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Royal Ups and Downs - Contention Window Edition, Part I

The latest installment in the series chronicling the highs and lows of the Royals roster

Ed Zurga

Over the next two weeks, we'll look at the players in the usual format, this time with the player comments aimed towards whether or not each player is part of the Royals plans for their possibly-mythical, possibly-real "next good team." With the Royals sniffing a playoff berth (and little more than sniffing, to be sure) for the first time since 2003, the prevailing thought seems to be they're a couple pieces away from fielding a team that's capable of more than just hanging around the outskirts of a the play-in game hunt.

Whether or not that's actually true is another matter. But which players, in my estimation, need to stay or go to prop the window open? Read on for this week's Pitchers Ups and Downs!

James Shields - SP - Kablooey_medium

This is a no-brainer. One of the most wildly panned moves of this off-season, or any recent off-season, was the acquisition of James Shields from Tampa. If you'll reverse yourself momentarily, you might recall that part of the reason it was panned so much was that Shields only had two years left of his deal. Yes, Wil Myers went in the other direction, but luckily he's off being lazy or something with the Rays, at least according Kevin Millar:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Will Myers has to learn to play this game full speed both sides of this game. Rangers take lead 3-2 in 11th with 2 outs <a href=";src=hash">#LazyPlay</a></p>&mdash; Kevin Millar (@KMillar15) <a href="">September 19, 2013</a></blockquote>

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But I digress, the real point here is this: James Shields is the Royals contention window, until they produce or acquire another top of the rotation caliber pitcher (or take a massive step forward offensively). He has one year left on his deal right now, and he's around the point in time where even very good pitchers start to take a step or two backward. He also gets the red arrow mainly because he gave up 10 runs to Detroit - his other two starts in the last couple weeks were quite good.

Ervin Santana - SP - Up_medium

Uh oh. This is another guy who's been a big help towards the Royals being a decent team this season, and there's a couple problems with him too. First of all, he's out of a contract at the end of this season. Secondly, he's outperformed expectations this year to the point where the Royals are in a tricky spot - they needed him to be this good to hang around in the wild card race, and he has a track record of being consistently inconsistent from year-to-year. As with Shields, he's no longer a spring chicken.

It might be beyond the Royals to bring Santana back, or they might decide to replace him. Either way, they need to find some way to replace his 200 quality innings, and it's not as if that's as easy as that sounds. Ervin earns the up arrow for his good performances in his last two starts, and he and Shields have formed a nice 1-2 punch this season.

Wade Davis - RP - Up_medium

n the bullpen, Davis is actually a plus, though he really just adds to the Royals laughably good depth in that area. Raking the Royals over the coals for going out of their way to acquire a good righty reliever and then setting him up to fail as a starter again is fine, but let's remember that Davis is actually quite effective out of the 'pen. People getting aggravated with Ned are probably right about some things, but saying that Davis shouldn't've been in the game versus Cleveland is pretty baseless.

Long story short, Davis has been good since he's been allowed to do what he's good at. As with any reliever, he's not super important to the Royals cause...except the Royals 'pen this year has been big in terms of keeping a mediocre team in it. A full year of Davis firing an inning or two at a time next season might help stave off regression in that regard. Might.

Jeremy Guthrie - SP - Nope_medium

Guthrie's given up 22 hits in his last two starts, while stranding most of those runners. That pretty much sums up Guthrie, a declining pitcher who's forced to rely more and more on batted ball luck and some impressive "pitches better mysteriously with guys on base" moxie to compensate for the fact that he can barely get anyone out by himself. Moore idiotically gave Guthrie an extension, of course, and the Royals would do well to shop him this off-season beyond he completely detonates.


Luis Mendoza - SP - Kablooey_medium

Last time he pitched was about two weeks ago, when he was bombed by Detroit. Mendoza might have been batted ball unlucky this season, but he's about as fungible as MLB starters come. That said, from the "money-to-performance ratio," his presence on the roster as an extra dude is way more tolerable than Guthrie or Davis-as-a-starter. Though honestly, this season could signal the beginning of the end for Luis.

Bruce Chen - RP - Nope_medium

This is the year 2013, so I really don't expect any front office to show up at the Royals doorstep and say, "hey, about that guy, Chen? Nice ERA he had, we'll take him!" But I guess you never know. Chen is Chen is Chen, which is to say that he's a pitcher who's surprisingly effective given his stuff, and still not very effective. So we're now on the third straight pitcher that the Royals wouldn't really need to go out of their way to replace.

Luke Hochevar - RP - Up_medium

It's worth wondering what to do with Hochevar, as he's been very good this season (77-17 K-BB) but hasn't really pitched in higher leverage situations until Ned finally noticed. Expecting a repeat is perhaps asking a bit much, and the Royals have a lot of depth in the bullpen. There's the option of non-tendering him and attempting to bring him back at a reduced price, but it's also possible that Luke'd just take a contract somewhere else, as he's almost certainly earned it.

Hochevar has officially established himself as a relief asset, more than I would've hoped, but the facts are that he's not an irreplaceable one (especially for KC), relief pitching is notoriously fluky from year-to-year, and the Royals shouldn't throw him a contract just because he pitched well. Retaining more good righty reliever isn't really going to put them over the top, especially if it costs $5 million.

Danny Duffy - SP - Kablooey_medium

Duffy is an internal candidate to replace some of the production that the Royals will lose if Santana walks, and his forearm strain isn't supposed to be serious -- good to hear given his history. Duffy walks too many hitters, but he misses a lot of bats, and it's easy to squint and see Jon Lester or Cliff Lee, lefties who always had good stuff that took a step forward in command and took off. Duffy has yet to take that step, obviously, and may never do so, but chances are that a competitive Royals team next year would have a fair amount to do with him pitching well in the rotation all year.

Also, the Royals really skipped his start to get to Bruce Chen. I really hope his forearm was already strained at that time.

Will Smith - RP -Up_medium

Seriously, everyone that the Royals put in the bullpen this year turns to gold. Smith has given up two runs in the last month of appearances, and has struck out 39 hitters in 30-plus innings. As with all bullpen assets, the Royals must avoid getting overly charmed down the road, but Smith continuing at this level in the lefty-lefty role isn't out of the question.

Louis Coleman - RP -Up_medium

I'm probably irrationally high on Coleman, so I wouldn't be shocked if he grew into the rare righty sidearmer that could retire lefties as well. Still, even if he doesn't beat those odds, he holds righty batters to Alcides Escobar-levels. Stop me if you've heard this before in this post, but the Royals have a lot of good relievers. If they can find any way to move a couple for some more people who can hit and field (I know, high standards), they should jump at the chance. Coleman probably makes more sense on the roster of a playoff team than the Royals, so I wouldn't be shocked to see him move.

Kelvin Herrera - RP - Nope_medium

Had been pitching well until his struggles versus Cleveland, and even in a down year he's rocking 72 K's in 57 innings. Herrera is a great rebound candidate for next season.

Greg Holland - RP - Up_medium

The debate with Holland isn't so much, "is Greg Holland awesome," so much as "as awesome as Greg Holland is, will anyone ever be as awesome as Greg Holland is awesome, awesome?" I'd like to thank Greg, once again, for being my best mid-season fantasy pick-up. I'm in favor of the Royals keeping Holland, but it'd be nice if we had a manager who knew the concept of "relief ace who pitches in high leverage situation" rather than just thinking "I must pitcher the Closer when we are up at the end of a game."

That's not a critique of Yost, so much as a critique of MLB managers - as much as the Royals have got out of Holland this year, they could have gotten even more. The same could be said for most of the great relievers in baseball.

Yordano Ventura - SP - Up_medium

Did you see this guy pitch last night? The stuff he's got is pretty flippin' amazing. I'm not sure if he's ready for a full season starting in the bigs, but he's definitely ready to make MLB hitters look silly. Ventura is probably the other candidate to improve the Royals rotation from within in the near future, and I saw nothing but encouraging things from him in his first start.


Just One Question for the Week: Play GM with pitching staff. Who stays? Who goes?