First it was Tim Hudson and then it was Josh Johnson. Two of the Royals main targets on the free agent market to fill their void in the starting rotation left by Ervin Santana have signed with other teams. So what now? The good news is that there aren’t exactly a lot of high impact starters out there, but there are a lot of starters out there. All of them have a chance to contribute to a team and could make the Royals very happy if they signed them. There are still even a couple pitchers out there who have the potential to slot between Shields and Guthrie, so all hope is not lost in Royals-land, though it is intriguing that the Royals are approaching this market differently than they have any other free agent market since Dayton Moore took over. Usually he’s one of the first out there, but he seems to be letting the market set itself up.
I guess the encouraging thing money-wise is that things don’t appear to be crazier than initially anticipated. Tim Hudson got $11.5 million per year on a two year deal, and I think that was probably right around where most expected him. Josh Johnson got a one-year deal worth $8 million, and that was right around where most people predicted. When the Giants signed Pence and Lincecum earlier this year, there was a thought that salaries might get crazy. Even looking at the Phillies two signings, I don’t think things were terribly out of whack. I expected Byrd to get $8 million per year and he did and Ruiz at $8.5 million per year seems awfully high, but it’s really more the third year that seems too rich for me. So money-wise, players seem to be signing for about what’s been expected, which is good news.
With Johnson and Hudson gone, the only player the Royals have really been linked to this off-season remaining is Phil Hughes. I think we have the Hughes analysis covered enough. I do believe that he could improve his numbers moving from Yankee Stadium to Kauffman Stadium. He wouldn’t be the exciting signing, but he would probably give some positive value to the team in 2014. What I want to look at is where the Royals shift their focus now that only one of their targets remains a possibility. Like I said before, without spending more money than it seems like they’re willing to spend, they’re likely looking more at a 3/4 starter rather than a 2/3 starter, but I think that could benefit a rotation filled with Shields, Guthrie and three relative unknowns. So who could those targets be?
Clint and I have discussed Arroyo on the podcast. He’s a guy who, I think, will benefit so much from getting away from that bandbox in Cincinnati that the switch to the AL wouldn’t hurt him nearly as much as many believe. He doesn’t strike many out and he doesn’t walk many, but he also benefits from pacing a pitcher at least a couple times per game. Arroyo is an innings horse, which has value. He’s pitched 199 or more every year in the last nine seasons, which is a pretty phenomenal run. Like Colon, Arroyo is getting up there, but he’s “only” heading into his age 37 seasons, so he might require two years at about $24 million or so.
I haven’t heard his name connected with the Royals, but he could probably be had on a one-year deal for Tim Hudson money. Colon was never much of a strikeout pitcher, which is somewhat surprising, but he doesn’t walk batters and he’s spent the last two years benefiting from a ballpark that’s pretty big. Kauffman Stadium isn’t anywhere near the pitcher’s park the one he’s been pitching in for the last two seasons, but it will continue to keep his home run totals down. He’ll be 41 in 2014, but two straight good years means he’ll probably get $10 million to $12 million.
Feldman bounced back from a rough 2012 season with a very solid year in 2013 for both the Orioles and the Cubs. He strikes out less than the league average but more than Arroyo and Colon and he has pretty solid control. The big selling point of Feldman is that he gets a lot of grounders. There’s very little shot he ends up as a two starter and maybe he won’t even be a three, but he can give some innings at the back end of the rotation and will likely keep the team in games, for the most part. It’s not the sexiest resume to present, but he could provide some value to the Royals. The benefit for Feldman is that I think he’d be less expensive and might be able to be had for a couple years at maybe $7 million to $8 million per year.
Haren might be my favorite name on the list. Of course, he’s a lot of people’s favorite name, so that’ll drive the price up. Health is undoubtedly a question as back issues have plagued him in recent years. Still, he put up a 4.67 ERA last year while his peripherals said he was much better than that. He struck out more than eight batters per nine innings. Haren is pretty extreme in the number of flyballs he allows, so he has to go to a park that will be forgiving, which Kauffman Stadium would be. Basically, you just have to hope he can give you 180 innings. He was much better in the second half last year, so I think his price tag could be fairly high, but he might want a one-year deal to make good.
Porcello is the only player who would require a trade to acquire. I’ve talked about him before, but I really think his skillset fits about perfectly with the Royals as a team. His strikeout rate is going up and he doesn’t walk a ton of batters. He’ll really benefit from playing in front of a defense that can actually catch the ball pretty well as opposed to what he dealt with as a member of the Tigers. His FIP of around 3.50 could play great in Kauffman Stadium with the Royals defense, and he’s going to be just 25 years old next season. Pitching aging curves are different than hitters, but he’s improved each of the last four seasons and could really break out in the right situation. The Tigers need relievers, the Royals have them. I’m sure it would take more than just one (Hochevar?), but I think there’s a match here.
Haren was my favorite name on the list. Vargas is my least favorite. Vargas is fine. He’s a perfectly adequate pitcher who will put up perfectly adequate numbers. It’s really amazing to me how average Jason Vargas is. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well and he doesn’t seem to do anything exceptionally poorly. Prior to this past season, Vargas had averaged 203.2 innings over his previous three years. He had a bit of a fluke injury this past year, so he can probably be counted on to provide some innings, but he’s going to want three years and might get it. I just don’t know that I’d invest that long in him.
I’d love the Royals to go out and get Matt Garza to pair with one of these guys. That would make me feel a lot better about the 2014 rotation. As it stands, it’s likely going to be very important for at least one of Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy to step up and become a top of the rotation type pitcher this season because the Royals will need someone to fill that role if they hope to get into the playoffs and then get deep into them once they get there.
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