Pencil in Greinke every fifth day and develop a few quality starters around him, keep them healthy, and build a bridge to “The Mexicutioner.” It seemed simple enough.
Going back a couple of years ago, it didn’t seem impossible to build a decent pitching staff. Zach Greinke was blossoming into a Cy Young pitcher. He was backed by a young and talented cast. And Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez were developing into quality set-up men.
Fast forward two years, and you’ve got a dissatisfied Greinke who might be on the trading block, Luke Hochever who can’t seem to live up to his potential, Kyle Davies who might be about out of chances to prove he belongs, Gil Meche who injuries have forced to the bullpen, and Brian Bannister who’s now gone.
The hopes for this group of pitchers is fading fast.
Losing seems to have taken its toll on Greinke. Lofty expectations following his remarkable 2009 may not have helped. Whatever the reason, the Royals ace struggled in 2010, and his frustrations bubbled over in August. He complained that the Royals’ current rebuilding effort is nothing he hasn’t seen before. He isn’t sure he wants to wait on a new crop of youngsters to develop.
Greinke didn’t seem to have the same magic in 2010, but a look beyond won/loss and ERA bears out that he’s still one of the best in the game. In fact, his WAR ranking would place him 7th in the American League.
So what to do with him? The Royals should reap a haul if they do deal Greinke. But past blockbuster moves of superstars haven’t brought the desired return (remember Carlos Beltran?). Should they play him half the season and ship him to a contender? Or should they open up the bidding war now during the off-season? And with the minor league cupboard full, should the Royals accept prospects for Greinke?
The recent trade of David DeJesus for Oakland A’s right-hander Vin Mazarro raised some eyebrows. Was this move to fill a spot soon to be vacated by Greinke? Mazarro is just 10-17 with a 4.72 ERA in two big league seasons. But he just turned 24 and his defenders claim the statistics don’t tell the story of his ability. Reports are that he hits mid-90s with his fastball and is developing other quality pitches.
One is tempted to question why the Royals went after (settled for?) Mazarro. Was he a fair value for DeJesus, a proven commodity? Was this trade more motivated by economics than by Mazarro’s potential?
But we’re talking about Royals pitching, and like it or not, Mazarro is a Royal and DeJesus is an Oakland A. So add Mazarro to the mix and brace yourself for more development of young, unproven pitching.
Royal fans must hope Mazarro isn’t another Sean O’Sullivan, a youngster who would appear to have ability, but whose performance has thus far been disappointing.
O’Sullivan arrived in July and went 3-6 with a disastrous 6.11 ERA. The one ray of hope for O’Sullivan is that his WHIP was a bit more normal 1.557.
Hochever figures to be back in the rotation in 2011, but Davies is not a sure thing. The Royals will need to offer him another contract before December, or he could be cut loose. Both pitchers need to find some consistency. Flashes of brilliance are too few and far between for these two 27-year-olds.
And that leaves a mid-season addition to the rotation who had perhaps the group’s best season – Bruce Chen. Chen emerged in late April to lead the staff with 12 wins, and his 4.17 ERA matched Greinke’s. But Chen is a free agent and is unlikely to be back.
O’Sullivan and Mazarro will have a limited window of opportunity to prove they belong in the Royals’ rotation. The farm system is loaded with arms that should be making their way to the big leagues in the next few years.
Depending upon who you hear from, any one of Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, or Danny Duffy could be the top left hander in all the minor leagues. Aaron Crow struggled making the transition to pro baseball, but the tools are there.
Most likely each of these young guns will start the season at AA or AAA, but shades of Saberhagen, Gubicza and Jackson have Royals fans counting the days. Regardless how the big league club performs, it should be another exciting year to follow the Omaha and Northwest Arkansas teams.
Now as for relief pitching, there’s Joakim Soria and… well…
Setting up “The Mexicutioner” could be interesting. Hughes, Wood, Bullington, Holland, Humber, Marte, Texeira… None seems any different than the others, and none seemed to get the job done in 2010. Meche will most likely figure into the bullpen, and the one guy who seems to have potential is Robinson Tejeda. His inconsistency was maddening, but he had a high SO/9 and low H/9.
The good news is, at just 26, Soria already has notched 132 saves and rarely blows an opportunity. He was selected the Royals’ Pitcher of the Year, was named to the All-Star Game, and yet still remains a great secret to the rest of the country because leads in the 9th are all too rare. Imagine how valuable Soria would be if the Royals were a contender.
The prospects are bleak enough for the pitching staff even with Greinke. Should the team decide to deal him, it’s because they’ve given up not only on the team’s chances for 2011, but also for this entire group of pitchers. Royals fans can only hope the next wave of young guns can live up to expectations.