As the Kansas City Royals 2012 campaign meets its ultimate conclusion, the organization must improve their starting pitching heading into 2013. With a roster burgeoning of young, capable talent in the field, the 2012 rotation pitched the Royals from relevance and into a top-ten draft slot next season. Although likely to field a 2013 rotation of mostly homegrown talent, the Royals do have the financial capability to bring in some free agents.
Coming off a 2012 offseason where the market for an effective starter was thin, the 2013 free agent class offers more promising names. Here is a quick rundown of some of the players.
1. Zack Greinke
Most Royals fans have fallen in love with the idea of Greinke returning to Kansas City. Greinke, born and bred in the Royals organization, has a unique relationship with Kansas Citians. Starved of baseball success, Greinke’s 2009 Cy Young season remains the only relevant baseball story in Kansas City for quite some time (unless you count the All-Star game… I’m not sure if I do). Triumphing over personal problems, a shy personality, and a classic talentless Kansas City roster, Greinke’s accomplishment seemed to be one of inconceivable odds. Growing tired of the losing, Greinke demanded a trade to the Milwaukee Brewers, which certainly looks to have become one of the few win-win trades in sports (A gold glove shortstop, an above average center fielder, and a future number two for two years of Zack Greinke. I will make that trade every day of the week). Realistically, Greinke will not return to Kansas City. After the Philadelphia Phillies extended left-hander Cole Hamels, Greinke became the clear crown jewel of the free agent class. He will likely command anywhere between $115-$145 on the open market. The organization should not shell out that type of cash for a pitcher who has never pitched like an ace aside from his Cy Young season and has a history of personality issues.
2. James Shields
Hailing from an organization that seems to churn out nothing but low-cost, high-talent pitchers from their farm system, Tampa Bay will likely let “Big Game James” walk this offseason. Following a season in which he will likely finish with an ERA around 4.00, Shields’ payday this offseason should take a hit. Advanced numbers show that he has pitched better than his ERA this season, but the results on the field are what truly matter. Somewhat of a fly ball pitcher throughout his career, Shields could flourish in a Kansas City uniform. Shields’ age (31 on Opening Day, 2013) should limit the length of his contract to 3-5 years, so he could be a very attractive option to the Royals organization.
3. Kyle Lohse
After the cross-state rivals St. Louis Cardinals extended Jake Westbrook, they appear to be looking to lock up either Adam Wainwright or Kyle Lohse for a few more seasons. Wainwright fits their organizational philosophy and goals better than Lohse, and the Cardinals have engaged in preliminary talks to retain him rather than Lohse. Also, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, St. Louis is looking to let Lohse walk off due to payroll restrictions. Although a little advanced in age (34), Lohse has pitched exceedingly well the past two seasons, including a career year this season. With an ERA of 2.61, Lohse should command a lot of attention this offseason. Lohse has pitched extensively in the AL Central as a member of the Minnesota Twins; however, his age spikes a red flag for an organization as young as the Royals. That, along with an excellent walk year, should keep him out of the Royals plans for 2013. However, General Manager Dayton Moore has brought in players like Jose Guillen, Gil Meche, and Bruce Chen. So we could be in for a Dayton surprise this summer.
4. Shaun Marcum
From Excelsior Springs, Missouri, the Royals definitely have an “X-Factor” in the negotiation process other teams do not. After posting some good seasons as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Marcum really came into his own as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers and has been an anchor in their rotation the past two years. Good, not great, on a World Series caliber team Marcum profiles as an excellent number three. Pitching in the offensively weak National League Central, look for Marcum’s numbers to increase if he switches leagues this offseason. Marcum will likely take a salary hit this offseason due to a semi-recurring elbow issue this season and may be looking to come home to Kansas City. However, sports is a business, so look for Marcum to follow the dollar signs.
Probably one of the better pitchers you have never heard of, McCarthy was once a top prospect in the White Sox organization. After Luke Hochevar-ing in Chi-town and Texas, McCarthy has found a home in pitcher-friendly Oakland, and, according to Fangraphs, the American League’s best pitcher in 2011. In Oakland, McCarthy discovered the cut fastball and soon changed his pitching style to adapt to his newfound pitch. McCarthy, 29, definitely has the capability of being a shut down pitcher, but Billy Beane is the master of keeping “no name” players who continue to perform beyond other organization’s expectations.
Dempster is an interesting case for the Royals. Although 35, Dempster has the potential to offer the Royals a quality starter on a short contract that will also be able to provide a lot of veteran advice to a young pitching staff. Dempster has seen it all in the game—he has started, relieved, and closed AND been successful in all 3 roles. Dempster has pitched exceedingly well this season as a member of the Chicago Cubs and, now, the Texas Rangers. Dempster is a player that I would keep an eye on in the offseason—his age will attract fewer teams than other pitchers, and he has intangibles that should help a young roster learning how to be relevant on the Major League level.
Coming to the Detroit Tigers via trade from the Miami Marlins, Sanchez likely is a half season rental. Following last offseason’s spending spree in the Motor City, the Tigers likely will not attempt to resign Sanchez. However, Sanchez is likely to have many suitors this winter. Advanced statistics favor Sanchez more than his record would indicate, but this might be more due to the fact he pitched in a football stadium (as a member of the Marlins) for most of his career, rather than his actual on field performance. Still, Sanchez is going to be an option KC will have this offseason and they would not be doing their due diligence if they did not inquire.
8. Ervin Santana
Once a promising prospect for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Santana has been inconsistent throughout his career. With the Angels possessing a team option worth $13 million for the 2013 season, look for Santana to hit the open market after posting an ERA in the mid-5’s thus far in 2012. Santana is 29 at this point and should generate some interest on the market, but, if offered a multi-year deal, should leap at that opportunity.
With some promising in-house candidates,* look for Kansas City to pursue one, maybe two starters this offseason. With their lineup set for the foreseeable future, this offseason is where the Royals need to make a move to prove to this city that they truly want to win and be a relevant team in baseball. However, it is important to note that Kansas City is a “B-list” destination for many free agent pitchers; players crave big markets that are used to making a push towards the postseason. This presents a significant challenge to David Glass and Dayton Moore.
*I am really high on Jeremy Guthrie. Throughout his career, he has had to pitch against the American League East as a member of the Orioles and later in the thin air of Coors Field. Although he is not a front of the rotation starter, I believe he will love to pitch in fly-ball friendly Kauffman Stadium with the defense he has behind him.
Provided the Royals dramatically improve their Opening Day rotation, the Royals could be the young, talented team we were promised ahead of the 2012 season. Glancing at the likely 2013 Opening Day Lineup:
- Alcides Escobar
- Alex Gordon
- Eric Hosmer
- Billy Butler
- Mike Moustakas
- Salvador Perez
- Lorenzo Cain
- Wil Myers
- Johnny Giavotella
If the Royals could simply assemble an average rotation, the Royals could run away with the AL Central considering the dearth of talent in our division. The onus is on David Glass this winter to acquire the starting pitching to succeed, and I believe he will. Since the hiring of Dayton Moore, when GMDM has asked for money to pay free agents, Glass has obliged and put the money there. Now that homegrown players have entry-level salaries, the payroll has slipped, as it should have. 2013 will provide Glass with the opportunity to gain some trust with Kansas City, and I believe he will do his best to bring in free agent starting pitching.