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.

Report: Marlins intent on adding a big-three reliever

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 28:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Chicago Cubs pitches in the 9th inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the White Sox 3-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Marlins are intent on adding one of the three best relievers available on the free agent market, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports. Those three, of course, are Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon.

As Ashley noted earlier, Melancon is reportedly fielding multiple four-year offers in excess of $60 million. The price tags for Chapman and Jansen are likely to match or exceed that. The Marlins haven’t typically been eager to whip out the checkbook for free agents but with the bullpen being the name of the game in baseball these days, GM Michael Hill may feel the need to match his rivals.

The Nationals, Giants, Yankees, Cubs, and Dodgers are the teams most often linked to the “big-three” group of relievers, so it won’t be easy for the Marlins.

A.J. Ramos handled the closer’s role for the Marlins this past season and did an admirable job, saving 40 games with a 2.81 ERA and a 73/35 K/BB ratio in 64 innings. There’s no doubt, though, that Chapman, Jansen, or Melancon would represent a significant upgrade in the ninth inning.

Bryan Price likely to use Raisel Iglesias, Tony Cingrani, and Michael Lorenzen in closer’s role

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Raisel Iglesias throws in the first inning of their opening day baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Reds manager Bryan Price is likely going to use a trio of pitchers in the closer’s role: Raisel Iglesias, Tony Cingrani, and Michael Lorenzen. At RedsFest on Saturday, Price said:

I’d say right now that we have a series of guys that I’m comfortable with in the ninth inning and that would include (Raisel) Iglesias, (Tony) Cingrani and (Michael Lorenzen). Should we stay with this format – which I intend to do – all three of those guys and maybe more could have opportunities in save situations. At this point in time, there’s no defined closer. There are multiple options and I’d like to stick with the philosophy that we’re going to have our multi-inning guys, so we’re going to need multi-closers.

This seems to be part of the new bullpen zeitgeist in which managers are shying away from strictly-defined roles for their relievers. Indians manager Terry Francona’s postseason success using Andrew Miller likely had some degree of influence on Price’s willingness to go with a three-headed giant.

Iglesias started the 2016 season in the Reds’ rotation but missed two months with an injury, then moved to the bullpen in late June. Price put him in the closer’s role down the stretch in September. The right-hander overall finished the season with a 2.53 ERA and an 83/26 K/BB ratio in 78 1/3 innings.

Cingrani battled control issues in his 63 innings of work this past season, finishing with a 4.14 ERA and a 49/37 K/BB ratio. He’s left-handed, though, and gives Price some matchup flexibility in the late innings.

Lorenzen impressed in his first full season as a reliever, ending the year with a 2.88 ERA and a 48/13 K/BB ratio in 50 innings. The right-hander uses a fastball that sits around 96 MPH on average along with a cutter and slider.