The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went last week as the Kansas City Royals were on the cusp of being swept at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays.
As many expected, the Royals didn’t partake in any of the blockbuster deals on the overhyped day of transactions. Instead, they continued to do what general manager Dayton Moore is best at and practiced patience as the season winds down.
Kansas City isn’t at full strength with shortstop Adalberto Mondesi having missed all but four games since the All-Star break concluded, but that doesn’t explain the calamity we’ve witnessed since Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer gift-wrapped a win for the club back on July 28.
Since beginning 8-3 following the break, the Royals have struggled mightily to a tune of seven straight losses. This is in large part due to the obscene number of runs teams are scoring on them during this stretch. Opponents have outscored the Royals 52-23 since July 29.
Even with a core of young, talented players like Hunter Dozier, Jorge Soler, Nicky Lopez and Bubba Starling, this team is being held down by its pitching staff. The starting rotation lacks an ace outside of Brad Keller. Jacob Junis has been very hittable this season and is often mismanaged when he is throwing well. Danny Duffy has an ERA nearing five and has been unable to recapture the performances that made him one of the top-paid players on the club. Other than throwing a complete game against the Chicago White Sox on July 16, Glenn Sparkman has been a less than desirable starter with an ERA of 5.58 in 88.2 innings pitched.
The bullpen is in a similar state of disarray and it’s pretty easy to see it when the closer, Ian Kennedy, was signed to be a middle rotation guy on a contract – five years, $70 million – that also makes him one of the highest-paid players in Kansas City.
I know the Royals are trying to make the best of a bad situation that could have easily been avoided if they didn’t back-load Kennedy’s contract with salaries of $16.5 million and let him decide whether or not he wanted to take it. The fact still remains that Kennedy is being paid among the best closers in baseball to finish out games for a team that is rarely in a position to win them.
Behind Kennedy are many other arms that were given chances in the rotation like Jorge Lopez and Kyle Zimmer. Richard Lovelady has shown promise but remains in a middle relief role.
As the season closes out there aren’t a lot of options for improving this pitching staff outside of September call-ups. While the intrigue of seeing new players step into the lineup and onto the mound is fun, there is another trend making the rounds in baseball that could shake things up for the Royals’ arms.
The opening pitcher was first used by the Tampa Bay Rays early in the 2018 season and is a strategy that puts a relief oriented pitcher on the mound to begin the game rather than a traditional starter. The opening pitcher serves as a way to reduce the number of times the club’s starting pitcher faces the best batters in the opponent’s lineup. Many other teams have employed the tactic in 2018 and this season as well.
Theoretically, the Royals would begin a game with someone like Zimmer or Lovelady on the mound. They can stay loose and throw their pitches because the situation is not reflective of a typical opportunity where the pressure has been dialed up. Relievers who might have command issues or lack longevity can attack lineups with their best pitches knowing that if they make a mistake, there are still eight innings of baseball left. Then, a starter like Junis can come in and face the opposing team’s best hitters one less time or get them when they’re not as fresh.
It’s a radical idea in a sport that has staved off change for much of its long history, but these types of ideas are the kinds that change sports in the way we see today. There’s no guarantee the Royals would attempt to execute this idea, especially since manager Ned Yost likes to stick with what he knows.
Regardless, the idea of the Royals attempting this type of maneuver in a season that has no meaning whatsoever sounds like fun to me.