For 2012, there’s great expectations for the Kansas City Royals. So far, the Royals haven’t made a big splash in the free agent or trade market, but they did acquire pitchers Jonathan Sanchez, Jonathan Broxton and Jose Mijares this offseason. Let’s take a look at Sanchez, Broxton and Mijares, the new kids in town.
Jonathan Sanchez: The 29 year-old left-handed starting pitcher spent his career with the San Francisco Giants before being traded to the Royals for outfielder Melky Cabrera. The Royals also acquired Minor League starter Ryan Verdugo.
I remember watching the Kansas City media interviewing Sanchez when he visited Kauffman Stadium. Wearing black, he appeared to have the demeanor of a man forced to kiss a porcupine wearing a Royals jersey.
If I were Sanchez, I’d be glad I’m not fighting the porcupine for a starting pitching job. Sanchez had a disappointing 2011, missing playing time recovering from a sprained ankle and biceps tendinitis. Sanchez’s career 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings are good, but a career 4.8 walks per nine innings aren’t as good. Giving up a lot of walks means issues with control. If Sanchez stayed with the Giants, he would battle Barry Zito for the fifth starter job.
Sanchez will get $5.2 million in 2012 and be eligible for free agency at the end of the season. If the Giants thought Sanchez was a fifth starter and the Royals have plenty of fourth and fifth starters, why did they trade for Sanchez? The Royals needed starting pitching and the Giants needed offense. Cabrera’s 2011 offensive numbers made him a good trade chip, which got Sanchez and Verdugo. Sanchez had a down year in 2011, but if he cuts down his walks, he could move to the top of the rotation and help the Royals contend in 2012.
Jonathan Broxton: When I watched a video clip of Broxton at his introductory press conference, I thought the Royals signed Bigmouth, the giant from the Smurfs cartoon. Well, at least their hairstyles are similar. And there’s a rumor from Brainy Smurf that Bigmouth has a wicked curveball.
But the Royals signed Broxton, a 27 year-old right-hander who spent his career as a reliever and closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. From 2006 to 2009, Broxton was one of the top relief pitchers in baseball with a 2.79 ERA, 11.8 strikeouts and 3.4 walks per nine innings. The 2010 campaign wasn’t bad, with a 4.04 ERA, 10.5 strikeouts and 4 walks per nine innings. But In 2011, elbow injuries limited Broxton to 14 games. While he was on the mound, his ERA ballooned to 5.68 and his strikeouts per nine innings went down to 7.1 and his walks went up to 6.4 per nine innings. Last September, Broxton had arthroscopic elbow surgery and recently started an off-season throwing program. He should be ready to go by spring training.
Why did the Royals sign Broxton to a one-year, $4 million deal when they have a young, inexpensive and solid bullpen anchored by All-Star closer Jokaim Soria? With a weaker crop of free agent starting pitchers this offseason and the Royals reluctance to give up top prospects for starting pitching, the team focused strengthening their bullpen. A good bullpen can hold leads or at least minimize runs so the offense has a chance to score runs in the late innings. The addition of Broxton also gives 2011 relievers Aaron Crow and Everett Teaford an opportunity to win a spot in the starting rotation. Like Sanchez, if Broxton can bounce back from his 2011 season, he can help the Royals in 2012.
Jose Mijares: The Minnesota Twins non-tendered the 27 year-old lefty reliever in December, and the Royals signed Mijares to a one-year Major League contract for $925K.
Over his four year Major League career with the Twins, Mijares has a career 3.16 ERA, 6.9 strikeouts and 3.6 walks per nine innings. His career platoon splits tell a more complete story, with right-handed batters having a .268/.353/423 line and left-handed hitters having a .212/276/.331 line. Over his Major League career, Mijares gave up 85 hits and 41 walks against right-handed batters compared to 55 hits and 21 walks against left-handed batters. Since Mijares is more effective against left-handed batters, The Royals plan to use him as a left-handed specialist, giving Royals manager Ned Yost more lefty-lefty matchups in late inning situations.
In the past, Mijares had attitude problems and the Twins were concerned with his conditioning. At 6’0″ and 230 pounds, he is what some would call hefty. But the Royals want Mijares to get left-handed batters out, not steal bases or patrol the outfield, so his size shouldn’t be an issue. As for Mijares’ attitude, maybe the 6’4″ 300 pound Broxton will threaten to sit on him if he starts misbehaving.
All three players have one year commitments and they’re unlikely to be with the Royals in 2013. If Jonathan Sanchez and Jonathan Broxton bounce back from their disappointing 2011 campaigns, they give the Royals a chance to contend in the AL Central. If lefty specialist Jose Mijares gets crucial outs in late inning situations, the Royals could win more games. The Royals hope these new kids in town will contribute in 2012 and get the team to 2013, when more of their vaunted prospects are in the Major Leagues.