The Kansas City Royals’ 2013 starting rotation amassed an impressive 94 quality stars, good enough for 4th in the MLB. Who will appear in the 2014 starting rotation? Here’s how things shape:
It's highly probable the #5 slot will be supplied by one of many potential in-house candidates: Danny Duffy, Luis Mendoza, Felipe Paulino, Wade Davis, Will Smith, Luke Hochevar, Yordano Ventura, John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Everett Teaford, etc. It's possible the Royals attempt to fill the #4 slot with an in-house candidate as well. While the rotational depth is somewhat reassuring, the 2 blatant gaps remain. Put another way, Shields and Guthrie are the only two certainties for the 2014 rotation.
During the offseason, the Royals need to sign at least 2 SPs, preferably a #2 and #4 arm. (A third SP might be nice. Shields, Santana, Guthrie, and Chen (when starting) logged a combined 3.55 ERA. Perhaps even more impressive than the foursome’s statistical success is that they spent 0 days on the DL after a combined 772.1 IP. Is it realistic to expect the same combination of dominance and good health for 2014’s rotation? Not very.)
With that, let’s turn an eye toward the free agent market. What SPs are available this offseason? (From mlbtraderumors.com):
Bronson Arroyo (37)
Scott Baker (32)
Erik Bedard (35)
A.J. Burnett (37)
Chris Capuano (35) - $8MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
Chris Carpenter (39)
Bruce Chen (37)
Bartolo Colon (41)
Jorge De La Rosa (33) - $11MM club option
Scott Feldman (30)
Gavin Floyd (31)
Jeff Francis (33)
Freddy Garcia (37)
Jon Garland (34)
Matt Garza (30)
Chad Gaudin (31)
Roy Halladay (37)
Jason Hammel (31)
Aaron Harang (36) - $7MM+ mutual option with a $2MM buyout
Dan Haren (33)
Roberto Hernandez (33)
Tim Hudson (38)
Phil Hughes (28)
Ubaldo Jimenez (30) - may void $8MM option for 2014
Josh Johnson (30)
Jeff Karstens (31)
Scott Kazmir (30)
Hiroki Kuroda (39)
Jon Lester (30) - $13MM club option with a $250K buyout
Colby Lewis (34)
Ted Lilly (38)
Tim Lincecum (30)
Paul Maholm (32)
Shaun Marcum (32)
Jason Marquis (35)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (33)
Randy Messenger (32)
Ricky Nolasco (31)
Roy Oswalt (35)
Mike Pelfrey (30)
Wandy Rodriguez (35) - $13MM player option with a $2.5MM buyout
Ervin Santana (31)
Johan Santana (34) - $25MM club option with a $5.5MM buyout
Joe Saunders (33) - mutual option
Jason Vargas (31)
Ryan Vogelsong (36) - $6.5MM club option with a $300K buyout
Edinson Volquez (30)
Tsuyoshi Wada (33) - $5MM club option
Jake Westbrook (36) -- $9.5MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
Chien-Ming Wang (34)
Barry Zito (36) - $18MM club option with a $7MM buyout
The Case against Hughes
- In 2013 Hughes went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA and 1.5HR/9, the result of his dangerous career 0.53 GB/FB ratio. Additionally, his -0.7 WAR, was a career worst.
- He has an injury history that includes issues with his hamstring, ankle, as well as tendinitis and shoulder troubles. This year he started on the DL because of a bulging disc.
- His career best 2.6 WAR was in 2009 as a member of the Yankees bullpen. It’s a mistake to equate him to Chen, Mendoza, Hochevar, or Davis, but is another pitcher in this mold the best option?
- Only 2 of his 5 postseason starts have been quality starts. He has a career postseason ERA of 4.66 as a SP. Nice that the Royals have to actually be aware of this sort of thing now.
- This season, in his 3rd year of arbitration eligibility, he received a 1 yr / $7.15 MM deal. It’s pure conjecture as to what he will go for on the open market. Knowing GMDM, it will be 5 yr / $55 MM.
The Case for Hughes
- Hughes has seen mild success as a SP. As recently as ’12, he posted a 1.9 WAR throwing 191.1 IP. In ’10 he had a 2.0 WAR in 176.1 IP. That season he was an all-star with a 3.64 ERA in the first half. Look at this compared to Wade Davis’ 5.89 ERA for the first half of ‘13.
- He has upside. Hughes was a first-round pick in the 2004 MLB draft. In 2007 Baseball America wrote that he is, "arguably the best pitching prospect in the minors." He throws a 4-seamer that peaks at 97 MPH, spiked curveball, slider, cutter, and Vulcan changeup. Plus, he’s 27.
- His best days were under Dave Eiland. It was Eiland who served as his pitching coach at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels before working with him in the majors from ’08-’10.
- Presumably, he is due for a moderate bounce back, and when he moves out of Yankee Stadium last year’s 1.5 HR/9 should lower. Imagine if he has Gordon, Cain, and Dyson as his outfield defense. Then imagine he isn’t pitching against an AL East team each start.
- Intangibles: He’s a man of strong faith and character. I understand what this amounts to for most folks. Most folks aren’t GMDM.
Smart money has GMDM at least making a qualifying offer of 1 yr. / $14 MM at Santana. It seems a strong possibility that he would also make Chen a 1 yr deal for roughly what he makes now at $4.5 MM. At present, no official statements have been made beyond the usual platitudes, though it's almost a certainty that Santana is offered a better deal elsewhere.
The Royals need to take a hard look at their finances and ask: Where can we find maximal value? The front office is welcome to a variety of hurlers to fulfill the two holes in the rotation. Clearly, Hughes is not a preferable answer at #2, but he is an intriguing possibility at #4.