Weekend notes: The rotation is settled
As we learned on Saturday, the Royals have assigned the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation to Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista, respectively. Neither comes as a big surprise, although RC had figured that Bautista would begin the season as the fourth starter, and whoever won the fifth spot -- be it Affeldt or Mike Wood -- would contribute from the bullpen until the Royals needed a fifth starter on April 14. Instead, the Royals went a different route, and since they don't want Bautista working out of the bullpen for the next two weeks, he'll begin the season by making a start in Omaha.
Of course, this move carries with it a couple of ramifications. First, it assures that both Jimmy Gobble and Joel Peralta have made the team, while just a week ago it seemed certain that one of them would be cut (we figured Gobble would be let go). But even more interesting, the presence of both those pitchers on the roster still leaves the Royals with only 10 pitchers, since both Mark Redman and Mike MacDougal will begin the season on the DL. Therefore, there is now an additional bullpen slot open, which will undoubtably go to a player who is not currently on the 40-man roster.
Who might that pitcher be? We really have no solid idea, but the leading candidates are probably Luke Hudson and Steve Stemle, since they are the only two non-roster pitchers who haven't already been reassigned to a minor league club. Hudson figures to be a starter at Omaha this season, so if RC had to register an official guess at this point, we'd wager that Stemle breaks camp with the club, despite his lousy outing on Saturday (2.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 K). He's certainly not somebody we'd want to see with a game on the line, but he should be fine as a mop-up man for a month or so. Barring injury, whoever wins the spot should be the first player sent away once MacDougal returns.
As for the position player battles, nothing has yet been settled, and we still don't have any hints about whether the Royals will take an extra outfielder or an extra infielder with them when they head north next week. Buddy Bell further muddied the waters by announcing that Shane Costa is also a candidate for the fourth outfielder spot, so that leaves Costa, Aaron Guiel, Chip Ambres, Joe McEwing, and Esteban German battling for three spots on the roster (Chris Clapinski is also listed as a candidate, but come on...who really believes that?).
Might Shane Costa make the team? We doubt it.
Among those five, the only player we're confident in projecting a roster spot for is German, who still figures to serve as the primary backup infielder. Ambres is probably the safest bet for the fourth outfield spot, simply because he's the youngest and least likely to clear waivers if optioned to the minors. In our opinion, the real battle is between Guiel and McEwing, and while our preference between those two is definitely the former, we fear the Royals will probably opt to retain the infielder, particularly because Matt Stairs can still play outfield in a pinch. Regardless, the consequences of their decision will be short-lived, as Bautista's return to the team will signal the end of the five-man bench and the renewal of the 12-man pitching staff. In essence, the decisions not yet made are merely small fries. It will be interesting to see how everything unfolds. Moving on...
Doug Mientkiewicz is just cool.
After drawing an 0-fer on Saturday, Mientkiewicz is still sporting a cool .442 batting average in 44 at bats. No, spring training stats are nothing to get overly excited about (see McEwing), but there are far worse ways to begin a season. Mientkiewicz wanted to use this spring as an opportunity to get his confidence back after two sub-par seasons, and he seems likely to do just that.
Does he have any more .850 OPS seasons left in his tank? Nobody knows, and even RC's optimism doesn't allow us to make such a prediction. But we do know that Mientkiewicz will offer the Royals the type of patient, professional at bats that were sorely lacking last season (the last several seasons, for that matter). And while skeptics point to a myriad of defensive metrics that supposedly show Minky has lost a step in the field, not one of them can foretell the value that his greatest defensive asset -- his ability to dig throws -- will bring to the Royals' infield. Indeed, the effect Mientkiewicz will have on Mark Teahen and Angel Berroa will be difficult to measure, but we can't wait to see what it's like to have a competent defensive first baseman again.