So we have accounted for 80% of the 2012 rotation and we know that the Royals are seeking Major League ready starting pitching in trades. But if the Major League ready starting pitching that they receive is in the Sean O'Sullivan/Vin Mazzaro mold the Royals would be better off hanging on to what they have or taking a couple of low level prospects with higher upside.
The Royals don't need to acquire more Major League ready starters that are really just quadruple-A guys. The players they target in trades need to truly be viable rotation options. Otherwise there is no purpose considering the Royals already have two back up spot starters in O’Sullivan and Mazzaro.
Right now the team that keeps popping up in Melky Cabrera rumors is the Philadelphia Phillies. So here are the pitching prospects the Royals should be bring up: Brody Colvin, Jarred Cosart, Trevor May, Jesse Biddle, Vance Worley, J.C. Ramirez, Jon Pettibone, and Austin Hyatt.
Now the Phillies would likely not be willing to part with the first names on this list (Colvin, Cosart, May, and Biddle). These are all top ten prospects in their system, but also they don't exactly fit the bill of Major League ready as most are just in High-A. Pettibone is also just in High-A so I can't imagine him being the centerpiece that the Royals would prefer (I think he would be a great second piece though).
So this leaves Worley, Ramirez, and Hyatt. Let's start with Worley. MLB Trade Rumors has reported that the Phillies are dangling him as part of a package to lure Hunter Pence away from Houston, so we know the Phillies are willing to move him despite his 2.02 era in 62.1 innings pitched this season.
However, Worley seems to have outperformed his peripherals and his xFIP is nearly double his era (though it still is a very respectable 3.99 for a rookie). The other downside is that entering the season Baseball America said he just "profiled as a back of the rotation starter... with no plus pitch." Obviously the Phillies are trying to sell high and are hoping a team overvalues Worley's hot start in the National League.
This is not to say that I believe Worley to not be worthwhile, but I would hope that Royals scouts believe him to be more than a back end guy should they chose to acquire him in a deal. If he is a back end guy then that still makes him better than AAAA guys Sean and Vin, but it isn't exactly the upgrade we need for the 2012 rotation.
Ramirez is also near Major League ready and entering the season Baseball America said he had mid rotation potential. But also entering the season he had a never posted a K rate under 7. However, this season that number has dropped to 4.7. His era is down to 3.93 which is the best of any of his full seasons, but the K rate is a huge concern.
Finally we get to Austin Hyatt. Hyatt was drafted by the Braves in 2004, which automatically makes him appealing to the Dayton Moore regime. Hyatt has consistently been a bit old for his level to be a top prospect, but this season as a twenty-five year old in Double-A, he has a 10.1 K rate to a 3.0 walk rate. He is a guy that looks like a target, but as the only piece and I can't say that he would be enough to get the deal done.
If the Phillies are unwilling to deal Colvin, Cosart, May, or Biddle the Royals should insist upon Worley. If Worley isn't included the Royals should probably walk unless they can receive three prospects back. If Worley is included the Phillies should get by just offering one other prospect with decent upside. If this player happens to be Pettibone, Hyatt, or Ramirez then all the better.
So would you feel comfortable with a 2012 Royals rotation being Paulino, Duffy, Hochevar, Crow, and Worley? There is definitely some upside there that the 2011 version lacked. The rotation would also have AAAA spot starters Sean O'Sullivan and Vin Mazzaro and as much as I dog on them there is a tiny bit of value there. Not to mention Mike Montgomery.
Should Montgomery really turn it around in the second half as he started to do prior to Wednesday night’s 5 earned in 5 inning performance does he edge out Worley for the fifth spot? This of course would render the trade kind of pointless in the short term much like the DeJesus trade last fall. Or does a Montgomery rise mean the Royals finally cut ties with Hochevar should he nose dive in the second half?
What about free agency? The Royals have dollars to spend and while the market isn't exactly heavy with starter options it isn't totally bare either.
Personally I think Mark Buehrle could be a good fit despite his point on the aging curve. Edwin Jackson could also be a really exciting target for Royals fans. C.J. Wilson would also be a great get for the Royals. Dare I say Yu Darvish may hit the market should the Royals really want to make a splash and go all in. Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen could be brought back to fill in as the missing piece.
I suppose what this entire post comes down to, is while the Royals rotation has been pretty terrible this season particularly while Chen was on the DL. However, when it comes to the Royals rotation being a strength for 2012 there are already two reasons to be optimistic.
If you are a believer in Crow you have three. If you think Hochevar can be at least a back end guy for a good rotation you have another. And if you believe Monty will rebound you could already have your five. No need to worry.
But if you believe in just one of the aforementioned possibilities the Royals could answer the other two questions with a trade and then a free agent signing. Quite frankly they could even afford two free agent signings should they think it is needed to contend. If you don't believe in Crow, Hochevar, or Montgomery being pieces next season then you better hope the Royals get back a Major League starter and are active on the free agent market this winter.
Personally I see the rotation as the biggest question mark for 2012. I see enough solutions internal to put out a rotation that could be good enough. But I don't want to take that chance. I'd like to see one pitcher come in via trade and one via free agency (the latter being more critical, considering he would likely be expected to be front end).
Should the Royals be aggressive in acquiring pitching over the course of the next seven months, the rotation could be a real asset entering 2012. I know this sounds strange now when it is one of the worst in baseball, but there are pieces already in place and there are avenues in which the Royals can fill the gap.
It isn’t as if the Royals have to fill the entire glass. Truthfully the glass is already half full with water pouring in. Just as it always is on Royal Revival.