One day after giving up six runs in the 10th inning, pitcher Bruce Chen was cut by the Royals today. Best case, this is a knee-jerk reaction to a painful (and, lately, rare) Royals loss; worst case, this a pretty dick move. I have no particular loyalty to the Chinese-Panamanian Chen, but I am loyal to loyalty itself, and this was his sixth season with the Royals. While not a star by any means, Chen did manage to post replacement level or better numbers for a team mired in perpetual mediocrity. Until this year, that is; the Royals are in first place and are the hottest team in baseball. The apparent dickishness of this move is due to the fact that major league rosters expand on September 1. Two more days and they can call up whoever they want without having to cut anyone. The Royals couldn’t keep the guy around for two more days? It’s not about money, since they have to pay him anyways, and it’s apparently not about chemistry, since manager Ned Yost extolled Chen’s virtues as a clubhouse leader today. So what is it? Do the Royals really need that one extra arm in the bullpen that badly over the weekend?
This reminds me of 2006, when the perennially awful Detroit Tigers were finally in first place in September, and then decided to cut five-year veteran Dmitri Young for no obvious reason on September 6. Granted, Young had been through a great deal of off-field issues during the year, including domestic violence allegations, a divorce and alcohol-related issues. But no official reason has ever been given for this roster decision other than “performance”, and at the time it was surprising to everyone, including his teammates, because rosters had expanded and it would have cost the Tigers nothing to keep him around for the rest of the year. Perhaps back then the off-field issues added up to just too much, but we’ll never know. But it seemed like very strange timing to part ways with a guy who had been an integral part of your franchise for years.
The aftermath in 2006 was that the Tigers swooned to a 10-12 finish after cutting Young, allowing the Twins to overtake them for the Central Division crown on the season’s final day (but the Tigers did still manage to grab the wild-card and make a run to the World Series). Perhaps the clubhouse was rattled by losing one of their veterans, perhaps it was karma for being dicks. Will the same thing happen to the apparently dickish Royals in 2014 as they attempt to win the Central for the first time ever? We’re about to find out.