon them. Cuthbert is a candidate to be non-tendered. But if he is and he is re-signed, he would be in the mix, too, as both O'Hearn and McBroom have options.
Locks: Nicky Lopez
Possibilities: Whit Merrifield
Lopez likely showed enough the final few weeks, even with an injured hand, to prove he can handle the job. The Royals know he can defensively, for sure. He made strides down the stretch at the plate. And, of course, the Royals always have Merrifield, who likely is ticketed for the outfield, for that position as well if Lopez falters.
Locks: Adalberto Mondesi
There is some question here because Mondesi’s left shoulder surgery after the season puts his readiness by Opening Day somewhat in doubt. If he can’t go by then, Lopez will go to shortstop and Merrifield will take over at second base.
Locks: Hunter Dozier
Possibilities: No other
Dozier’s breakout season offensively and defensively makes him the Royals’ third baseman of the future.
Possibilities: Humberto Arteaga, free-agent signing
The Royals already have a super-utility man in Merrifield, so this position isn’t really that necessary unless Mondesi can’t go by Opening Day. Arteaga is a possibility to fill if that’s the case, or the Royals could shop in free agency.
Locks: Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Alex Gordon, Bubba Starling, Brett Phillips
Possibilities: Royals' No. 4 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) Khalil Lee, prospect Nick Heath, free-agent signing
This is presuming Gordon comes back for one more season. If that’s the case, he will be back in left field. Starling and Phillips are out of options, and the Royals really need to find out if they are part of the future. Soler likely will DH more than anything else, which would put Merrifield in right field (depending on Mondesi’s health and the infield situation). If Gordon retires, a prospect could impress in Spring Training and sneak on the roster.
Locks: Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, Mike Montgomery
Possibilities: Glenn Sparkman, Jorge López, Jesse Hahn, Eric Skoglund, free agent signing
There has been some internal talk of moving Junis to the bullpen with the thinking that his slider is more effective just once through the order. Hahn is back from elbow-repair surgery -- it will be interesting to see how he fares in camp. The Royals still are trying to get the gifted Lopez on track, but one wonders how much patience they’ll have. General manager Dayton Moore certainly will be looking for cost-efficient free-agent starters. Yes, it’s possible that one of the prospects such as Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, or Daniel Lynch, etc., blow away Mike Matheny in camp. But generally the Royals prefer to make such promotions after the season has started.
Locks: Ian Kennedy, Scott Barlow, López, Tim Hill
Possibilities: Hahn, Kyle Zimmer, Kevin McCarthy, Randy Rosario, Jake Newberry, Heath Fillmyer, Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, Gabe Speier, free-agent signings
López, Hahn, Zimmer, Barnes and Rosario are out of options, which will give them possibly a slight edge going into camp. But the guess here is the competition will be wide open, a competition that surely will include some free-agent signings (Jake Diekman?). The bullpen, especially in the middle innings, was an eyesore in 2019.