Sunday, May 20, 2012

Looking Ahead: The Rotation

Unfortunately, we are 40 games into the season and the Royals sit just 16-24. It doesn't take an astute observer to point out that the major flaw of this team and largest hindrance on future optimism has been its rotation. So what are we looking at to open 2013? Can the rotation at least be average? 

Potential Rotation Members Returning:

  • Luke Hochevar
  • Felipe Paulino
  • Bruce Chen
  • Danny Duffy* (Won't be back until June at the earliest.)
If you are still a believer in Hochevar, the Royals are two starters short, if not Kansas City will need to fill three spots. What the Royals do with these two openings will be critical, if they play it safe as they did last off season, an average rotation is likely a pipe dream. But let's keep in mind that the Royals may not necessarily have to fill all the open spots via free agency. So who could be ready from the farm?

  • Mike Montgomery- With 35 starts in AAA, it'll just take a few dominate starts for Montgomery to break into the majors. Considering he has about 20 starts left in this season, he'll likely be ready to bust in next season. (We hope.)
  • Will Smith- People tend to forget about Smith, because the upside just isn't as high for the former Angels farmhand. But the Royals feel very strongly that he has a near Major League arm and that eventually he could hold down a spot at the back of the rotation.
  • Jake Odorizzi- Having proven himself in AA, he has the remainder of the summer to do the same in Omaha. He may not open in Kansas City next season, but there's a good chance he'll be in the mix to do so. 
(I've chosen not to include either Chris Dwyer or John Lamb because both have yet to prove themselves in AA. They could easily break into the Majors at some point in 2013, but we're looking at what the rotation could be to open the season.)

There's another guy that should be given the chance to start in 2013. The Royals paid a lot of lip service to Aaron Crow in the rotation entering 2012, but when Joakim Soria lost his season to Tommy John, the Royals felt Crow was needed to much in the bullpen. Considering the way the rotation has gone thus far, come mid-August Crow absolutely should be given the opportunity to start every fifth day. If Crow pitches even average in that month and a half, he should be given a rotation spot entering 2013.

So there's seven possibilities heading into 2013. If two out of Montgomery, Odorizzi, and Crow show they are ready to hold down rotation spots the Royals rotation will already receive an upgrade. Sure there would be some growing pains, but the talent and upside would be there. 

I also find it very unlikely that the front office would keep their hands out of free agency should the rotation continue to be as bad as it has been thus far. Fortunately for Kansas City, the upcoming free agent crop appears to be strong on the pitching side of things. The most intriguing name of the group for most of us is Zack Greinke. Personally, I expect him to be priced way out of the Royals range.

Another name to keep an eye on would be Kansas City's own and Missouri State prospect Shaun Marcum. If the Royals were able to net any hometown discount at all he would make a ton of sense. In seven seasons he boasts a career 3.74 ERA with a career K/BB of 2.64. 

Obviously, the road bump that Mike Montgomery has encountered is nerve racking. Clearly, the current rotation is a cause for concern. However, Chen continues to defy odds and it isn't hard to imagine him at least being a serviceable back end guy in 2013. Paulino could be the best starter on the roster. Personally, I could see him as a 2 or 3 on an average staff. If the Royals go get a free agent the Royals will have a make shift 1 (albeit most likely not an ace).

Finally, out of Luke Hochevar, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Nate Adcock and Will Smith, you need two to be the 3 and 4 starters. Obviously, several of the aforementioned guys offer more upside than the Royals have had in past rotations. Oh, and don't forget Danny Duffy will be back in June and John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Jason Adam, and Yordano Ventura could be knocking at the door soon after. 

The Royals don't necessarily need to trade for a front end starter. The possibility exists that the rotation could be stronger next year than this year simply by giving the right guys the opportunity. I'd prefer to see the Royals take a more aggressive approach. There are free agents that would make sense, that could round out the front end. There's no reason to sell out for the ace, if the Kansas City's in contention next July, maybe then it will be time.

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