In my fantasy world, Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante are not the off-season additions the Kansas City Royals would have made. However, my fantasy world is a pretty messed up place (fun, but messed up).
In reality, the Aoki trade and Infante signing would seem to be two of the better moves Dayton Moore has made in his tenure as Royals GM. Time will tell, of course, but these two moves have to be among the most well received among those in and out of their mothers' basements.
Good work, Dayton, on the position player front. Now, about the starting rotation...
Of course the first and still biggest (monetarily anyway) move of the off-season was the signing of free agent Jason Vargas. Unlike the two moves mentioned above, the four year deal for Vargas did not receive a warm ovation.
Vargas, if healthy, is fine nestled towards the back of your rotation. He is not all that appealing at the number three spot in your rotation, especially when Jeremy Guthrie is the number two starter and the numbers four and five guys are 'to be determined'. At his best, Vargas was good for 2.7 and 2.2 fWAR back in 2010 and 2011, with the early 2014 projections combining to value him at 1.7 fWAR.
The projections value Jeremy Guthrie at 1.2 fWAR for 2014 after back to back 1.1 fWAR seasons in 2012 and 2013. Prior to that, Guthrie was 1.7 fWAR or better for five straight years. If Baseball Reference is more your cup of tea, Guthrie has been 1.8, 1.6 and 1.1 rWAR the past three years, with three big (4.0 or better rWAR) back in his heyday.
If WAR is not your thing, that's cool. You can hang your hat on the idea that both Guthrie and Vargas are likely/hopefully going to give you 180 to 200 innings with earned run averages in the low fours. Ignoring the money the Royals are spending and will spend on those two guys and squinting just right and you can slot those two guys into the number three and four spots in your rotation and not feel horrible.
It helps, that James Shields is on one's staff. The manner in which Shields became a Royal will forever be controversial, but the guy did throw 228 innings with a 3.15 ERA, 3.47 FIP and was good for 4.5 fWAR (4.1 rWAR): basically pretty much what James Shields has been doing for seven straight years. Ace or not, having that guy throwing Opening Day is a pretty good starting point.
However, we all know the issue: the Royals need another arm.
The organizational buzz is spewing out the mantra of what a great year Luke Hochevar had out of the bullpen and how that might just translate into 'another look' as a starter. I don't know. We have seen 700 plus innings of Luke as a starter and they all pretty much looked the same. He is no longer a young pitcher learning his way and likely is exactly what he appears to be: a really good reliever who failed as a starter.
Wade Davis...well, can we pretty much just cut and paste the Hochevar paragraph? One could hope that Davis, who has thrown 200 innings less than Hochevar might still have one corner left that could conceivably be turned, but 2014 is 'win now' time and when your rotation is currently James Shields and two number fours you cannot really want to rely on either Hochevar or Davis to fill it out.
Of course, if everyone will improve as the Royals seem to think, then all is well: Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura both will entrench themselves as number two or three starters and of we go to the playoffs. It could happen, they both have the stuff to do it...maybe...if all goes well. Not to mention Kyle Zimmer is lurking in the background, perhaps ready to make an impact out of spring or early next summer. Perhaps.
Wouldn't it be so much more fun to have Shields then Garza or Jimenez or Ervin Santana (risky as it may be in Ervin's case) and then Guthrie, Vargas and one of the three young guns? Whoops, slid right back into fantasy world there.
Barring something really unforeseen, Kansas City does not have the money to go sign one of the big name pitchers. They won't add a real number two or even number three pitcher to the mix or at least will not do so without making a payroll move to accommodate it (i.e. trading Billy Butler) that would weaken another part of the team. With $62 million of new money committed to Vargas and Infante, I am pretty sure David Glass has locked the checkbook up for the winter.
If the current rotation is Shields, two number fours and some combination of three young guys and two corner turners, wouldn't it make more sense to make that three number fours?
Taking on a chance on Shaun Marcum (even knowing that Ryan will remind us that he is from Excelsior Springs about 130 times per start) would seem to make a whole bunch of sense. There is a pretty long list of veteran guys who would likely come fairly cheap on a one or two year deal that, if right, are solid number four starters. They all have warts, but they all come with reasons to believe they could perform at levels similar to both Guthrie and Vargas.
The situation is far from ideal and the rotation after Shields will scare no one, but give me one more veteran arm to put in the mix. That is one more guy to throw in the mix. One more guy to keep the Royals from making us watch Hochevar and Davis start every fifth day.