The Royals are known to be on the lookout for starting pitching, having been connected to the likes of Ervin Santana, Rich Hill and Matt Moore in recent weeks. Their needs have been accelerated by the struggles of Chris Young and injury setbacks for Mike Minor and, more recently, Kris Medlen. As Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star writes, Medlen suffered a Grade 1 strain in his throwing shoulder while pitching on a rehab assignment from rotator cuff inflammation at Triple-A Omaha and will be shut down from throwing for at least the next two weeks due to the injury.
With uncertainty permeating their rotation, Kansas City is casting a wide net in looking at trade candidates, writes MLB.com’s Jon Morosi. Among the pitchers they’re considering are right-handers Jeremy Hellickson and Andrew Cashner as well as lefties Hill and Jorge De La Rosa, according to Morosi. Each of those names would constitute a strict rental, as each is a free agent at season’s end, though previous ties to Santana and Moore suggest that the Royals are possibly open to the steeper price (be it financial or in terms of prospect cost) of adding a player controlled beyond the 2016 campaign. Indeed, McDowell’s colleague Rustin Dodd linked Kansas City to multiple Rays starting pitchers just last night. GM Dayton Moore called the rotation an “area of vulnerability” and confirmed that he’s been “evaluating the landscape” of potentially available options, writes the Star’s Vahe Gregorian.
Royals starters currently rank 29th in the Majors in collective innings pitched at 455 2/3, and they’re a mere one-third of an inning ahead of the rebuilding Reds in that woeful distinction. More troublesome than that sum is the fact Royals starters simply haven’t pitched well even when they’re on the mound. The Royals’ excellent bullpen could perhaps cover persistently short starts if the team were regularly receiving quality five-inning outings from its starting staff, but Royals starting pitchers have posted a collective 5.02 ERA that ranks 25th in the Majors this season. The bullpen has helped to stop the bleeding, but the recent loss of Wade Davis has thinned out the relief corps, and even if he’s not on the shelf for long, they’re on pace for a lofty total of 556 2/3 innings from the bullpen this season.
With that in mind, Hellickson strikes me as the most logical target among the names listed by Morosi. He’s made 18 starts this season and, after a patch of struggles in late April/early May, has averaged 6 1/3 innings per start over his past 11 turns (nine of which have been quality starts). He’s been the most durable of the bunch and probably offers the best blend of affordability in terms of salary ($7MM in 2016) and prospect cost. Hill is earning $1MM less but has pitched considerably better when on the mound, so he should be expected to command a larger return than Hellickson in a trade. Cashner, meanwhile, is earning $7.15MM but has been limited to 59 innings by a hamstring strain and a neck strain. And De La Rosa, a former Royal (2006-07), is earning $12MM this season and lost his rotation spot in May before righting the ship and regaining his starting job recently.
For the time being, the Royals are relying on a rotation consisting of Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy and Edinson Volquez, with either Dillon Gee or Brian Flynn slated to step into Young’s spot on Sunday following Young’s move to the bullpen. While Duffy has been scintillating since returning to the rotation — a trend that continued last night — and Kennedy has given the club 100 solid innings (3.97 ERA), Ventura has struggled since April. Volquez, meanwhile, has been highly inconsistent, yielding four or more runs in half of his 18 starts this season.