The Kansas City Royals recently chose not to tender Major League contracts to pitcher Jesse Hahn, infielders Cheslor Cuthbert, Humberto Arteaga, and Erick Mejia. This leaves the club’s 40-man roster at 36. It is not uncommon for Major League clubs to reduce their rosters at this point in the offseason in preparation for opening spots meant for additions that may occur through trade, free agent signing, or Rule 5 Draft selections.
The Non-Tender candidates for the Royals are not surprising. However, they are of note as two of the players were developed within the organization and the other two were acquired via trade.
Cuthbert was signed by the Royals as an international free agent from Nicaragua in 2009 for a $1.35 million signing bonus. The lifetime .250 major league hitter has struggled to stay healthy in recent years since debuting with the team in July of 2015. The club had high hopes for Cuthbert based on his swing, positive attitude, and athleticism.
Arteaga also signed as an international free agent from Venezuela with the Royals in 2010. The utility player has been impressive with his glove and defensive acumen during his rise through the Royals minor league system. It’s likely the club did not view him as a piece of the puzzle moving forward due to his .197 batting average during the 2019 season.
Hahn was acquired along with pitcher Heath Fillmyer from the Athletics in January of 2018 for Royals infielder Brandon Moss and pitcher Ryan Buchter. Hahn was once a promising prospect prior to experiencing UCL discomfort in his elbow with the Royals in the spring of 2018. The right handed starter battled back to appear in six games for the Royals down the stretch in 2019 showing good velocity on his fastball.
Mejia was part of the three team trade in January of 2018 that sent Royals pitchers Joakim Soria to the White Sox and Scott Alexander to the Dodgers. Mejia was valued for his switch hitting ability and defensive versatility in being able to play both second base and the outfield. The Royals apparently did not think enough of his bat and his .227 major league average during the 2019 season to keep him onboard.
The Royals no doubt will turn their sights to filling out at least part of the four openings on their 40-man roster with Rule 5 Draft selections that will occur on December 12th. Team General Manager Dayton Moore has gone on record with saying he’s enamored by the affordability of cheap pitching talent that can be had during the Rule 5 process.
Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller would be the most recent example of success had by the team with a Rule 5 selection. The 6-foot-5, 230 pound right hander was originally selected by the Cincinnati Reds in December of 2017 as a Rule 5 selection out of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization prior to being traded to the Royals for cash considerations.
Keller produced some eye popping stats as a 24 year old during his second year as a starter for the Royals. The team ace would start 28 games across 165 innings before being shut down late in the season for precautionary measures as to not risk too much wear and tear on his arm. Keller would go on to strike out a respectable 122 batters with a 4.19 earned run average during the 2019 season.
Not too shabby for someone who was pitching in Double A minor league baseball during the 2017 campaign. Keller highlights the low risk, high reward scenario of the Rule 5 Draft process.
According to Major League Baseball policy, any club with a spot on their 40 man roster is eligible to make a selection. Teams pick in reverse order of their record. Furthermore, baseball players on a team’s 40-man major league roster are protected from the Rule 5 Draft. To be eligible for selection, a player must either have spent four seasons in professional baseball after signing at 19 or older or spent five seasons in pro ball after signing at 18 or younger.
A team that makes a selection pays a player’s previous team $100,000 and places the player on its 40-man roster. They must then keep the player on their 25-man roster or disabled list for the whole season. If the acquiring team removes the player from the big league roster, it must offer the player back to the former team for $50,000.
The afore mentioned value that can be had in the Rule 5 Draft is apparent with the recent free agent signing of relief pitcher Jake Diekman. The southpaw reliever who will turn 33 next month just signed a two-year contract with the A’s good for $7.5 million guaranteed. He spent most of 2019 season with the Kansas City Royals before being traded to the A’s for two minor leaguers.
Any big league team that could select a player in the Rule 5 Draft that might be able to fill the role of a player like Diekman walk away winners. Both financially and with a young player under team control for the foreseeable future.
The following are three Rule 5 Draftees that the Royals could either select or trade for with another team. It’s not surprising that all three players are pitchers as the Royals need rotation depth and good young arms in their bullpen, which was one of the worst in Major League Baseball last season. The player notes were compiled from Major League Baseball’s Prospect Pipeline and Scouting Tools.
Eduard Bazardo, RHP- Boston Red Sox
Bazardo has been transitioned to a pure reliever at this point in his young career. His mid-90’s fastball and strong curveball are both becoming plus pitches for the young right hander. They were good enough to earn him a 2.78 ERA and 9.7 K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) this past season in Double-A.
Thomas Burrows, LHP- Atlanta Braves
Burrows is not an untypical minor league success story as a pitcher. He’s struggled with his command while missing bats (11.6 K/9 to go with 4.0 BB/9). The 6-Foot-1, 205 pound southpaw has something else going for him. He’s given left-handed hitters fits so far in his professional career. He’s a potential left handed specialist for someone’s bullpen.
Sterling Sharp, RHP- Washington Nationals
Sharp has been touted the best athlete in Washington’s minor league system. He made nine starts in Double-A ball last season prior to continuing to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. Sharp’s appeal to teams is his ability to get outs and strikeouts while easily repeating his delivery. He has the strong potential to provide flexibility as a starting pitcher or bullpen depth.