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Breaking down KC's closer options for '21

@FlannyMLB
September 22, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- In the perfect world, perhaps Royals manager Mike Matheny would get a huge Christmas present this offseason, and somehow relievers/closers Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal would wind up back pitching for Kansas City in 2021. “That would be some Christmas present,” Matheny said, before joking, “I was

KANSAS CITY -- In the perfect world, perhaps Royals manager Mike Matheny would get a huge Christmas present this offseason, and somehow relievers/closers Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal would wind up back pitching for Kansas City in 2021.

“That would be some Christmas present,” Matheny said, before joking, “I was just hoping for some socks.”

Rosenthal, who was 7-for-7 in save opportunities before being traded to San Diego ahead of the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline, is an impending free agent. So is Holland, who has a 1.91 ERA and is 6-for-6 in save opportunities.

Both Rosenthal and Holland are represented by agent Scott Boras, who typically seeks maximum contractual value on the market. But if neither Rosenthal nor Holland returns, the Royals’ bullpen situation isn’t exactly desperate. Several young arms emerged this season as potential late-inning relievers moving forward:

RHP Josh Staumont: This will turn out to be the breakthrough the Royals were looking for with Staumont, who always has been able to light up the radar gun with 100 mph heaters. This season, Staumont finally showed that he can command his fastball and curve to the tune of a 1.57 ERA. That's definitely closer material.

RHP Jesse Hahn: Another huge and pleasant surprise, Hahn’s career with the Royals since being acquired in the Brandon Moss trade with Oakland in 2018 has been besieged by injuries. But finally healthy, Hahn has been dynamite with a mid-90s heater and a knee-buckling curveball. He has a 0.64 ERA, and without a doubt, he is closer material.

RHP Scott Barlow: The organization has long thought that Barlow’s mid-90s fastball and hard slider would make him an effective, and at times, dominant late-inning guy. He has shown that in spurts the past two seasons. In fact, Barlow had a 1.37 ERA through August before stumbling in September. Matheny and the organization are still big believers that Barlow can be that late-inning piece or even a closer if he improves his command.

RHP Kyle Zimmer: He took a significant step forward this season. As Zimmer has said often, the 2019 season was simply about proving that he could stay healthy. And '20 has been about proving he can pitch at this level. Mission accomplished. His 1.23 ERA has removed any doubt, and he certainly will be a late-inning candidate going forward.

RHP Tyler Zuber: Some scouts view Zuber, a rookie, as a junior Holland -- they both possess tough sliders with plenty of get-up-and-go on their heaters. And they both are intense competitors who don’t give in to hitters. Zuber, who has a 4.26 ERA, is still learning, but the coaching staff feels he is not far away.

“We’ve got guys who continue to take those next steps,” Matheny said, “pitching in higher leverages, pitching later in the games. Sometimes, pitching that eighth is harder than the ninth. We’ve had guys do that and that is usually the transition phase, where the guy who normally throws the ninth can’t go, and someone else steps in and shows what they can do.

“We’ll just give these guys opportunities. In terms of stuff, we have guys that have shown [being a closer] is something they should be considered for.”

But even if the Royals can’t bring back Holland or Rosenthal, expect the club to pursue more bargain free-agent relievers yearning for similar bounce-back seasons.

“I still think you’re still looking for guys who have seasoning and experience,” Matheny said. “Greg is the perfect example. And [Rosenthal] was extremely valuable for the development of the younger guys. The two of them allowed some of these guys to be pushed back a little bit to take a different role, and also, the younger guys learned from them in the daily conversations. I have heard of a number of the younger guys say that.

“If you don’t have guys who have been there, done that, I don’t know how the younger guys learn unless it’s through failure or trial and error, but mostly error. Then, you just wait and see who steps up for that [closer] role and who steps up if someone trips.

“But our young guys have stepped up in their roles, and we knew it was a potential area of weakness for us. But now, it’s an area of strength.”

Negro Leagues salute
The Royals and Cardinals honored the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues in Tuesday's game. The Royals wore the 1945 Kansas City Monarchs' home uniforms, which are a replica of the jersey Jackie Robinson wore when he played that year for the Monarchs.

The Royals also wore batting helmets with a “KC” Monarchs logo in a cream color. The Cardinals wore the 1930 St. Louis Stars away uniform, which is the team that won the Negro National League pennant.

Game-worn uniform pieces and bases are up for auction through Royals Authentics online. All proceeds will benefit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

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