All during spring training we had to follow Ned Yost and his closer chase, wondering how he'd handle the stat-chasing spot that means so much to us. Vague statement left, vague statement right. Wasn't much fun, was it? And now we have to listen to Right Said Ned again, as the Royals have a fresh playing-time decision to sort out.
First, the bad news: spring flash Lorenzo Cain is going to be out for a while. He injured his groin Tuesday making a spectacular catch in Oakland — that's what defense will get you, kid — and the Royals have decided to place him on the 15-day disabled list. Cain isn't expected to miss a serious chunk of time, but it's possible he'll go on a rehab assignment before he returns to Kansas City.
So who plays center field in Cain's absence? Yost isn't telling, at least not yet. Intriguing rabbit Jason Bourgeois is around, along with Mitch Maier and the recently-recalled Jarrod Dyson (another one-trick speed guy). Let's go to the Royals official site and hear what the skipper has to say.
"We've got some options because we've got a right-handed hitter in Bourgeois, we've got left-handed hitters in Maier and Dyson. I like Maier coming off the bench a little more, and with Dyson's ability to roam the outfield -- and he's off to a great start in Triple-A -- we'll use him a lot out there."
Coach speak never comes with a guarantee — sometimes they're telling us useful stuff, other times they're just wasting our time — but that Yost quote seems to eliminate Maier from the starting post. So it might come down to Bourgeois, the Houston import, or Dyson, the fresh pup from the minors. It's a shame they can't settle this gig through a cage match: Bourgeois checks in at 5-foot-9 and 196 pounds, while Dyson blows away with the slightest wind (5-9, 161). If you chase either of these guys in your AL-only pool or your deep mixer, it's because you're feeling the need for speed — you won't get any power whatsoever. Batteries not included.
Bourgeois stole 31 bases in just 238 at-bats last year in Houston, and Dyson was a speed specialist in his 26 games at Kansas City (he swiped 11 of 12 bases while collecting just 44 at-bats). Both of these guys are capable of swiping bags at an elite clip, a lead-the-league type of pace. And as Yost noted, Dyson was off to an excellent start at Triple-A Omaha (12-for-33, seven runs, six steals, just one strikeout). It will be interesting to see if one of these chaps takes the temporary post and runs with it; the Royals haven't received much production at the top of their order this year. Cain was just 2-for-17 before hitting the DL (most of his time came in the No. 2 hole) and leadoff man Alex Gordon is in a 2-for-22 funk.
The Royals have their home opener on tap Friday, a 4:10 pm start against Derek Lowe and the Indians. It's almost post time. Which speedster are you betting on? Rabbits, run. (Update, 3:23 pm ET: Dyson's getting the start Friday, and he's also hitting leadoff. In situations like this, the first chance to make an impression is a gigantic one — should Dyson do anything of note, Yost will feel obligated to keep playing him. I can't promise you Dyson will hit a lick, but I know he can run. If you're desperate for some stolen-base upside and it's easy to U-turn out of it, go ahead and give him a shot.)
• We all know the dangers that come from trying to interpret a small sample, but it's okay to wonder if the Pirates are just going to be a dreadful offensive club this year. Pittsburgh is dead last in several MLB ranks through a week of play: the Bucs have just 11 runs (every other team is at 18 or more), along with a sketchy .199/.231/.293 line. There are actually a few clubs under the .199 mark, but that's beside the point. The Slumber Company isn't scaring anyone, despite the zesty .409 start from everyone's buddy, Andrew McCutchen.
The San Francisco staff has to be licking its chops, getting ready to entertain the Pirates for a three game set by the bay. Too bad Tim Lincecum (Brandon Funston says buy low) and Madison Bumgarner (terrific at Colorado on Thursday) are going to miss out. Matt Cain figures to right the ship Friday and Barry Zito is a streamable consideration Saturday. I'm also going to take a scouting look at returning Ryan Vogelsong in the series finale; while no one expects Vogelsong to approach last year's surprise numbers (2.71 ERA, 1.25 WHIP), I do enjoy watching him pitch, and the roomy yard of AT&T Park will hide a lot of mistakes.
The Diamondbacks and Cardinals meet up with Pittsburgh after this weekend, so it could be a messy month for the Bucs. What can manager Clint Hurdle do? I'd start by banishing Pedro Alvarez to the minors; the former hot prospect is 1-for-13 in real games on the heels of a 9-for-53 spring training, and if you add both segments together you come up with 29 strikeouts and just one walk. Sure, he's hit three balls out of the park, too, big deal. You can't help your team when you're making that many outs. Let Alvarez regroup in Triple-A, while Casey McGahee holds down the fort at third base.
• Chris Young came to spring training with a goal in mind: change his swing, make more consistent contact, use more of the ballpark, take the next step to stardom. The plan fell into place nicely during a torrid exhibition season (.400/.494/.738, five homers, 10 walks, three steals), and he's kept the music playing over the opening week (.364, three homers, just four strikeouts). His Yahoo! ADP in draft season was a cushy 134.5; he was selected after Drew Stubbs, Corey Hart (I've never understood the fascination with him) and Jayson Werth, among others, on average. I won't be surprised if Young turns into a Top 40 commodity before the 2013 season; this looks like a 28-year-old player who's putting it all together. Look for him to be priced in the mid-20s for the next outfield Shuffle Up.
• Anyone feeling a pickup pang for Kyle Seager, Seattle's sneaky prospect? He's off to a .321/.345/.500 start through seven games, he clouted a homer Thursday against Texas, and he carries shortstop and third-base eligibility in Yahoo! leagues. His ownership tag is a tepid 12 percent as we go to press. Seager crushed in his 24-game trial at Triple-A last year (.387/.444/.585), and he had a .875 OPS through 269 minor-league games. The Mariners have made some hits with the Chapel Hill pipeline; they look to have a couple of good ballplayers in UNC products Seager and second baseman Dustin Ackley.
• Is it too late for Giancarlo Stanton to go back to the Mike Stanton days? There's too much bad karma with this new name. Stanton concedes that he'll probably have to deal with left knee pain all season, and he might need periodic days off to rest it. This would be less of a problem in the American League, where the DH rules allow players to get partial days off but remain in the lineup, but obviously the Marlins don't have than option (except for rare road games during interleague play).
Speed Round: If you came for the Brad Lidge support group or the Francisco Liriano carnival ride, please make your way to the Andy Behrens wing of the building. You can Walk the Lidge here, and you can steal a base on Liriano here. … Although Miguel Cabrera had a rare hitless game, the Motor City Shakedown rolled on, spanking the Rays in their getaway game, 7-2. Brennan Boesch woke up a bit with four RBIs, Austin Jackson (man he looks terrific) stole his first base, and sneaky DH Andy Dirks had a 4-2-2-1 line out of the No. 8 slot. Jim Leyland used Jose Valverde in this game for some illogical reason; Valverde was working for the third day in a row. I suppose that means Papa Grande won't be available for Friday's matinee in Chicago. The Principle of Pena was alive on the other side, as Carlos Pena clubbed his third homer and raised his average to .429. … Let's hear it for Adam Jones, who already has three steals through the opening six games (he's been getting tips from Brian Roberts; glad Roberts is finally doing something to help the club). Running isn't as much fun with the Mets and Reds, the only teams in baseball without a swipe to this point (both clubs are 0-for-1). … Minnesota's offense was an easy punchline during the first four games of the year (all losses), but the Twins woke up the bats over the last two days, beating Jered Weaver on Wednesday and the Halos bullpen Thursday. Josh Willigham's fourth homer comes as no surprise — he's adjusting nicely to his new club — but let's stop and appreciate Joe Mauer's shot over the fence, just his second career home run in Target Field. Denard Span (10 percent owned) also brought some juice, reaching base five times from the leadoff spot and stealing a bag. Matt Capps was the usual mess in the ninth inning, allowing three hits and two runs over a 24-pitch stint, but he was working with a three-run cushion, so the Twins shook his hand anyway. Don't lose track of Glen Perkins; he'll be a popular save-chase pickup at some point this year, no matter that he's left-handed. … Derek Holland toyed with the Mariners (7.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K) and cruised to his first victory of the year (here's a look at the opus). I'm in on this one. It's not that difficult for lefties to succeed in Arlington (the park is much more taxing to the righties). I might even let Holland take a shot at Fenway Park next week, normally a stay-away spot. Welcome to the Circle of Trust, captain.
Brandon Belt received just one at bat during the just-completed Colorado series. Yes, Belt did admit to his manager that he was pressing, but Bruce Bochy never minds getting out a shovel when it comes to young, unproven players. Such a waste. This is just another example of how we must consider managerial tendencies and styles as we make our rankings, picks, lineups and seasonal recalibrations. Having a finger on the pulse of team management (be it in the dugout or in the front office) is a key component to fake-team success. … The Indians have finally put the Johnny Damon contract together, adding the veteran for a one-year, $1.25 million deal. Damon probably will get a long look as a regular against right-handed pitching, and maybe he'll see some lefties if he pushes off strongly. I'm not grabbing him in a standard mixed league, not until I see where the swing and the wheels are at. If I miss him because I don't want to act right away, that's fine. … Paul Goldschmidt was given his second day off on the young season, as Kirk Gibson either (a) thinks a young, strapping player needs to be handled with kid gloves, or (b) can't get over the proven mediocrity that is Lyle Overbay. The Bradley Evans power protest could begin at any time. … Here are some streamers I'm interested in for Saturday, using 50 percent as the cutoff: Mike Minor (42 percent, too early to bail) against Milwaukee; Lance Lynn (32 percent) against Chicago; Jonathon Niese (30 percent) at Philly (not the same imposing offense); Henderson Alvarez (18 percent) versus Baltimore; and as discussed earlier, Zito (18 percent) against Pittsburgh. And if Niese or Lynn happen to impress Saturday, I'd strongly consider making them full-fledged members of your rotation.