The Royals said they intended to improve their starting pitching for the 2013 season. And then they traded for Ervin Santana and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie. Thatâ€™s a decent start, although I would still like them to add one more high-quality starter. That would give them a #2 starter, a couple of #3s, and then from the remaining group of candidates, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza would be the most likely choices to round out the rotation. Is that as good as Detroitâ€™s rotation? No. But it would be much improved from 2012â€™s rotation. There would be a lot of ifs in that group, but the potential would certainly be there for a contending season.
I touched on the trade for Santana when it happened about three weeks ago. But to reiterate: the Royals managed to add a pitcher who was above-average in 2010 and 2011, while still holding to their stated goal of not blocking any young pitchers down the road, as Santana will be a free agent after the 2013 season. Itâ€™s true that Santana was not good in 2012; otherwise, he wouldnâ€™t be a Royal. However, his peripheral numbers were very similar to his successful 2010 season. Santanaâ€™s biggest problem last year was allowing a league-high 39 homers. Heâ€™s always been homer-prone, but he is a fly-ball pitcher. Thereâ€™s a good chance that his longball problems last year were nothing more than bad luck. Heading into his age 30 season, there is plenty of reason to hope he will return to form.
As for the re-signing of Jeremy Guthrie, I think this three-year, $25 million is good for both player and team. I am a little nervous about the third year of the contract, when Guthrie will be 37 and due $9 million (if you hadnâ€™t heard, he gets $5 million in 2013, $11 million in 2014, and $9 million in 2015). The backloaded contract allows the Royals to afford him and Santana in 2013, while rewarding Guthrie in the ensuing two years for what the Royals hope is a repeat performance of his 2012 stint with KC. Sure, thereâ€™s a risk that Guthrie will get hurt (although he has been durable throughout his career) or underperform (although he has been a solid starter throughout his career, except for his time in Colorado). But if youâ€™re the Royals, any pitcher you can afford on the open market is going to carry some risk. Essentially, the Royals paid a little more than $8 million for three years for a pitcher who should be around league-average. Thatâ€™s probably fair market value.
Now, the Royals need to finish the job. A rotation of Guthrie/Santana/Chen/Mendoza/please not Hochevar isnâ€™t going to cut it, unless the goal is 75-80 wins. This group needs an ace, or something resembling it. Obviously the Royals are probably not going to be able to afford a top free agent starterâ€”adding Santana and Guthrie raises the 2013 payroll by $17 million, so the Royals are probably at the limit of their payroll comfort level (whether they should be is another topic). Unless they can find someone willing to take Luke Hochevarâ€™s impending arbitration raise to $5-6 million, and/or someone willing to take Jeff Francoeurâ€™s $6.75 milion contract, theyâ€™re stuck.
Unless, that is, they are willing to trade for a young, talented, inexpensive pitcher. This is what the Royals need to do. I donâ€™t relish the idea of Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas or Billy Butler or Wil Myers in another uniform, but it is clear that until the Royals figure out how to develop their own stud pitchers, they have two choices: get one somewhere else, or continue losing. A trade doesnâ€™t necessarily have to involve one of those four players, because the Royals do still have a load of minor league talent. But one of those four would bring the best return, because the majority of that talent is in the low minors. Other teams arenâ€™t going to give up good, cheap pitching for a player who is 4-5 years away from making a real impact.
The opportunity is thereâ€”Seattle and Tampa Bay both have lots of young pitching but need offensive help. This is the Royalsâ€™ chance to set themselves up as contenders for 2013-2015. Otherwise, I think we can expect more of the same thing weâ€™ve seen the past few years.