The rumors have been clear that Oswalt is looking to land a one year deal with a contender, something I can totally understand. However, when it comes to professional athletes, I've learned that there is always a dollar figure that can buy them out of their notions of going to a winner, or staying near home, or whatever else for that matter. Not to mention if Oswalt came to Kansas City, I'm sure the top reason he'd give to the press is that the Royals are on the verge of contention and that he wants to be a part of something special in Kansas City.
The Royals have the money to spend in their current budget. The team is right around $60 million for 2012, after being over $70 million in both 2009 and 2010. In fact, there was a time when the Royals payroll was closer to $80 million than 70. Last year the payroll was in the $35-40 million dollar range. So it isn't unrealistic at all to assume that the Royals possess the flexibility that would be necessary to add another starter into the budget. The Royals would likely have to pay more than 'a contender' to lure Oswalt or Jackson in, but ultimately money talks.
In fact, Dayton Moore himself has even stated that the team was looking into acquiring another starter, before ultimately deciding to take the prudent route and saving the final rotation spot for one of the kids. If you believe that the fifth rotation spot belongs to Duffy, Crow, Teaford, or Montgomery, that's fine. But personally I think all of the aforementioned pitchers could use more time in Omaha honing their craft.
The Rays have possibly the best rotation depth in all of baseball. In 2012, there will likely be two starters that don't make the Rays rotation that would be one of the best starters on the Royals roster.Look at the manner in which the Rays have developed their starters. The Rays develop their starters with patience.
There is a belief that pitchers have to make adjustments at the next level. Many Royals fans are of the opinion that Danny Duffy has learned all that he can in Omaha. They would argue that sending him to Omaha to begin 2012 would serve no purpose developmentally. They may be right, I am no expert in pitcher development. However, I would point to the Rays model, which has been pretty effective over the past few seasons. Look how many innings some of their prospects threw in the upper levels, before becoming fixtures in the rotation:
David Price: 109.1
Matt Moore: 155
Matt Garza: 183.1
Alex Cobb: 187
Jeremy Hellickson: 307
Alexander Torres: 323.2
Jeff Niemann: 361
Wade Davis: 399.1
Of course Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Alexander Torres could all add more innings in 2012. Also of note is that the starter with the least amount of innings in the upper levels is David Price, who is probably the most advanced college arm ever outside of Stephen Strasburg (Strasburg by the way threw just 66.1 innings in the upper levels).
Here's a look at where the Royals arms stand in the upper level inning count:
John Lamb: 68
Jake Odorizzi: 68.2
Danny Duffy: 81.2
Aaron Crow: 119.1
Chris Dwyer: 159
Mike Montgomery: 210.1
Everett Teaford: 219.2
The Rays are arguably the best team in professional baseball right now in terms of developing starting pitchers and keeping those pitchers healthy at the Major League level. Thanks to a patient approach that waits for starters to force their hand they have successfully developed a deep starting rotation. As a result of this rotation they have been able to compete in the toughest division in baseball, despite financial restrictions that their rivals don't face.
Like I have said, I'm not an expert on prospect development. I am merely looking at what the best have done and wondering aloud if the Royals would be wise to emulate it. As it stands there is one open rotation spot for 2012. The rotation at this point consists of Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, and Felipe Paulino. If the Royals were to add another starter on a one year deal the benefit could be twofold.
First, the Royals would strengthen their rotation in the short run. But also Danny Duffy, Aaron Crow, and Mike Montgomery would all be allowed to return to Omaha, where they could continue to develop. At some point a rotation spot will open up as the result of injury or poor performance and then the most deserving of three can get the promotion to Kansas City. Later another spot will open up and perhaps even another. By Opening Day 2013, there will likely be plenty of room in the rotation for all three should they deserve it and the rotation at that point could be a force.
There are also service time benefits of a plan such as this. If Aaron Crow spends some time in the minors his free agency will be pushed back a season. If Mike Montgomery comes up at mid season his free agency and super two status could both be pushed back a season. If Danny Duffy spends a few weeks in Omaha, his Super Two status could be pushed back by a season.
By adding another starter now the Royals could save themselves millions of dollars in arbitration and even gain some extra team control. I'm sure the Royals are aware of all of this and considering Luis Mendoza is out of options they may have a plan for starting him in the rotation to reach these benefits. Mendoza isn't a bad depth player, but if the Royals are serious about contending he won't open the season in the rotation.
There are two very talented starting pitchers that could be available on one year deals. The benefits of signing one of them could reach far beyond improving the Opening Day rotation. If the division is going to be as tight as I believe it will be, the addition of either starter could propel the Royals into a tighter race. More wins means staying in contention longer. Staying in contention longer means more ticket sales. More ticket sales mean more money.
Even if the Royals fall out of contention, both Oswalt and Jackson would be hot commodities on the trade market in July. If they perform as expected they would both be worth a decent prospect in return, and will have already served their value in allowing the Royals pitching prospects more development time.
If I was sure that the Royals would take their extra financial flexibility in 2012, place it in a bank account and allow it to accumulate interest until Hosmer and Moustakas could be extended I would consider that route. But I can't be sure that the funds would roll over in such a manner. However, if signing Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt paid out all of the potential dividends the financial hit it would take to sign them would be minute.
There is obviously risk involved, but the Royals most glaring weakness is starting pitching and right now there are two starters that could upgrade this staff. If the Royals can grab one of them on a one year deal, well I think I've been pretty clear on potential rewards of that. If the Royals can't afford them, well shame on the Royals for jumping the gun and dishing out $4.5 million to Bruce Chen and another $2 million to Yunieskey Betancourt.
It may not be realistic to expect the Royals to make anymore major moves this offseason. But it isn't unrealistic to believe that they could afford to do so. There's an opportunity, I just hope the Royals pounce. Pull the trigger and let's make the AL Central a two horse race in 2012.