Catch up on where Royals stand ahead of new season

March 11th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, it’s time to look forward to the 2022 season, which is just around the corner.

It’s a quick turnaround, so here’s a refresher on all the Royals’ moves from this offseason -- and what they might do between now and Opening Day.

What deals are already done?

The Royals weren’t part of the free-agent frenzy before the lockout, and that was by design. Their goal to open 2022 is, in part, to get their young players transitioned to the Major Leagues. That includes the hitters who are expected to make their debuts, like Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez, as well as the pitchers who made their debuts last year, like Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Jon Heasley.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to upgrade the roster externally, especially in the bullpen. The Royals signed right-handed reliever Taylor Clarke to a one-year, $975,000 contract right before the CBA expired on Dec. 1. Clarke, 28, has a career 4.99 ERA across parts of three seasons with the D-backs, who non-tendered him in late November. But with a fastball-slider mix that plays up with his 6-foot-4 frame, Clarke is a bounce-back candidate on a low-risk deal who could appear in a multi-inning relief role.

The Royals also signed seven players to Minor League deals, giving the organization depth. Right-handed relievers Brad Peacock, Daniel Mengden, Colten Brewer and Arodys Vizcaíno, left-handed reliever Sam Freeman, infielder Ivan Castillo and outfielder JaCoby Jones all joined the organization and will likely be non-roster invitees to Spring Training.

What are the biggest remaining needs and who might they target to fill these holes?

Don’t expect the Royals to go all in on a big-name free agent now that the market has reopened. Their goal remains the same with their young players. But it’s reasonable to think they could target a few more dependable bullpen arms that would fit into the high-leverage reliever group with Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont.

Right-handers Ryan Tepera (2.79 ERA in 61 1/3 innings in 2021) and Collin McHugh (1.55 ERA in 64 innings) could be good targets if the Royals are serious about beefing up their bullpen.

Might there be a reunion with any of their remaining free agents?

The Royals had four free agents: relievers Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Ervin Santana and Jesse Hahn. Hahn is working his way back from surgery after missing almost all of 2021, so any reunion would have to come after he shows he’s healthy. Davis announced his retirement in late November, so he won’t return.

Holland, 36, and Santana, 39, haven’t announced their future plans. If they want to pitch again and the Royals see a fit, there could be a reunion -- but it would likely come if the Royals need big league depth.

What outstanding arbitration cases are on the docket?

The Royals did not come to agreements with their arbitration-eligible players before the lockout began, so the time is now to negotiate those salaries in hopes of avoiding a hearing. Here’s a reminder of those players and their expected 2022 salaries, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts:

OF Andrew Benintendi (third year of arbitration) -- $8.95 million

RHP Brad Keller (second year) -- $5.25 million

INF Adalberto Mondesi (second year) -- $3 million

RHP Scott Barlow (first year) -- $3.25 million

INF Nicky Lopez (first year) -- $3.25 million

C Cam Gallagher (first year) -- $1.24 million

1B/OF Ryan O’Hearn (first year) -- $900,000

How many open spots are there on the 40-man roster?

The Royals’ 40-man roster is full, which means they would have to make a move to add any players. Ahead of the deadline to protect Rule 5-eligible players before the lockout, the Royals added Melendez and Pratto, along with shortstop Maikel Garcia and right-handers Jonathan Bowlan, Collin Snider and Nathan Webb. The Rule 5 Draft won’t be taking place this year, though, so the players the Royals left unprotected will stay in the organization, most notably lefty Austin Cox, who is the club's No. 12-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline.