After Jeff Francoeur's extension a few days ago the Royals seem to have in place their lineup for the 2012 season. I'm not sure when the last time was that the Royals had their next season's lineup in place in August was but it is nice to enter the offseason without a hole in the lineup that needs to be filled.
With that being said, I do believe that the Royals have to sign a front end starter to truly initiate the launch sequence for Mission 2012. At this point the Royals have Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino, and Luke Hochevar as locks for the 2012 rotation. I believe that they should also reserve a spot for either Everett Teaford, Aaron Crow, or Greg Holland depending on which wins a job next Spring.
This isn't a bad group of starters. Not as bad as what Kansas City had to deal with throughout late April into early June this season. Obviously the Royals could go out and bring in a serviceable starter or two in the Bruce Chen/ Jeff Francis variety (heck they could even keep Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis). Or they could invest some of that excess cash and really strengthen that rotation.
Unfortunately it isn't exactly the most impressive free agent class when it comes to starting pitchers. There are a few names that could be pretty good fits, but considering the lack of many potential front end guys there could be a bidding war for guys deserving of that role. This isn't what the Royals want to get into.
Needless to say it isn't easy for teams like the Royals to get a hold of front end starters, even if they have the payroll flexibility to do so. But in my opinion the Royals were just presented an opportunity to get their hands on one.
On August 19, the Houston Astros placed the incredibly underrated Wandy Rodriguez on waivers. This means that teams have two business days to stake a claim on him in order for a chance to trade for him. Some people suspect that should a team claim Wandy the Astros would be content to just let him go in order to retain salary relief.
This is not only a risk that I believe the Royals should take, but also the scenario that I would have preferred to happen. Wandy Rodriguez is slated to make $10 million next season and $13 million the following season. According to Doug Pappas of SABR his 2014 option for $13 million also becomes a player option should Wandy be traded.
I am not sure if a waiver claim would make 2014 a player option, but let's say it does. The Royals would be on the hook for $36 million over the next three seasons. This is without a doubt a big chunk of money. Not to mention Wandy is already 32 and would be 35 years old by the contract's end.
Don't forgetthe Royals were willing to pay Gil Meche $55 million over 5 years and his track record at the time of the deal wasn't even close to as strong as Wandy Rodriguez. The Royals also were willing to pay $36 million to aging, steroid using, no walk taking, Jose Guillen over three years. Why wouldn't they be willing to commit the same amount of cash to a proven front of the rotation starter.
The Royals have a huge amount of payroll flexibility. Even after spending roughly $20 million on amateurs in 2011, the Royals are in a position where for the next three or four seasons they will be able to pay a huge chunk of their roster the league minimum.
The Royals are in a position where they could afford a contract such as this more than any other point in their franchise's history. Also, the guy in question is exactly what the Royals need in order to push themselves to contention.
Wandy Rodriguez has called Minute Maid Park home for his entire career. Normally I would expect his numbers to dip, due to a league change but in this situation not only could I see his numbers staying consistent, but also even improving by moving to a park that's a less hitter friendly.
There is definitely risk in committing $36 million to Wandy Rodriguez. But I believe the Royals are in a position that would make it worthwhile. There aren't many starting pitchers on the 2012 free agent market that will be as good as Wandy Rodriguez, and most will command similar financial commitments.
Should the Astros pull Wandy back if the Royals claimed him, the two clubs could then work out a trade. Rumor is that the Astros prefer salary relief to prospects at this point, so the less the Royals had to give up in terms of talent the better.
I believe that the Royals would have to place their claim on Wandy Rodriguez by Tuesday. I have read several tweets from baseball people that speculate no team will claim Wandy Rodriguez. Quite frankly there are probably only a few teams in all of baseball that could take on the contract without the Astros help at this point in the season.
The Royals have a chance to make a big move to position themselves as a front runner for the 2012 AL Central title. Will they have the courage to take it?