Bruce Chen

What on earth are the Royals doing now?

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When the Royals re-signed Bruce Chen to a one-year, $4.25 million contract this week, it was generally met with tepid approval. One could argue that he’s 90 percent of the pitcher Jason Vargas is for half of the salary and one-quarter the commitment. So, that’s not bad.

But then came the fallout.

First, it was made clear by the team that Chen is being handed the fourth spot in the rotation that seemed to belong to Danny Duffy, who returned from Tommy John surgery to post a 1.85 ERA in five starts last season. Now it’s being advertised that Duffy, Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, top prospect Yordano Ventura and the newly signed Brad Penny are all competing for the fifth spot.

Second, versatile speedster Emilio Bonifacio, who just signed a non-guaranteed $3.55 million contract, was designated for assignment to make room for Chen. So, essentially, he’s being dumped to fit Chen on the payroll.

Bonifacio will almost surely be traded. That might have been for the best anyway, considering that the outfield is five deep without him and he wasn’t in line for a lot of playing time behind the newly signed Omar Infante at second base. Still, if anyone was willing to give up anything of significance for Bonifacio, the deal would have happened already. After all, he’s been on the block since at least the winter meetings. The Royals won’t get stuck with his salary, but they’re not likely to get much of a prospect in return.

Also, shedding Bonifacio does nothing to alleviate the Royals’ bench logjam. He’s going to have to be replaced on the roster by another backup middle infielder, which probably means Pedro Ciriaco now makes the team. Unless someone gets hurt this spring, there’s still going to be room for just two from the group of Justin Maxwell, Jarrod Dyson and Danny Valencia, and since all of those guys are out of options, it’s not like they’ll just be able to stash one in Triple-A.

Plus, the pitching staff is more crowded than ever. Duffy and Ventura are both candidates to step up and become the Royals’ second best starter behind James Shields, but it’s possible neither will make the staff out of spring training. That’s because Hochevar ($5.2 million) and Davis ($4.8 million) are the sixth and eighth highest-paid players on the Royals, respectively. If those two were making half as much, the Royals wouldn’t try to justify the salaries by giving them yet another opportunity to start when both are clearly so much more valuable out of the pen. Both would likely be perfectly respectable closers given the chance. But that chance won’t come in Kansas City with Greg Holland in town.

On the one hand, all of this looks like a good problem to have. Last year, the Royals’ pen was so good that there just wasn’t enough for Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Louis Coleman to do. Coleman, for instance, spent most of the season in the minors, yet had a 0.61 ERA in 29 2/3 innings when he was called on.

On the other hand, it’s only a good problem to have if the Royals make the most of it. The Royals certainly didn’t while giving 39 starts to Davis and Luis Mendoza last year. If they open this season with Duffy in the rotation and Hochevar and Davis working in setup roles, then they’ll be in pretty good shape. If they instead have Davis starting and Duffy and Ventura in Triple-A, it’d be a bad sign.

Video: Gerrit Cole cranks out a three-run home run

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 20:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the third inning against the Colorado Rockies on May 20, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
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Pirates starter Gerrit Cole helped his own cause during Thursday afternoon’s 8-3 victory over the Diamondbacks. The right-hander erased a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the second inning, cranking out a three-run home run to left-center field off of lefty Patrick Corbin.

It’s Cole’s second career home run. The other one came on September 7, 2014 off of Cubs pitcher Blake Parker.

Since Cole came into the league in 2013, he is one of only 22 pitchers (min. 100 plate appearances) with above-average production at the plate, going by FanGraphs’ wRC+ stat.

As for the pitching, Cole went five innings in a no-decision against the D-Backs, yielding an unearned run on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts. On the year, he’s 5-3 with a 2.53 ERA and a 44/16 K/BB ratio in 53 1/3 innings.

Rougned Odor’s suspension reduced to seven games

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 23: Rougned Odor #12 of the Texas Rangers fields a ground ball hit by C.J. Cron #24 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  in the fifth inning at Global Life Park on May 23, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball has reduced Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor‘s eight-game suspension by one game to seven, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports. Odor will begin serving the suspension on Friday, and the Rangers are expected to call up infielder Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock to replace Odor, per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan.

Odor landed a right cross on the face of Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista in a series finale between the two teams on May 15. Bautista, who had been hit in the ribs by a Matt Bush fastball, slid in late and hard to Odor in an attempt to break up a ground ball double play attempt. Odor didn’t take kindly to Bautista’s slide. After Odor swung at Bautista, the benches emptied.

Bautista had his appeal hearing on Thursday morning. A decision on his case, a one-game suspension, isn’t expected to be made for another day or two.

Profar, 23, has hit .284/.356/.426 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 189 plate appearances at Round Rock this season.

Braves’ Hector Olivera suspended 82 games for domestic violence

Atlanta Braves' Hector Olivera heads to first base after hitting a double in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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Major League Baseball just announced that Braves outfielder Hector Olivera has been suspended through August 1, 2016 for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. The suspension is retroactive to April 30, making this an 82 game suspension. Olivera has been on paid leave since his arrest and will be required to return salary earned during that time.

Olivera was arrested early on April 13 after assaulting a woman at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Virginia while the Braves were in town for a series against the Washington Nationals. The victim told police that she had been assaulted by Olivera. Police say the victim had bruises and was transported to a hospital. Olivera was at the hotel and taken into police custody.

Olivera had played in five games before the incident and was slated to be the Braves’ regular left fielder this season. There is little if any reason to believe he’ll feature in the Braves future for long after his suspension is served. Atlanta reportedly tried to trade him after his arrest, but there were understandably no takers. Olivera is in the second year of a six-year, $62.5 million contract.

Commissioner Manfred said in a statement today that, in addition to his suspension, “Mr. Olivera has also agreed to make a significant charitable contribution to one or more charitable organizations focused on preventing and treating survivors of domestic violence.”

Report: Chase Utley’s family received death threats from Mets fans after controversial slide

DENVER, CO - APRIL 22:  Chase Utley #26 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up onthe on deck circle as he prepares to take an at bat against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 22, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Dodgers 7-5. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Even before Chase Utley broke former Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada‘s leg with a slide during the playoffs last year, the second baseman was persona non grata in New York. Utley, playing for the rival Phillies, made the right field corner his — literally — with his performance at Citi Field. He was booed during his introduction at Yankee Stadium before the 2009 All-Star Game, prompting him to say audibly, “Boo? F— you.”

The slide put New York’s hatred of Utley into overdrive. Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports that after Utley broke Tejada’s leg, his family received death threats from angry Mets fans. In order to protect himself and his family, Utley didn’t stay at the team hotel after Game 2 of the NLDS.

His teammate, Clayton Kershaw, wasn’t happy with the way Utley was treated. He said, “Chase was playing the game the way he’s always played. Obviously you never want anybody to get hurt. The game being in the playoffs, and all that stuff, magnified everything. But there’s been a whole lot of slides a lot worse than that over the course of baseball [history] . . . Some of the stuff he had to go through, it wasn’t fair.”

The Mets host the Dodgers for a three-game series beginning on Friday. As McCullough notes, the two clubs didn’t get into any retaliation business when they played each other in Los Angeles earlier this month.