Three Royals Roster Moves That Could Happen During This Upcoming Homestand

Well, let’s just say that was a road trip to forget for Kansas City Royals fans.

During the nine-game road trip, the Royals went 2-7, which included getting swept by both the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox in consecutive weekend series. The Royals held a lead in the finale against the White Sox on Sunday, but Max Castillo was unable to hold that two-run lead, and the Royals’ offense failed to do much after Michael Massey’s two-run home run in the top of the second.

The Royals’ road trip wasn’t all bad. Kansas City was able to take two of three from a struggling, but still star-studded San Diego Padres team. Furthermore, Carlos Hernandez has seemed to embrace the “opener” role, as he had another stellar outing where he struck out three batters and allowed no hits or walks in two innings of work.

While Hernandez (and slightly Massey) showed some glimmers of hope during this road trip, the fact of the matter is that this Royals team sits at 14-34, dead last in the AL Central.

With this roster, as it is, it’s hard to see this Royals club escaping the basement anytime soon, even with the White Sox and Guardians underperforming so far in 2023. And with this roster this year, the Royals have reached some historical lows, as Josh Vernier of 610 AM radio pointed out after the Royals’ third-straight loss.

Despite the bleakness of this Royals season thus far, it feels like this Royals roster is on the cusp of making some more shakeups soon.

Typically the Memorial Day timeframe is when a lot of teams will make much-needed roster moves. By the end of May, most teams will have two months of data and are clear in the direction they will likely take for the remainder of the season. Already, we have seen teams make major roster shakeups, like Aaron Hicks being DFA’d by the Yankees over the weekend.

The Royals are in a peculiar situation as a small-market club that is clearly out of the postseason picture before the end of May.

On one hand, it is obvious that the Royals simply do not have enough talent and depth on the Major League roster to field a formidable team right now. On the flip side, it’s not like there is a whole lot of depth in Triple-A Omaha right now either, especially on the pitching end of things, which is where they need the most help.

Therefore, JJ Picollo and the Royals front office are limited in their options for now, though it would not be surprising to see them utilize the trade market before the July Trade Deadline. At this point, Picollo and the Royals need to do what is best to help build a more competitive roster in 2024 and beyond.

That being said, there are some minor immediate moves that the Royals can make that could boost this current active roster.

How much they will impact the Royals’ fortunes in the win-loss column is to be determined (and honestly, it probably won’t change much in terms of wins). However, these three moves could help not just shake up the roster, but bring a much-needed jolt to a young Royals team that is scrambling a bit after a rough end to the road trip in Chicago.

Daniel Lynch Returns to the Pitching Staff (Role to Be Determined)

The Royals need pitching, plain and simple. And it hasn’t helped that the injury bug has hit the Royals’ pitching staff hard in the past couple of weeks as well.

Ryan Yarbrough was transferred to the 60-Day IL after taking a line drive off the face that resulted in multiple facial fractures, according to reports. It is difficult to discern how long Yarbrough will be on the shelf, but the fact that he was transferred to the 60-Day IL not too long after his injury isn’t a good sign.

And if that wasn’t enough, Brad Keller landed on the 15-day IL due to right shoulder impingement.

Shoulder impingement can be a difficult injury to discern. For some guys, it just results in 1-2 missed starts. For others, it can be a more long-term issue. Picollo and manager Matt Quatraro are hoping for the former, but it’s not like Keller was necessarily tearing it up either in his recent stretch of starts.

Quatraro and the Royals have leaned on “bullpen” games in the number-five spot in the rotation since Yarbrough went on the IL. Thankfully for the Royals, Hernandez has thrived in the role, but they haven’t gotten consistent success from the relievers who have followed Hernandez.

Max Castillo battled for 4.2 innings, but he still gave up five runs on eight hits. The same was true for Mike Mayers against the Padres in Hernandez’s previous “opening” outing. While Mayers only gave up one run and struck out three, he still walked four batters in 2.2 IP in the Royals’ 4-3 win in San Diego.

Even if Quatraro continues to use Hernandez in an “opener” role going forward, the Royals could benefit from a more “stable” option in the “piggyback” role.

And Daniel Lynch could fit in that role perfectly.

Now, some Royals fans may ask this question:

Lynch started games in 2021 and 2022 so why would Quatraro and the Royals utilize him in relief rather than in the rotation initially?

I am not saying that the Royals should automatically rule out Lynch as a starter long-term or even at some point this year.

Ultimately, he will be back in the rotation at some point due to the Royals’ need for innings. However, I do think that the “opener” role really suits Hernandez, and I believe that a “piggyback” role for a few outings could help continue Lynch acclimate to Major League pitching after missing some time due to injury.

Some of the concerns voiced in his most recent start in Omaha have me a bit worried that just throwing him into a starting role right away could actually do more harm than good for Lynch and his development.

Lynch’s questionable fastball velocity would be exposed in a starting role (at least for now).

On the flip side, if he is pitching after Hernandez, who’s been pumping 100+ MPH fastballs for two innings in “opening” appearances? Lynch would fare much better in that situation, especially since he offers much better secondary offerings than either Castillo or Mayers. Plus, it would give a set role for Hernandez, which he seems comfortable with for now.

There’s no question Lynch will be back during this homestand, especially with teams such as the Tigers and Nationals, both manageable opponents, looming over the next week. With the Royals needing innings and pitching depth, Lynch certainly fits the bill for a call-up.

It’s just a matter of what his role will be initially that is in question.

Drew Waters Takes Over CF Duties; JBJ is Designated for Assignment

The Royals have not gotten much production in the centerfield spot in 2023, and that was even prior to Kyle Isbel’s hamstring injury.

Here’s a look at the Royals’ CF production so far this season, via Fangraphs, as of Sunday, May 21st:

As Royals fans can see, Royals center fielders have combined for a -0.9 fWAR this season. They are also averaging a .184 wOBA, which shows that most of the value that Isbel, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Nate Eaton have produced has been with their gloves, not with their bats.

Thankfully for the Royals, Drew Waters is nearing the end of his rehab stint in Triple-A Omaha, and he is looking like he could bring a much-needed jolt to the Royals lineup, especially with the bat.

Going into Sunday’s game, Waters was hitting .205 with a .279 OBP and OPS of .612 in 39 plate appearances with the Storm Chasers. He also has struck out 30.2 percent of the time and is producing a BB/K ratio of 0.31, according to Fangraphs. To some Royals fans who may only glance at stats when it comes to evaluating prospects, they may think calling up Waters would be a premature move.

That said, Royals fans have to remember that Waters did NOT play any games during Spring Training. This stint has essentially served as a replacement for missing time in the Cactus League due to injury.

In addition, he has gotten in a lot more at-bats and innings in the field in extended Spring Training in Surprise, prior to his stint with the Storm Chasers. The focus for Waters during this rehab stint is not solely focused on results. Rather, it is to get acclimated to the grind of professional baseball again, which he wasn’t able to do in Spring Training due to injury.

Thus, Waters’ stats need to be taken with a grain of salt and treated more like Spring Training stats if anything. And we all know as Royals fans how reliable Spring Training stats are for predicting regular season performance (look at Franmil Reyes and how well he did in Kansas City for context).

With Waters looking more and more comfortable in Omaha, it would be wise for the Royals to call up Waters to take over CF duties.

While the easy move would be to option Eaton, I do think designating JBJ for assignment makes more sense, especially since Isbel won’t be far behind Waters (though I see an early June return more in the cards for Isbel). JBJ isn’t adding much value to this roster right now, and the Royals could benefit from adding someone from Omaha to the 40-man in his place.

Brewer Hicklen or Dairon Blanco, who’s posting a 124 wRC+ and has 27 stolen bases in 32 games, would be a much better candidate than JBJ or Eaton for a backup CF spot until Isbel is ready.

When Isbel is ready, they can send either Hicklen or Blanco back to Triple-A, with the idea that they can be back in July or August after some trades are made.

Designate Dozier for Assignment; Call Up Samad Taylor

It’s something Royals fans have been harping about for months, but I truly feel like the writing is on the wall for Hunter Dozier and his time in Kansas City.

First off, the Royals have had two months to evaluate Dozier’s outlook in Kansas City in both the short and long term (Royals fans shouldn’t forget that Picollo was actively shopping Dozier this offseason but found no takers). And right now, he is offering more of the same: .189 average; 50 wRC+; -0.2 fWAR in 29 games.

Secondly, Quatraro has not utilized Dozier in the lineup much this month, as Dozier has pretty much played roughly every three days in May, which can be seen in his game logs via Fangraphs:

Dozier has only played in eight games this month, which is down from the 21 games he played between Opening Day and April 30th. The fact of the matter is that Quatraro doesn’t trust Dozier’s bat in the lineup, and it makes sense, considering Dozier pales in comparison to other Royals who have seen time at the hot corner this season.

While Maikel Garcia and Nicky Lopez aren’t tremendous upgrades with the bat, they are the Royals’ best defensive options at the hot corner. As for Duffy, he actually has been worse defensively this year than Dozier, according to Def. That being said, he’s been the best option hitting-wise at third, and he seems to embrace the bench role much better than Dozier.

With a Nicky Lopez return looming soon, it makes sense for the Royals to cut ties and follow the trend that the Yankees set this past weekend with Hicks. It’s not an easy decision to eat that kind of money, but it’s obvious that Dozier isn’t providing this Royals team anything by just sitting on the bench.

And with Dozier gone, it would make sense for the Royals to call up Samad Taylor and see what he can do at the Major League level.

Going into Sunday’s games, Taylor was hitting .304 with a 115 wRC+ in 41 games and 196 plate appearances. He also has hit four home runs and stolen 21 bases, which would fit in well at the leadoff spot for the Royals, should the Royals decide to move Bobby Witt, Jr. down in the batting order.

As Jared Perkins of Just Baseball (and formerly of Prospects Live) noted on Twitter, Taylor really doesn’t have anything else to prove in Omaha.

Honestly, swapping with Garcia wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially with Nicky returning soon. A short return to Omaha would help Garcia rebuild some confidence and iron his approach until he gets called up again in July once Nicky or Duffy are dealt away.

However, Dozier out and Taylor in makes the most sense for the Royals infield right now, and it’s something I could see happening during this homestand as well before Memorial Day.

Photo Credit: George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images


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