Three Royals players who could be next in line to be moved off the 40-man roster

On Friday, the Royals made a slew of prospect additions to their 40-man roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft in December. Most of the moves were predictable (Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, and Jonathan Bowlan), but there were some surprise additions that many Royals fans didn’t quite see coming (pitchers Collin Snider and Nathan Webb are the primary ones). In addition, there were also some moves that were “not made” (both on an addition and subtraction end) that piqued many Royals fans, as evidenced by this Tweet from Rany Jazayerli below:

Now, the Royals are not done making roster moves by any means. There likely will be plenty of transactions made leading up to the December 1st non-tender deadline, especially with seven players on the Royals 40-man roster eligible for arbitration this winter. That being said, it is tough to be patient as a Royals fan, especially when division rivals, such as the Detroit Tigers, have already made free agent splashes this offseason:

While the Royals will probably be “slow” in making roster decisions leading up to that non-tender deadline in a couple of weeks, Royals fans still should expect at least a few more changes on the 40-man roster.

So, who could those possible candidates be?

In this post, I take a look at three Royals players currently on the 40-man roster who may not still be in Kansas City after the new year.

Ryan O’Hearn, First Base/Outfield

O’Hearn had become a polarizing figure among Royals fans, especially considering he’s 28-years-old and has failed to post a positive fWAR in a season since his surprise rookie campaign in 2018 in which he posted a 153 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR in 44 games.

Since 2019, O’Hearn has posted wRC+ marks of 68 (2019), 65 (2020), and 70 (2021) over 231 games at the Major League level. Thus, it is not a surprise Royals fans are feeling this way about the former 8th round pick:

O’Hearn does offer some interesting power, and last season, he did post his best wRC+ since 2018 and his .144 ISO was a 38 point improvement from his ISO mark during the shortened 2020 season. Furthermore, O’Hearn also started going to the middle and the opposite field with his power in 2021, as his pull rate of 38.7 percent was the lowest of his career, and his “oppo” batted ball rate of 25 percent was the highest of his career. That produced home runs such as this one below against the Red Sox at Fenway Park in late June:

That being said, with Carlos Santana still on the roster, Pratto added after a strong Double-A and Triple-A campaign, and with Hunter Dozier a key part of the Royals’ future, it just doesn’t seem like O’Hearn will still be on the Royals 40-man roster after 2021 ends. After all, the Royals weren’t willing to pay an estimated $1.8 million for Jakob Junis in arbitration (which led to him being non-tendered). Thus, it seems tough to think that Dayton Moore and the Royals front office would be okay offering O’Hearn an estimated $1.4 million, especially since O’Hearn has produced a lot less on an fWAR basis than Junis.

Royals fans maybe have wanted O’Hearn gone sooner rather than later. That being said, O’Hearn’s days in Kansas City are dwindling, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him as the next roster chip to fall this offseason.

Cam Gallagher, Catcher

Gallagher has been a Royals backup catcher since 2019, though he has struggled to stay healthy over that time span, as he has only appeared in 153 games since debuting in 2017. Gallagher has only posted a wRC+ over 100 twice (his rookie year in 2017 and in 2020, when he posted a career-high 116 wRC+). However, Gallagher may be the strongest defensive catcher currently on the Royals’ active roster, especially on a framing end.

When looking at Savant catcher framing data from 2021, Gallagher was far and away better than Sebastian Rivero and Salvador Perez when it came to extra framing runs and extra strike percentage:

Considering Salvy’s framing struggles, one would think that the Royals would continue to hold onto Gallagher, especially since he is expected to make much in the arbitration process either (MLB Trade Rumors projects that he should command about $900,000). However, the Royals just added the highly touted Melendez, who not only offers similar defensive skills to Gallagher (his game-calling and framing has gotten high remarks from scouts), but superior hitting upside, as evidenced by him being the first catcher to earn the Joe Bauman Award, which is awarded to the top home-run hitting catcher in the Minor Leagues:

Right now, there are four catchers on the Royals’ active roster. Even with the need to give Salvy extra days off due to his age (he’ll be 32 in 2022), it is highly unlikely that Moore and the Royals front office will keep that many on the 40-man when pitchers and catchers report in February. Thus, it will be interesting to see if the Royals will perhaps try to package Gallagher in a possible trade, especially with the demand for good framing catchers higher than ever. After all, framing was a big reason why A’s catcher Sean Murphy earned the Gold Glove this year over Salvy, even though Salvy continues to display one of the best arms in the game:

It is likely that Melendez would command a tremendous trade package on the market, but as of now, it seems like Moore and JJ Picollo believe that Melendez will be part of the Royals position player core going forward (along with Pratto and Bobby Witt, Jr.). And thus, that makes Gallagher expendable, and unlikely to be on this Royals roster come Spring Training.

Joel Payamps, Relief Pitcher

Payamps was an underrated mid-season pickup by Moore, as the Blue Jays designated the 27-year-old relief pitcher for assignment in July, and the Royals swooped in and picked him up for cash considerations. Payamps made 15 appearances for the Royals in the second half of the season and posted a 4.43 ERA, 3.96 FIP, and accumulated a 0.2 fWAR. When including his Blue Jays numbers, Payamps appeared in 37 games, pitched 50.1 innings, posted a 3.40 ERA, 4.10 FIP, and accumulated a 0.4 fWAR.

While Payamps didn’t have as much of an impact out of the bullpen as Domingo Tapia, who was also acquired by the Royals mid-season, Payamps still posted encouraging numbers, especially as a long reliever. That is particularly evident in Stacast percentiles, via Baseball Savant:

Payamps doesn’t generate a whole lot of swings and misses or strikeouts, but he minimizes hard contact and limits walks, which is beneficial to a Royals bullpen last season that ranked 19th in reliever ERA and 17th in BB/9, according to Fangraphs. In addition, Payamps is not arbitration-eligible just yet, which means that he should come at a reasonable price contract-wise in 2022.

Hence, some Royals fans may be asking: if Payamps is such a value out of the bullpen, then why is he a candidate to be moved this offseason?

There are two reasons primarily for my thinking. First, Payamps is out of Minor League options. Thus, if he doesn’t make the MLB club out of Spring Training, he will be put on waivers, and it seems likely another club will pick him up. The second reason is that the Royals have added Snider and Webb to the 40-man roster, and they are two pitchers who could have an impact in the Royals bullpen next year, and have benefited from the Royals Player Development team in the Minor Leagues (unlike Payamps, who comes from outside the organization).

When looking at Roster Resource’s depth chart projections for 2022, Payamps is listed as a long reliever, but he was primarily added after the Royals had non-tendered Junis. Right now, the former Rockies international signing seems to be on the edge of making the roster out of Spring Training, which makes his status for making the Opening Day roster highly questionable.

Granted, he has value as a guy who can throw some valuable innings in the middle of a game, which he did with the Royals and Blue Jays last year. That being said, is that role worth keeping Payamps around, especially with pitchers like Jackson Kowar available, who could benefit from a long-relief role at the Major League level? (Much like Kris Bubic did in 2021 before solidifying himself in the rotation.)

And even if Payamps doesn’t get the long relief role, what if Snider or Webb has a strong Spring Training? That could make Payamps expendable, especially considering the home run issues he had at the end of the season with the Royals. After posting an HR/FB rate of 8.3 percent with the Blue Jays in 2021, he saw that percentage spike up to 11.5 percent, highlighted by home runs such as this one given up to Byron Buxton at Kauffman Stadium in the last game of the Regular Season:

I think the Royals believe that Payamps is a decent reliever. But the Royals do not need “decent” relievers right now. They need good ones and ones who can be in the bullpen long-term. As serviceable as Payamps was in 2021, I don’t think he meets either of those standards. Thus, with younger, and more cost-efficient options available on the 40-man roster, I believe it will be tough to see Payamps on this Royals Opening Day roster in 2022.

Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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