The Royals (and all other MLB teams) can begin signing free agents soon! Are you excited?
Yeah, I know. Youâ€™re probably not. After some bold talk from the Royalsâ€™ brass, Dayton Moore seemed to walk back those comments last week after the Royals claimed Chris Volstad off waivers from the Cubs.
My hope is that Moore was simply trying to lower expectations. Under-promising and preparing to over-deliver, in a way. My worry is that the Royals really believe that they shouldnâ€™t even try to improve their rotation for 2013 out of a misguided fear of blocking younger pitchers in 2014.
You would think that, after all the injuries and ineffectiveness the Royals have seen from their pitchers at both the major- and minor-league levels in the last year or so, they would have learned that you simply cannot have enough pitching. The blocking argument has some merit when discussing position players, because you can generally get an idea of which ones will eventually reach the majors and be productive. But pitchers are completely different. They are more prone to injuries, especially significant ones. They can lose their velocity, or command, or control, for mysterious reasons. Or they can just never figure out how to really pitch.
Just look at the list of pitchers the Royals seem to be worried about blocking: John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Yordano Ventura, and Kyle Zimmer in the minors, plus maybe Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino at the major-league level.
The last two are not going to be ready to contribute until late in 2013, and probably not really until 2014, as they recover from Tommy John surgery. Lamb is coming off a TJ surgery of his own and will certainly need more time in the minors, where he has not pitched above Class AA. Montgomeryâ€™s career seems to be stuck in reverse, and while I would not give up on him yet, I wouldnâ€™t worry about blocking him in the near future. Odorizzi is very close to being major-league ready, but Iâ€™m not convinced a little more time at Omaha would hurt him. And while Ventura and Zimmer seem to have bright futures, Iâ€™d like them to have success at a level above Class A (yes, Ventura started 6 games for Northwest Arkansas) before I worry about blocking them.
So yes, I would like to see the Royals do what it takes to add at least two above-average major league starting pitchers this offseason. Whether through free agency or trade, this needs to happen. This fanbase deserves it, and this franchise needs to stop kicking the can down the road on contention. The 6-year window before Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer hit free agency themselves is 33% gone. While the Royals do still have a very strong farm system, so much of that talent is in the low minors. If the Royals donâ€™t contend in the next couple of years, Iâ€™m afraid weâ€™ll be waiting until the next wave of talent reaches the majors.
And letâ€™s not forget, Bruce Chen will be a free agent after this season. Luke Hochevar, assuming he is still in a Royals uniform then, will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Itâ€™s not like anyone in the current rotation has (or deserves) a lifetime contract. The younger guys can still get their chance.
And donâ€™t let them tell you they canâ€™t afford it.
A couple of months ago, I looked at the Royalsâ€™ payroll obligations for 2013. At the time, my educated guess was that the Royals would have $24-$25 million available, given a payroll goal of $70 million, and before signing any of their own free agents (i.e., Jeremy Guthrie). Since then, MLB signed a new TV rights deal that will essentially pay each team an extra $20 million or so per year. Obviously this gives the Royals a lot more money to spend if they choose; of course, every team is getting this cash, so it doesnâ€™t really help the Royalsâ€™ situation compared to other franchises. While the new contract doesnâ€™t kick in until 2014, thereâ€™s no reason the Royals canâ€™t backload a deal if neededâ€”the contracts are guaranteed, so a player who agrees to it will get his money eventually.
So who would I like to see in Royal blue? I assume Zack Greinke wouldnâ€™t return, more because he will almost certainly get more than the Royals can afford, even with the payroll flexibility I described. It would be a great story if he came back, I just donâ€™t think it will happen.
That makes Anibal Sanchez my top choice. Heâ€™s only 28 (turning 29 in February), heâ€™s been consistently good for the last few years, and he showed he can handle the AL after he joined the Tigers. Unfortunately the competition is likely to be fierce, but the Royals really should make every effort to pick him up.
Other names on my wish list: Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, and maybe even David Leskyâ€™s favorite, Carlos Villanueva. I would also like it if the Royals could bring Jeremy Guthrie back, but I would be wary of signing him for more than two years or $10-12 million per year. It sounds like Guthrie may be able to get more than that elsewhere, though.
Finally, as I finished up this post Wednesday night, word came that the Royals had acquired Ervin Santana from the Angels. My final point was going to be that the Royals should also consider trading for pitchers who had an option year on their current contracts, but were likely going to have that option declined by their current teams. This has the added benefit of not blocking any pitchers after 2013. The Angels had two such pitchers, Santana and Dan Haren. I would have preferred Haren, but Santana is still a good addition, I think. Although he had a rough 2012 season, his peripheral numbers are not far off from his solid 2011 season, or even his sterling 2010 season. The biggest problem this year was a league-leading 39 home runs. If he improves on that, I think he will be a good addition.Photo by Minda Haas