SI's Jon Heyman reports that the Royals have signed Bruce Chen to a two year deal worth $9 million guaranteed, with up to $1 million in incentives and up to $1 million in roster bonuses. I have heard that the report is premature, but I tend to believe it is probably correct.
I have several issues with this signing, the first of which is time. Why are the Royals making this deal with so many pitchers still on the market? Why not wait and see if the market forces Chen or another option to take less than they were hoping for. If the Royals were afraid that Chen would be signed soon, oh well, take the pick and smile.
To me your evaluation of Chen as a pitcher hinges on what type of fan you are. Do you value ERA? Or do you evaluate Chen based on his xFIP? Personally I think that when reviewing a season xFIP doesn't really matter, because luck is part of the game. However, when using one season's statistics to look toward the future I believe the more advanced statistics are way better than the crudeness of ERA.
For the past two seasons Chen has been the top starter to wear a Royals uniform. In that time he has also developed a cult following thanks to the work of Will Ferrell and company. For some fans this alone seems to raise Chen's value, but I digress.
Now in the KC Star Dayton Moore suggested that the club would still like to add two starters. If the team did this they would have a rotation of Hochevar, Sanchez, Chen, Paulino and the free agent. Meaning Duffy could begin the season in Omaha to ensure he misses Super Two and to allow him to develop just a little bit more. Eventually one of those starters falters or gets hurt and luckily you have depth.
I am all for depth., but guaranteeing $9 million to Chen doesn't seem like a depth move. It seems like a scared move. As in the Royals are scared they will miss out on other targets and won't have the security of Bruce Chen once the time comes.
Personally, Chen was my final back up plan. If all else failed, I would have loved to see the Royals bring back Chen. Especially if the deal could have been for one year, with some sort of option for the second. I would have been all for that deal. But promising Bruce Chen two years when there are so many other options out there seems silly to me.
Even if you don't believe that the Royals have other options on the free agent market, surely you can admit that there are several internal options that could be just as strong as Chen (Montgomery, Crow, Teaford). If you look to the 2013 season you may be able to throw several more starters into the mix as better options.
For me Jeff Francis would have been a better option to return to Kansas City next season. I see 2011, as similar seasons between Francis and Chen. Both are projected to post a 4.22 ERA by Bill James in 2012. But James also projects Francis to post a significantly stronger FIP, a prediction that would strongly resemble what happened in 2011, when Francis despite having an ERA nearly a full run higher than Francis, showed stronger peripheral numbers.
In the end, with the pitchers being so similar, I would have preferred Francis for the simple fact that Chen leaving would bring the Royals a draft pick. Surely that counts for something right? To me if the pitchers pitch the same in 2012 as they did 2011, it is a no brainer that Francis and a draft pick would be the more appealing option.
At this point we can't know what Francis will sign for, but early indications are that he will receive a similar deal for 2012 that he got for 2011. If Francis could have been had on a one year offer this becomes an even more obvious decision.
There are some pitchers that are able to consistently outperform their FIP, and I do think that Chen could be one of those guys. For the past two seasons he has carved out a Jamie Moyer kind of career. I wouldn't be shocked if Chen continued this trend. But personally I'm not confident enough in these odds to wager a two year, $9 million commitment.
There is also the issue of durability. For a long time you could pencil Jamie Moyer for right around 200 innings pitched. Even in 2009, when this figure dropped to 162, it would have been the second highest of Bruce Chen's career. If I knew I could count on Chen to log 200 innings I'd feel much more optimistic about this deal. But instead Chen hasn't made over 25 starts in either of the last two seasons.
Look around the Royals' rotation. Who is eating innings and protecting the bullpen? Hochevar has proven to be a bit injury prone over the last couple of seasons. Paulino has never logged over 140 Big League innings. Jonathan Sanchez battled injuries for most of 2011. Danny Duffy is a young arm that probably isn't ready to jump over 200 innings.
Let's hope Dayton Moore is serious when he talks about bringing in another starter, because for in my opinion this team will definitely need it at some point. But if you do bring in another free agent starter you basically assure yourself that Aaron Crow and/or Everett Teaford won't be shifting to the rotation and that Mike Montgomery won't be winning a spot in the rotation with a spectacular Spring.
The Royals rotation is probably stronger today than it was yesterday. But is it stronger than it was in 2011? Not in my opinion. Chen outperformed his peripherals, given this and his position on the aging curve regression should be expected. If he regresses at all the Royals rotation doesn't improve because of this deal.
Ultimately it isn't a horrible deal, but it isn't suave either. It is a deal that makes me feel uneasy. I hope that Chen continues to find the fountain of youth and can continue to defy the numbers and post quality seasons. If he does it is hard to argue with bring back the reigning Royals pitcher of the year for just $9 million guaranteed.