Spring Training Invitees, Free Agent Rumors Shape Ragged Rotation

It was only a week ago we invited the New Year, but only five short weeks marks a much bigger celebration around select Arizona and Florida cities. February 14th is a day known for its love, but it will be pitchers and catchers who are building chemistry when they report on Valentine’s Day.

As Major League rosters gain shape and Spring Training quickly approaches, it’s beginning to look as if the group in need of the most lovin’ is the Royals pitching staff.

Photo by Erika Lynn

While the Greinke haul looks good projected into 2013 and beyond, it’s like robbing a cupboard with only a few cans of beef broth left for this year’s rotation.

GM Dayton Moore’s first offseason move is already taking immediate effect. Hindsight makes the deal of two young arms for DeJesus obvious after later trading Greinke. Vin Mazzaro, 24, will be asked to take quite a bit of the load for a staff with lots of options, but little consistency.

In his rookie season, Mazzaro only threw 91.1 innings, while he bumped his load to 122.1 innings last season. Mazzaro is slated as a middle of the rotation righty. He doesn’t have spectacular stuff or strikeout rates, but is a solid young arm. In small sample sizes his numbers could be ugly early, but if he is able to throw between 180-200 innings, the marathon will prove Mazzaro worthy.

Three major pieces of the pitching staff’s fate will be decided before every one reports to Spring Training. Starting pitchers Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies, Royals since 2007, and reliever Robinson Tejeda, since 2008, all have arbitration hearings scheduled during February.

With the departure of Greinke, it looks like the promotion department will be busy as Hochevar seems the next probable Opending Day Candidate.

Hochevar is another young arm, 26, who hasn’t found stability on a big league level. Injuries have unexpectedly posed setbacks during his four year career, but Hochevar has never thrown more than 143 innings in a season. Teams with number one starters who have never made more than 25 starts in a season and have a career 5.60 ERA produce obvious results.

Davies looked like a non-tender candidate, because his $1.8 million salary should see a significant raise. Considering his mediocre stats it’s hard to believe such a big pay bump would be in order. Arbitration rulings are based largely around the field time a player has seen. Since Davies has thrown 470 innings in four seasons with Kansas City, his workload indicates he is willing of a pay raise.

I can still hear some of you hecklers out their ragging Davies. I understand the skeptics wondering why a replacement level player should be getting a big raise. The first is he has been in MLB for six years. The second, if Davies is such an awful pitcher, why could the Royals find anyone better to throw his innings?

Davies fate was sealed with the ‘Greinke effect,’ making his potentially pricey contract acceptable for a club with some cash and no big league arms.

The last real roster option who has seen big league time is Sean O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan is another young, 22, arm who is still finding his way at the top level. Bill James projects O’Sullivan to make 23 starts, 131 innings pitched, 4.88 ERA, and 4.90 FIP. While those numbers are far from spectacular, 23 starts from O’Sullivan could help carry a scarce staff through the season.

Everett Teaford

Even with only four fairly solid rotation commitments, I don’t think the Royals are in a panic to fill the void by their recent actions.

The most obvious solution for a team with nearly all of their major contracts gone, as well as Gil Meche’s $12 million coming off the books next year, is pay a major league contract for a MLB starter. Throughout the offseason the Royals have been linked to starters like Kevin Millwood, Carl Pavano, and Jeff Francis. It looks as if Pavano is going to resign with the Twins, making him a division foe once again.

I think Francis would be a cheap alternative, also adding a lefty to complement the four righties in place. Francis had built his innings total to 215, before missing parts of 2008 and 2010, and all of 2009. A torn labrum was the most significant damage, which was the cause for the missed time in 2009-2010.

Injury plagued pitchers are usually a gamble, but not including his injury marred years Francis has never thrown less than 143 innings. A cheap price tag and big league knowledge to pass down to a fleet of up and coming lefties makes me perk my ears.

The other potential solution was released in a January 3, announcement by the Royals. Kansas City released their Spring Training invitations, which included invites to six of the top ten Royals prospects according to Baseball America.

While Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were obvious position players, LHP John Lamp. LHP Mike Montgomery, LHP Danny Duffy, LHP Chris Dwyer, and RHP Aaron Crow are all possible rotation options depending on spring performances.

Kansas City has also invited several pitching prospect outside the top ten. A few other roster contenders will be LHP Everett Teaford, LHP Noel Arguelles, RHP Nathan Adcock, and RHP Kanekoa Texeira. Adcock was a Rule 5 selection by the Royals grabbing him from Baltimore. His fate will most likely be sealed by the end of Spring Training. To retain a Rule 5 draft pick, the selection must be on the 25 man roster. If Adcock was not, he would be sent back to the

Despite a shaky starting staff, the bullpen should perform admirably depending on their amount of use. Quite frankly any bullpen with Joakim Soria doesn’t need much to make it serviceable.

Soria will anchor a group of Tejeda, Gil Meche, Texeira, and a few others. Tejeda has proved his worth out of the bullpen since coming to Kansas City from Boston. In three seasons as a Royal, Tejeda has a 3.47 ERA in 174 innings.

Gil Meche should offer some support on a diminished workload. Look for Texeira, 24, to improve on the 42 innings he worked in relief for the Royals. Texeira posted a 4.63 ERA with Kansas City.

A few other late additions or starting rotation contenders will be left over to round out the bullpen.

While the pitching performances don’t look to promising, they still should get a boost from multiple defensive upgrades.

Outfielders Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera were both major defensive upgrades when signed. Hopefully those two along with the speed and quick jumps from youngster Lorenzo Cain can make up for DeJesus’ outfield prowess.

Alcides Escobar immediately becomes the best Royals shortstop I can remember because of his love with the glove and fast feet. Of course, I’m only 23 which leave me the likes of Angel Berroa, Neifi Perez, and Yuniesky Betancourt.

Moore has constructed a lineup with solid offensive corners and fast, slick fielding up the middle players. With a stable of young arms, it looks like the only missing piece is a catcher.

Unfortunately for Royals fans, the catching question is one Moore could address a while down the road, since a quality product isn’t expected in Kauffman until 2012.

The Royals rotation mystery is a question which will be answered soon. Only a few short months will decide which starters will break into 2011 as a Royal.

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