Once upon a time in the Kansas City Royals Kingdom, they needed to bring someone aboard for their 2014 campaign. The friends, relatives and wellwishers had many high hopes for this new someone. So naturally the Royals did the only rational thing to find their new someone. They went to the dating scene.
Now, this isn't to say that they didn't already have someone under the fold from their 2013 campaign. They did. That person is just asking for more. The fretting began before the dating game commenced about what Ervin wanted. They wondered "couldn't we do better?", they pondered "maybe this was a one time thing. The eyes of the Royals world were on many new faces as Ervin Santana put his eyes on new teams and his team made the case for terms thought to be absurd, but which are supported by evidence.
The first go around, Royals fans looked at Tim Hudson. Hudson, a sturdy man with a long record of success had a down year in 2013, ended his year in injury, and found a suitor early.
They looked at Josh Johnson, the most intriguing of all pitchers, the one who was good before, but due to the wear and tear had seen his health and monetary value fade over the years. Johnson found his suitor close to home, for a fee lower than multiple current Royals. But perhaps we'll have this conversation again soon?
These days, the eyes look upon several guys. They look upon Phil Hughes, the prototypical "ugly duckling" that was gonna become a swan after a good makeup and a change of surroundings. Hughes outside of his domain, was merely average (while he sucked eggs at Yankee Stadium), but the hope is that the surroundings of defense and blue magic will turn Phil Hughes into 2013 Ervin Santana.
They could look upon others. They could look upon Matt Garza, a man with deep ties to the Tampa Two of Wade Davis and James Shields. They could look upon short-term fixes, perhaps a Bartolo Colon, perhaps an AJ Burnett. They could inexplicably decide to go with an Ubaldo and trade a pick for the pick they'll get for the Santana signing. They could look upon the broken souls of the past, the Shaun Marcum, the Colby Lewis, the Barry Zito, the Johan Santana. They could sign Bruce Chen.
One thing is for sure, when it comes to the dating game, they have a goal they have to meet and they have a limited amount of time to get a meaningful deal done. The limited amount of time is because the number of available pitchers who could be above average is getting smaller every week.
The goal? Well, they will need a rotation on the level of last years rotation to have a chance of late-season relevance.
They'll need James Shields to reproduce his 2013, or at least be closer to 2013 than 2012.
They'll need Jeremy Guthrie to continue his run of not allowing runs despite allowing lots of runners on base.
They'll need the 4/5 pitchers to do better than the contributions of their 4/5s from 2013. Which is probably one of the easier tasks considering a lot of their 4/5 numbers come from Wade Davis stinking up the joint for most of 2013.
And they'll need someone who is going to be closer to a James Shields than a Jeremy Guthrie in the rotation.
Is that man out there?
Well, one thing is for sure, the next few months of Royals moves is going to define how long this window is going to be open for this current group of young guys to compete.
The Royals had to shorten the length of their relevance to get James Shields in the first place. They gave away a player who could be a perennial superstar (or not) to get James Shields. The Shields trade is essentially improving your current quality of life with the possible drawback of decreasing your life expectancy.
The cruel reality of the starting pitcher dating game is that this should go beyond 2014. This should go to making sure this team has something solid in place when Shields is gone. That's a fact because this organization has made a habit of not developing starting pitching in recent years.
But one certain thing about Royals fans is that no matter how many times they buy into a pitching prospect who falls down and goes boom, they will buy into the next pitching prospect and expect that they can field a pitching staff of young arms that will compete. It's not that simple.
If the plan is to make Wade Davis a 4/5 starter for next year. It will fail spectacularly
If the plan is to rely heavily on untested and unproven arms to carry the load of the rotation, it will fail.
If the plan is to leave the starting pitching cabinet barren of proven talent in 2015, it means that 2014 is the most important season for this franchise and will determine if the franchise can have some sort of relevance, or if the franchise is having to go a Houston Astros scorched earth job in a few years to rebuild for the 4th time since the strike.
If the plan is to determine Dayton Moore's long term job status based on the results of 2014, then it's a plan rooted in a form of irresponsibility. Moore's reputation shouldn't be any resoundingly better in November 2013 than it was in November 2012 because of the 2013 season. Whatever job skills Moore has didn't change much over the last year. But Moore's reputation apparently hasn't improved enough to warrant a contract extension. The best Royals season since 1989 wasn't good enough. Interpret that however you wish.
As someone who wouldn't have given Moore 7 years to post his first winning season, the current situation for Moore might actually hinder the aspirations of 2014 and beyond. The current situation is not the most ideal situation for building a winning team for 2014 or beyond. I remember 4 years ago when Moore got his extension, and media figures told us that Moore couldn't possibly be allowed to go into 2010 as a lame duck. Well, he's going into 2014 as a lame duck, and does that mean he makes decisions purely to grasp at winning in 2014 without regard for 2015?
What will be left if Dayton Moore fails?
There's a segment of fans that would welcome going for broke. There's a segment of fans that seem to think this team is going to improve on 86 wins and everything will turn up roses, so they have go to for it. Well, if that's their decision, they're gonna have to make it before they say "go for it" and there's nothing left to add to go for it. Because they need 1 (likely 2) solid starting pitchers, a 3rd baseman and a right fielder to really solidify things for a 2014 run.
The segment that views everything as sunny and sees this team as a contender has some overlap with fans that essentially don't know what it's like to follow an organization that has won consistently since the strike. That means they overvalue players and things which will not lead to winning. If you're viewing a David Lough/Justin Maxwell platoon as the best option for 2014 or you think trading Billy Butler in favor of a rotating DH spot is the best idea, you probably don't have any idea how winning teams are actually built in 2014. The harsh reality about the Royals is that their success was built in the 1970s, fortified in the 1980s, and demolished by the 1990s. So you could understand how some people view 1970s philosophies as a way to build a winning team in 2014.
This organization is at a crossroads. On paper, they should be good for years. But how dependable is that really?
How good they'll be in 2015 and 2016 is going to be determined over this offseason.
It's going to be determined if they can make sure that they're a success without James Shields. It's going to be determined if they can pitch well enough to get past the general flaws in offense which are going to occur in the New Deadball Era.
When you don't develop some form of starting pitching, you essentially pay an idiot tax if you want to be successful. You have to start selling possessions or bodily organs to get what you need. You go to the payday loan shop of baseball to get what you need. You realize that the bill is gonna come due quicker when you pay the idiot tax. In all likelyhood, their best options will involve another short-term get-me-over fix until they can actually get their homegrown pitching to actually be successful for once.
So the questions that are left to be answered for the Royals Dating game
1) do the Royals get their man?
1b) is that man going to be above average at pitching a baseball
2) How much of the 2013 workload falls on the shoulders of unproven starting pitchers?
3) How much of the 2013 results can be reproduced in 2014?
4) Will they actually add something new on offense, or stay the course?
5) Where's the path to 90 wins with Ervin Santana's performance gone, and possible backsliding by the overall rotation? They have to add at least 4 wins to their 2013 total to be near the dance for the playoffs. Where's it coming from? Do they have enough "breakout" hitting to really add to what they'll lose from pitching?
Nothing what so ever is guaranteed or expected when it comes to success in Kansas City Sports. And when success rests on the shoulders of a rented rotation, they're either gonna ride with their guys and take the dings involved with that, or they're gonna have to rent guys and take the dings involved with that proposition.
The 2014 slogan right now is "What's next" and with the contestants picking their dates in this dating game, the question is "What's next and who's coming aboard with this team?"
So, what's next?