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Royals looking at impending free agent starting pitchers for a trade

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The rotation needs an upgrade.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals starting rotation has struggled this year with the fourth-worst ERA in the American League, and with Kris Medlen and Mike Minor both suffering setbacks in their rehab, and Kyle Zimmer out for most of the year, there does not appear to be much internal help on the way. The Royals have demoted struggling starter Chris Young to the bullpen for now, but neither Dillon Gee nor Brian Flynn, the likely replacements, should be expected to give the rotation much of a lift.

To improve the rotation, the Royals will likely need to go outside the organization. MLB.com writer Jon Paul Morosi reports the Royals are looking at impending free agent starting pitchers to acquire in a trade. The free agent class for next year's pitchers is very weak, but with a thin farm system, and heavy financial obligations for 2017, the Royals may have little choice but to shop for a rental player.

Among the names Morosi lists are Jeremy Hellickson, Rich Hill, Jorge de la Rosa, and Andrew Cashner. Let's take a look at those candidates, and a few more.

Jeremy Hellickson

The Royals faced Hellickson last Friday in Philadelphia, and the Des Moines, Iowa native has resurrected his career a bit with a 3.92 ERA and 4.26 FIP for the Phillies. Hellickson is a ground ball pitcher, which would be a nice change of pace from the flyballs allowed by Chris Young. However, Hellickson has given up 16 home runs of his own, nine of which have come on the road. The right-hander has increased his strikeout rate to 7.9 per-nine-innings, a career high. Hellickson has averaged 5.87 innings per start, so he is not quite a workhorse, but could be a bit more reliable than the current options.

Hellickson will earn about $3.5 million the remainder of the season and has drawn interest from the Red Sox.

Rich Hill

Hill's career hit a wall until the Red Sox signed him out of the independent leagues and introduced him to former Royals pitcher and current Red Sox adviser Brian Bannister. Bannister re-engineered Hill's pitch usage and the result has been phenomenal this year. Hill, who signed a one-year contract with Oakland last winter, has a 9-3 record and a 2.25 ERA with the A's, striking out 10.6 per-nine-innings.

Hill has also been a groundball pitcher with a rate of 50%. The lefty missed a month with a groin injury but has returned to pitch well in his last two starts, allowing three runs in 12 innings. He is averaging 5.84 innings per start, but has gone six innings or more in 10 of his 13 starts. Hill will earn about $3 million the remainder of the season and should generate a lot of trade interest if he continues to be healthy, likely making him a long-shot for the Royals.

Jorge de la Rosa

The lefty pitched for the Royals in 2006-2007, but became a serviceable mid-rotation starter over the last decade in Colorado. He has been pretty lousy this year, however with a 5.74 ERA and 5.39 FIP, and it is not even a result of pitching at Coors, as his road ERA is a mile-high at 7.20. He has been much better after a demotion to the pen, however, with a 2.61 ERA over his last five starts.

The 35-year old has seen an increase in both his strikeout rate and walk rates, and the ball is leaving the park at a greater rate than in the past. He is a groundball pitcher as well who has averaged 5.72 innings per start over the last five seasons. Jorge earns a bit over $6 million the remainder of the season, a salary that Colorado would likely have eat part of to acquire anything of consequence.

Andrew Cashner

The 29-year old right-hander recently returned from a neck injury to allow just one earned run in six innings against the Yankees last week. It has been an up-and-down season for Cashner, who sports a 4.34 ERA and 4.72 FIP, but he has been a 2+ WAR pitcher in each of the last three seasons, according to Fangraphs. Cashner's strikeout rate is way down and his walks are way up, which could be attributable to his neck injury. Cashner also has a groundball rate around 50%, and has maintained a home run rate of 0.81 per-nine-innings in his career.

Cashner will earn around $3.5 million the remainder of the season, which should be affordable. He has enough upside, but comes with enough red flags, that he could be attainable for the Royals.

Others: Jon Niese has a $10 million club option for next year, but the Pirates have begun shopping him. The lefty has a 4.87 ERA and has been hit hard by the longball, but was a serviceable starter the last few years for the Mets. The Yankees are only a few games behind the Royals, but if they fall further behind .500, they could deal Ivan Nova, a 29-year old who has struggled the last few seasons, but won 16 games as a rookie. Jered Weaver has a 5.27 ERA and throws about 80 mph now, but if the Angels continue to flounder, he could become an option.