After improving their starting rotation the Royals can be considered a sleeper team entering the 2013 season.
Major League Signings
- Jeremy Guthrie, SP: three years, $25MM.
- Total Spend: $25MM.
Notable Minor League Signings
- Blaine Boyer, Chad Tracy, Endy Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Xavier Nady, Willy Taveras, George Sherrill, Dan Wheeler, Brandon Wood, Anthony Ortega.
Trades and Claims
- Acquired SP James Shields, P Wade Davis and IF Elliot Johnson from Rays for OF Wil Myers, P Mike Montgomery, 3B Patrick Leonard and P Jake Odorizzi.
- Acquired P Luis Rico and P Luis Santos from Pirates for P Vin Mazzaro and 1B Clint Robinson.
- Acquired SP Ervin Santana from Angels for P Brandon Sisk.
- Claimed C George Kottaras off waivers from Athletics.
- Claimed P Guillermo Moscoso off waivers from Rockies.
- Claimed C Brett Hayes off waivers from Marlins.
- Claimed P Chris Volstad off waivers from Cubs.
- Wil Myers, Vin Mazzaro, Joakim Soria, Mike Montgomery, Brandon Sisk, Patrick Leonard.
Dayton Moore made his move this offseason, exchanging one of the game’s top prospects for a dependable frontline starter. The Royals also re-worked the back of the rotation in an effort to improve their starting pitching and become a well-rounded team capable of contending for the postseason.
Not only does James Shields contribute on the field, he’s under team control through 2014 at a reasonable rate. It’s no surprise he had substantial trade value. Yet it was surprising to many that Moore parted with top prospect Wil Myers to obtain Shields and Wade Davis. The Royals still have a strong system without Myers, and their pitching staff now looks much stronger. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports explained, this depth figured in to the club’s decision making back in December, when multiple teams were pursuing Shields.
Giving up Myers was a bold move that generated lots of criticism. The Royals know Myers better than any organization, so they get the benefit of the doubt to an extent. However, generally speaking an elite prospect on the cusp of the Major Leagues has more value than a frontline starter under team control for two seasons. Plus, Odorizzi and Montgomery are significant pieces. It stands to reason that Shields will help the Royals in 2013-14 more than Myers would have, though the balance shifts for the next five years, when Myers will remain under team control.
Davis will also start for the Royals, along with another newcomer. The Royals traded for Ervin Santana, giving up no significant players while agreeing to take on considerable salary. Santana had a disappointing season in Los Angeles and at $12MM represents more than an impulse buy. It’s just a one-year commitment, but the salary probably exceeds Santana's free agent market value.
Jeremy Guthrie returns on a three-year deal (more on his contract later) to round out the rotation along with Bruce Chen. This bumps Luke Hochevar to the bullpen for now, and begs the question ‘might it have been simpler and more cost-effective to non-tender Hochevar in November?’
The Royals made the prudent decision to decline Joakim Soria's 2013 option shortly after the World Series. With many capable relievers already in the organization, the front office didn't have to spend on relief help this winter.
The Royals enter the season with Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella at second base. While the free agent market for second baseman was lackluster, the Royals could have traded for a short-term option to handle the position while Christian Colon’s development continues. I suggested early in the offseason that a deal for someone like Skip Schumaker would have made sense. Instead the Royals must allocate playing time on the fly and hope they get average production, a proposition that seems unlikely for now.
Jeff Francoeur is a question mark for the Royals following an unproductive 2012 season. Still just 29, Francoeur added value as recently as 2011. However, now that Myers is in Tampa Bay the Royals don't have a clear alternative in case Francoeur hits poorly again in 2013. Hopefully ownership will be prepared to spend on upgrades in the outfield and at second base if they're required midseason.
In general the Royals have a young group of position players. There’s upside in Kansas City to be sure, with up and coming players such as Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas joining established stars like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Yet with youth comes the reality that players like Hosmer are still developing at the MLB level.
The Royals face questions in their rotation, though it's looking stronger than it has in recent years. Santana posted a 5.16 ERA in 2012 and must pitch better to justify the Royals' acquisition.
Plus, Davis returns to the rotation after pitching effectively out of the bullpen for the 2012 Rays. Credit Davis for his relief work, but don't expect those numbers to translate in 2013. His career strikeout rate, home run rate and batting average on balls in play are substantially better as a reliever, indicating his numbers will drop off in the rotation.
Deal of Note
The Royals clearly wanted Guthrie back, and they were willing to spend to keep him following a strong half season in Kansas City. Overpaying a little to sign a free agent you really want makes sense, especially for teams that haven't historically had an easy time convincing players to join their organizations. But the Royals didn't overpay by a little.
Four free agent starting pitchers obtained deals of at least three years this past winter: Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson and Guthrie. Not only are Greinke, Sanchez and Jackson coming off of stronger seasons than Guthrie, they're all just 29 years old.
Guthrie, who turns 34 next month, is hittable and homer prone. While he limits walks, he doesn't strike many hitters out or induce a particularly high percentage of ground balls. He's useful, but he's not an impact pitcher. The Royals’ decision to pay him like one was questionable at the time, and looks worse now that comparable pitchers have signed for far less. Spending $25MM to bolster the back of a rotation doesn’t seem necessary in today’s market.
Moore improved the Royals’ pitching staff and, in doing so, increased the chances that they contend in 2013. This team is vulnerable in many areas, however, so fans may have to wait until 2014 or beyond for the next contending Royals team.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.