The trade of Zack Greinke resulted in two things for the Kansas City Royals: Another crop of young talent coming to the City of Fountains, and a starting rotation more depleted than a checking account after the holiday season. The outlook for the Royals 2011 pitching staff is looking nothing more than weak at this point in time. The potential starting rotation is anchored by former first overall draft pick Luke Hochevar, who has shown flashes of brilliance during his tenure with the Royals, but hasn’t yet lived up to the hype of the first player taken in the 2006 draft, a draft that also brought the likes of Evan Longoria and Tim Lincecum to the league.
Behind Hochevar, there isn’t much. Vin Mazzaro, who was acquired in the David DeJesus deal, would appear to be the number two starter, followed by Kyle Davies and Sean O’Sullivan. The fifth and final spot in the rotation is still up in the air. The Royals have a lot of work to do if they plan on upgrading what would seem to now be the biggest weakness on their roster. There are a few different routes that they can take, so let’s take a look at some of them:
Veteran free agents
The Royals have been linked to veteran starter Kevin Millwood this offseason, and though he struggled in 2010, he may bring a good veteran presence to this young pitching staff. Chris Young had some success in San Diego before falling to injuries, and Dave Bush made some considerable contributions to Milwaukee’s staff over a period of time. Justin Duchscherer is another interesting name that is still out there as well. He battled some serious hip problems in Oakland, but was border-line dominant when healthy. Obviously, these four players may not be high impact guys, but they may help mold some of the young arms of the Royals into well-crafted pitchers if given the opportunity. Also, signing them to incentive-laden deals would help ease the blow of repeated injuries or poor performance. Another option is bringing back southpaw Bruce Chen for one more year. Chen is mediocre at best, but he’s consistent for the most part.
Young arms looking for a new start
There are also several younger pitchers out there who could be looking for a fresh start in a new ballpark. Jeff Francis logged some impact innings in Colorado, however persistent shoulder injuries led to the Rockies declining his option for 2011. John Maine’s 4.35 career ERA is a bit skewed due to his struggles in 2010, but he still may have something left in the tank. Jeremy Bonderman has had an up and down career, but has a lot of major league experience, even though he is only 28 years old.
Filling from within
The only other option would be giving the pitchers within the organization a shot during spring training. Maybe the Royals would get lucky and find their very own Mike Leake like the Cincinnati Reds did a year ago. The biggest name in the system right now would be Mike Montgomery, who has posted an impressive 2.27 ERA in 245 minor league innings. However, only 59 of those innings have come at AA Northwest Arkansas. He may need a little more seasoning before getting his call. Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi were acquired in the Greinke deal, and are both former first-rounders. They both could get a look during spring training, even if it’s for a bullpen spot. There has also been some talk of turning Joakim Soria into a starter, but he appears to have no interest in that, so that doesn’t appear to be an option. Former first round pick and Mizzou star Aaron Crow could also be in the mix for a rotation spot.
The fact of the matter is that the Royals cannot go into the 2011 season with the rotation the way that it is now. Some moves need to be made in order to make the starting staff, at the very least, respectable. While many struggles are on the horizon for 2011, it would still be refreshing to see some progress being made. The Royals have made some moves to make their players in the field better. Now it’s time to turn the focus to the starting rotation.