You Wanted The Royals To Sign Someone…

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It’s been a slow winter for the Kansas City Royals so far. Outside of the acquisition of Jorge Soler, the possible next biggest news for Kansas City might be the team re-signing backup catcher Drew Butera. Yep, that is how slow it has been. In fact, you’ve probably heard many a Royals fan utter the phrase “Just sign someone, anyone…”. Well…you got your wish, as Kansas City signed four players to minor league deals on Christmas Eve. On that list is pitcher Bobby Parnell, infielder Brooks Conrad, outfielder Ruben Sosa and…former Royal Jonathan Sanchez. Yes, the same Sanchez who was acquired for Melky Cabrera at one point. The same Sanchez who was absolutely atrocious during his short stint in Kansas City. We will get back to him in just a moment. But first, lets look at all of these signings and what to expect from them.

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Let’s start with Parnell, who is the biggest name on this list. Parnell used to be a solid contributor out of the bullpen for the Mets, including a four year run from 2010 to 2013 where he produced an average 140 ERA+ during that span. Injuries curtailed Parnell’s run after that, appearing in just one game in 2014 (due to Tommy John surgery) before returning to the Mets for 30 games in the 2015 season. That year was nothing to write home about, as Parnell posted an ERA+ of 61, a FIP of 4.18 and an ERA of 6.38. Parnell signed a minor league deal with Detroit last year but threw most of the year in AAA, putting up very pedestrian numbers. He did appear in six games for the Tigers, throwing 5 innings, striking out 4 while walking 5 in that short span and would eventually be let go by Detroit. The one positive in 2016 for Parnell was that the velocity on his fastball did increase, picking up to 94 mph on average, one mph faster than he racked up in 2015 and closer to the upper 90’s fastball seen by him before the surgery. I actually think Parnell could be a valuable asset in the Royals bullpen, as he could be in the vein of a Ryan Madson, who had been out of baseball for a couple of years before signing with Kansas City before the 2015 season. This is a quality signing by Dayton Moore in my eyes.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Chicago Cubs

Conrad is a veteran journeyman who has floated around baseball for about 15 years now and played in the Independent League in 2016. Conrad last saw action in the minor leagues back in 2015, posting a line of .190/.280/.319 in 83 games. Conrad has basically been used as a utility infielder throughout his career, seeing most of his time at third base. He has played parts of 6 seasons in the major leagues, putting up a line of .200/.271/.389 over 515 plate appearances. It’s pretty obvious that Conrad’s signing was a depth move, as he can fill a number of roles if the Royals end up placing him in either AA or AAA. In fact, I would dare to say there is a chance he was signed for the sole purpose of working with many of the younger players in the farm system and might even be a future coach in the Kansas City system. This might be a signing that was being eyed more for a future role in the organization than anything else, so I wouldn’t really expect to see him in Kansas City at anytime in 2017.

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Sosa is an outfielder who has spent most of his career in the Astros and Angels organizations. Sosa hasn’t had a horrible minor league career, posting a career line of .282./.366/.391 over six seasons. Sosa is a speedy outfielder who seems to take a good amount of walks, but also strikes out quite often (319 strike outs in 419 games). What probably caught the Royals eye is his work in the Mexican League in 2016. Over 70 games, Sosa hit .371/.458/.517 with 22 stolen bases. Sosa probably is a backup outfielder at best if he would reach the big leagues, used mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner would be my guess. Sosa would be a long-shot to get to Kansas City and has been assigned to the Kansas City AA affiliate, Northwest Arkansas.

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Finally, we have reached the main event, former Royal Jonathan Sanchez. I’m sure many a Royals fan cringed when they heard Moore had signed Sanchez to a minor league deal, as he is not fondly remembered by Royals fans. Lets not mince words-Sanchez was awful during his short span in Kansas City. In just 12 games (and yes, it feels like he pitched more than that for Kansas City), Sanchez 0.82 Strike out to walk ratio, an ERA+ of 54 (100 is league average) 6.45 FIP and a -1.3 bWAR. Before you ask, yes, Sanchez was as bad as the numbers indicate. The worst part of his run in Kansas City was that it just seemed like he didn’t want to be with the team, so he was dealt to Colorado in July of 2012 for Jeremy Guthrie. Incidentally, my first post on this blog was spent talking about that deal, a deal that was definitely one of Dayton Moore’s best. All this being said…it doesn’t really bother me that the Royals have brought Sanchez back into the fold. The honest truth is that the likelihood that he makes it to the big league club is slim and none. Sanchez hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013, where he pitched in 5 games for Pittsburgh, throwing only 13 innings, allowing 18 runs and 7 home runs in that short amount of time. He was in the Reds camp last year for Spring Training, but was released at the end of camp. It is very simple math with this signing: if he is awful, the team will release him in Spring Training and that will be that. If he does good, then he can actually contribute to the Royals in 2017, something he didn’t do the first time around. Kansas City doesn’t lose anything by bringing him in, other than a small amount of time.

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The honest truth is that moves like these are necessary for any major league ballclub. Most minor league deals are done for one very big reason: depth. A team never knows how the season will unfold and the more depth you have stored away in the minor leagues, the more likely you will stumble across someone who can contribute to the major league team. It’s a total win/win situation, as most of these signings are done very cheaply and don’t cost the team anything. Over the years the Royals have succeeded on a few of these signings, especially with a few guys who were coming off of injuries and were able to be a part of the big league roster. Ryan Madson is the most prolific, as he pitched good enough in 2015 to earn himself a lot of money from Oakland that following winter. So while these signings aren’t going to blow anyone away, you never know what might actually pan out. So I’m not going to get worked up about Sanchez being in Royals camp this spring; the honest truth is the Royals gave up nothing for him and he either pitches good or he is gone. This time around, Sanchez needs the Royals more than they need him.

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Royals Christmas Wish List

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It’s that time of year; the stockings are hung by the fireplace, the tree is lit up for all to see. It’s that time of year when we give a bit more than we usually do, showing a generous side that most of us could afford to do more often. It is also the time of year when we compile lists of items we deem necessary to make our lives a bit brighter. It’s been an absurdly slow offseason so far for the Kansas City Royals, so when it comes to what most Royals fans would like to see under the tree the list is equally as ridiculous. Since I have no one player off the free agent market on my list of wants for Kansas City (I would have loved to see Dexter Fowler in powder blue), I thought of a few items that I would like to wish for this holiday season.

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For starters, I would like to see the Eric Hosmer we saw in the first half of 2016. That Hosmer hit .299/.355/.476 with an OPS+ of 118 and earned a well deserved spot in the MLB All-Star Game. The Hosmer we saw in the second half was a shell of this guy; .225/.296/.380 with an OPS+ of 78. As he is entering his ‘walk year’ in 2017, it would only make sense for Hosmer to put his best foot forward and produce at a level that will earn him as big a contract as possible. If he performs the way he did in the back-half of 2016, it will be a bad sign for both his value and the Royals 2017 season.

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Nothing would make my Christmas brighter than a healthy Alex Gordon. Gordon lost valuable playing time due to injuries for the second straight season in 2016 and produced the lowest numbers we had seen from ‘A1’ since he has become a full-time outfielder. While his numbers in August were stellar, it was the only month in 2016 that Gordon was an above average hitter and in fact he limped to the finish line, wrapping up September with a meek .211/.272/.358 line with 36 strike outs, the most he racked up for a full month last year. It really felt the last couple months that Gordon wasn’t 100% healed from the wrist injury that sidelined him for most of June and if that is actually the case, then that might explain why he never quite got going in 2016. For the Royals to make a run this next year, they need their leader to stay healthy and not look like a player who is regressing.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

A hopeful present that I would like to check off my list is that Danny Duffy’s 2016 wasn’t a fluke. Duffy looked like the ace that Kansas City’s front office and coaching staff had longed he would be, as he set career highs in innings, walks, strike outs, FIP, BB/9, SO/9 and bWAR. If Duffy’s turnaround is for real, then the Royals should be looking to lock him up to an extension ASAP, as he is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2017 campaign. The Royals have no potential top of the rotation arms in their upper minor league system (and I won’t consider Kyle Zimmer in that category until he can stay healthy for an entire season) and the rotation could look bleak if Duffy isn’t wrangled in long-term. If Duffy is for real, he is going to get real expensive, real quick.

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Since Saint Nick is listening to my wishes, I would appreciate it if one of the Royals young prospects become a productive cog in the Kansas City lineup in 2017. With the outlook being that the Royals might have to look from within this upcoming season, they are going to need a young bat to step up and produce. Hunter Dozier would appear to the most likely, as he is coming off of a .296/.366/.533 season between AAA and AA last year and received 21 plate appearances during his September call-up to Kansas City. It doesn’t matter if it is Dozier, Jorge Bonifacio, Raul Mondesi or any other hitter in the Royals system; bottom line, Kansas City needs someone to step up this year the way Cheslor Cuthbert and Whit Merrifield did in 2016.

Cincinnati Reds v Kansas City Royals

Speaking of stepping up, that is a high priority on my wish list for Yordano Ventura. We all know Ventura has the stuff that can make him an elite starter in the major leagues, but does he have it upstairs? The big hang-up for ‘Yo’ appears to be the mental aspect of baseball and until he can skirt that, he will continue to languish around league average. Ventura as he is now is still a good starter to have in any rotation, but there is a large gap between what he is and what he could be. He has progressively declined in his second and third seasons in the bigs and most of the issue appears to be in-between his ears. If the Royals want to go back to the playoffs, they need Ventura to pitch closer to his potential than league average.

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So what about my stocking? Wouldn’t it be nice to find Ian Kennedy pitch a bit more comparable to his contract? I actually felt like Kennedy had a quality 2016, one that saw him post some of the best numbers he has produced since his awesome 2011 season. Now it probably isn’t realistic to expect Kennedy to pitch much better than he did last year, but considering the Royals are going to be paying him $13.5 million in 2017, it would be nice to see him improve on a few of his numbers, like his strike out to walk ratio and his home runs allowed. Kennedy is an innings eater who is a good fit in Kansas City; they just need him to be a number two starter more than being a number three or four starter, which are more indicative of the numbers he put up last year.

Salvador Perez

If we are taking about items on my Christmas list that just need a minor tweak, Salvador Perez has a couple options. My first inclination was for Salvy to work on his patience at the plate, but his walk rate did improve in 2016 to the highest it has been since 2013. I mean…it’s not great, but it’s better. Instead, I will wish for an improvement on his pitch framing. Catcher’s defensive metrics have become more and more prevalent the last few years and pitch framing has become a need for many teams, as a good framer will get your pitchers more strikes. In fact, I would say that pitch framing, good and bad, will determine an umpire’s strike zone more than anything else in this day and age. Out of all catchers who caught 2,000 pitches in 2016, Perez was dead last in plus calls, as he sat at -146 for the entire season. Now, the Royals are aware of this and even dug deeper into individual scenario’s of his frame-work. Their research showed that Perez was one of the best in the league in high leverage situations, while he struggled in blowouts. So if the team can get Salvy to focus a bit more in 2017, one wonders what this will do for the amount of strike calls that Kansas City pitchers will get.

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Finally, I wish that Joakim Soria could be counted on in the occasional high leverage situation. Look, I don’t expect him to be the All-Star closer he was during his first run in Kansas City; those days are long gone. But I also don’t want him to be the walking definition of a gas can either. A happy medium would suffice and maybe even make me not hate that three year contract that Dayton signed him to not look like a giant eyesore. I don’t ask for much.

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With Christmas just around the corner, I can live with just a few of these wishes coming true for the upcoming season. There is still much to be thankful for if you are a Royals fan, but it can always be just a bit better. So I’ll pass on that Ikea gift card in my stocking; I will just take an improvement for the Royals 2017 season and have that be my gift…the gift that keeps on giving.

 

Firing Up The Royals Rumor Mill

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We are halfway through December and the Kansas City Royals’ hot stove is lukewarm at best. So far this offseason Kansas City has re-signed Drew Butera, traded Wade Davis for Jorge Soler, and have said goodbye to Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Tim Collins (who signed a minor league contract with the Nationals this past week). So we have seen a very uneventful  winter so far and the likelihood of something happening around the holiday season is very slim at best. That being said, a number of Royals have been linked in trade rumors so far, which makes sense as the Royals don’t look to be major players in the free agent market. So which Royals could be dealt and where? Let’s dive in and break down these rumors.

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Let’s start with the most recent rumor, which is that the Houston Astros are looking at upgrading their rotation and have placed Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy on their targeted list. I tend to feel like the chances of Duffy being dealt are slim or none, especially considering the Royals have opened talks with him on a contract extension. So if we take Duffy out of the equation (for now), then that leaves 25 year old Ventura, who has been a lightning rod throughout his early career. Most know Ventura has electric stuff, as he can reach 100 MPH on the radar gun and an equally as nasty curveball. The issue with him has been bouts of inconsistency and maturity, which continues to rear it’s ugly head. The potential of Ventura, plus his age, makes him a salivating target for GM’s around baseball, and when you add in the fact that he still is under team control for another three seasons (plus two more years of team options), you can see why a team like Houston would be interested. With all of that factored in, I can see a scenario where a Ventura trade could happen, but only if Kansas City got a healthy haul from their trading partner. Kansas City doesn’t have one of the best rotations in baseball, so if they dealt a Ventura, they would have to get at least one more arm in return that could fill his spot on the team. I actually believe Kansas City should look deep into a deal with someone like Houston, since they have a stocked farm system and could help bring them a couple of players in return to help replenish the Royals main roster and/or farm system. It would be hard to deal a player with the potential of Ventura, but one has to wonder if he will ever grasp the mental aspect of the game, which would elevate his game to the level of his potential. I think this is a deal worth exploring if you are the Royals front office.

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One trade that has been rumored that I believe will happen at some point is the Royals dealing Jarrod Dyson, who is entering the final year of his contract. Dyson so far this winter has been linked to Baltimore, Texas, St. Louis and most notably Oakland, who was talking to Kansas City during the Winter Meetings about Dyson. Dyson is an affordable (he made $3.45 million last year), versatile outfielder who brings plus defense and baserunning, especially as a secret weapon off the bench as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Dyson’s value has never been higher and is coming off a season where he led the Royals in bWAR (3.1). It only makes sense to deal Dyson, especially with Billy Burns on the Kansas City roster, a player who essentially is a younger, cheaper version of Dyson. I would expect before the winter is out that Dyson is elsewhere and hopefully the Royals can get a solid trade piece in return, like a plus arm for the rotation or bullpen.

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Another trade possibility is Kansas City centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, who is also entering the last year of his contract in 2017. Cain is coming off an injury plagued season that saw him appear in only 103 games for the Royals.So far this winter the Rangers, Cardinals and Dodgers have all inquired about Cain and at one point they had discussed him in  multi-player trades involving Wade Davis, before Davis was dealt to Chicago. When healthy, Cain has become a force in the Kansas City lineup, a third place MVP finalist back in 2015. But that health is the issue and probably why Kansas City won’t look too deep into extending him past 2017. Cain has only played in more than 140 games once in his career (2015) and has been a regular visitor to the disabled list throughout his seven year career. Add in that he is entering his age 31 season and has been rumored to want at least a four year deal when the Royals had discussed extensions a couple of years ago. I don’t believe there is a very high chance of Cain being traded, but it might not be the worst thing for Kansas City to listen to any offers that teams have for Lorenzo. Cain could probably get a couple of solid big league players and teams would be drawn to his defense and postseason experience. I’m not expecting him to get dealt, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.

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A player I see getting traded even less than those mentioned above (and in fact I would say the chances are about as slim as they come with him) is Mike Moustakas. Now, I haven’t really seen his name mentioned, but his name had at least been tossed out there:

Moustakas is also entering the final year of his contract but he is coming off of an ACL injury that sidelined him for the final four months of the 2016 season. While I doubt Moose will get traded, the Royals do have a surplus of third basemen in Moustakas, Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier (who the Royals have moved to the outfield but a team could still be interested in him at the hot corner). While the Royals have mentioned moving Cuthbert and Dozier around to other positions, with the right offer I could see Kansas City dealing one of these three. While the Royals would love to keep all three (especially with Moose possibly gone after 2017), there is always value in trading from a strength and right now Kansas City has one at third base. Like I said, I’m not counting on any of these three being dealt, but never say never, not with the position that the Royals are in right now.

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The Royals are in a tight situation that makes this offseason different than the last few. They are entering the final year of their contending window, as they have a number of players who will become free agents at the end of the 2017 campaign, so it would appear that the team should be pushing all their chips in on another playoff run. Unfortunately, owner David Glass is refusing to increase payroll, leaving the Royals front office in a position where they have to improve the team by making trades and essentially ignoring the free agent market. Because of this, the dealing probably isn’t done and at least one or two more deals appear to be on the horizon. Dayton Moore has spent much of his time in Kansas City working around small market limitations, but this might be the most creative he has ever had to be. How do you stay a contender by not increasing payroll and not having any major prospects on the immediate horizon? Hunker down Royals fans, because a player you are probably attached to emotionally could be gone within the next couple of months. Contending can still be done; but the Royals are being forced to shift the pieces on the board more by subtraction than addition. It can be done, but the makeup of this team is about to change. Time will tell if it is for the better or worse.

 

The Wade Davis Experience Has Left The Building

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Axl Rose once said “…nothing last forever, even cold November rain.” This feels appropriate when discussing the Kansas City Royals and their 2015 roster. It’s been known for awhile that we would start to see the players from that club disperse and at some point probably become ex-Royals. Throw in the Royals issue with payroll, and it became very apparent that the 2017 version of the Kansas City Royals could look much different. The first hammer was dropped on Wednesday as closer and supposed cyborg Wade Davis was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler.

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First, lets look at what the Cubs are getting with Davis. Davis has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the last three seasons, throwing 182 innings over that span with 234 strike outs, an ERA+ of 351 (league average is 100), 8.9 bWAR, FIP of 1.86 and only 3 home runs allowed. There are no 100% definite’s in baseball, but these last few years Davis has been about as much a lock as a pitcher can be. It wasn’t just the regular season where Wade was a lock, as he only allowed 2 runs over 25 innings throughout the 2014-2015 postseasons. If Davis comes in the game, you feel pretty confident that the game is over and he will wrap up another victory. All of this is what the Cubs are hoping for by picking him up this winter, as they look for another trip to the playoffs in 2017.

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If there is a concern for Chicago, it is Davis’ right arm. Wade would make two appearances on the disabled list in 2016 for a forearm strain. Both times he would go down, the Royals stressed there was nothing wrong with Davis’ elbow and he just needed some rest to heal. This did have an effect on his velocity for most of 2016:

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On average, Davis’ four-seam fastball saw a decrease in 2016, down about 1 MPH from his average in 2015. His sinker and cutter both saw a decrease as well, both of which weren’t drastic but it was noticeable. There is no way to tell for sure that this will continue but it is something the Cubs had to take into account before acquiring him. It appears the Cubs were very thorough when giving him a physical this week, so what they saw must have been good enough for them to pull trigger.

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So how will this effect the Kansas City bullpen? Obviously, Kelvin Herrera will take over the closer’s role in 2017, a role he performed in admirably while Davis’ was injured this past season. The Royals have talked a lot this winter about building their bullpen back up to elite levels, so I would assume that they are not done restructuring the pen for the upcoming year. One option they have for a setup role is young lefty Matt Strahm, who put together a really good rookie season in 2016. Another in-house candidate is Josh Staumont, who has become the Royals number one prospect, according to Baseball America. More than likely, it will be some combination of those two and an arm or two that the team picks up this winter to complement Herrera at the back-end of the bullpen. Also remember that former closer Joakim Soria will return in 2017 and as much as his performance in 2016 was very underwhelming, he does have experience in the role and could see some late inning work this next year, although I wouldn’t expect him to see the majority of time in that role. There is some work left to be done to the pen, but considering the Royals were the 5th best bullpen in the American League in 2016, they aren’t as far away as some think.

MLB: NLCS-New York Mets at Chicago Cubs

So what about the player that Kansas City acquired in this deal, Jorge Soler? Soler will be entering his age 25 season in 2017 and is a former top prospect in the Chicago organization. Soler first saw time in the big leagues in 2014, putting together a very solid .292/.330/.573 line through 24 games. Since then, he has struggled with inconsistency and injuries, posting a line of .253/.328/.413 over 187 games and very average OPS+ of 101 during that span. While the injuries are a concern (as well as his attitude, as he was late to camp the year after signing his contract with Chicago), the upside is an enticing look into what he could do when healthy. Scouts have listed Soler as having 70 power, which is on a scale of 20-80, and while he might never be a guy who hits for a high average, he has improved his walk and strike out rates this past season. Defensively, he has an above average arm in the outfield but overall he is below average out in the field. One has to wonder if he will struggle a bit on defense, as he will be moving from one of the smallest outfields in baseball to the largest. I would expect Soler to probably bat in the 5th to 7th spot in the lineup in Kansas City, as the Royals utilize his power while not putting him in more of a run-producing spot. If healthy, both physically and mentally, Soler could be a solid run-producing bat in the lineup who the Royals will have under contract for the next four years.

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While that contract control I am sure played a part in it, I would tend to believe that Davis’ injuries last year made it to where the Royals were only able to get Soler in this deal. It was believed by some that the Royals would get a haul similar to what the Yankees got for Aroldis Chapman last summer, but they were different trades. The Cubs were in a position where they needed a ‘lights out’ reliever to guide them through the playoffs and most teams are bound to overpay at the trade deadline. The Cubs had other options beside Davis, and in many ways had more control than GM Dayton Moore did in the trade talks. Throw in Davis’ forearm and the four years of contract control for Soler, and it makes sense why it was a straight up ‘1 for 1′ deal. It would have been nice to get more for Wade, but all things considered they at least got a bat that has a good chance to be an above average hitter in Kansas City. Whether this deal is a win or a loss for the Royals will be determined on a number of factors, not just Soler and Davis’ numbers. As much as most Royals fans didn’t want to see Wade leave, it was a trade that made sense for Kansas City, as they got a young, cheap every day player while freeing up some room on the Kansas City payroll. At some point this Royals team will look nothing like the team that won the World Series a year ago and it could be sooner rather than later. This could just be step one in a roster reconstruction; step two could be in the very near future.

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