2013: The Royals time to go after starting pitching

With the 2012 season winding down, The Kansas City Royals are in familiar territory, finishing below .500 and looking forward to 2013. The Royals lineup is solid, the bullpen is good, but the starting pitching is hideous.

Despite what some fans might think, the Royals know they need to improve their starting rotation. A September 24 article in the Kansas City Star says Royals owner David Glass plans to increase payroll to improve the starting rotation.

How much Glass will spend and the pitchers the Royals pursue is uncertain, but for 2013, there’s 45 free agent starting pitchers on the market. Some are aces, some are journeymen and some are hanging on to their baseball careers. I’ll keep my focus on five unrestricted free agent pitchers who might wear Royal blue next season.

Zack Greinke: He’s the top free agent pitcher this offseason with and up and down tenure with the Royals from 2004-2010. After being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010, the Brewers traded Greinke to the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim this July. Between 33 starts with the Brewers and Angels, Greinke had a 3.42 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 8.6 SO/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 3.79 SO/BB ratio. Despite his early struggles with Anaheim, Greinke is pitching better and has similar 2012 numbers with the Brewers and Angels.

Greinke has a well documented history with Kansas City, going through¬†anxiety issues in 2006 and¬†winning the Cy Young Award in 2009. He’s a front of the rotation starter and Greinke would likely entertain an offer by the Royals if he believes the team could be a contender. But are the Royals willing to pay? Some believe Greinke will command a six year, $125MM contract and unless the Royals are willing to spend almost $21MM a year on one player, Greinke will stay with the Angels or go elsewhere.

Jeremy Guthrie: When the Royals traded Jonathan Sanchez to the Colorado Rockies for Guthrie, the hope was he would be decent. Guthrie wasn’t. He was much better.

In Colorado, Guthrie had a 6.35 ERA, 1.668 WHIP, 4.5 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9 and a 1.45 SO/BB ratio. That’s almost Sanchez like numbers. But with Kansas City, Guthrie has a 3.00 ERA, 1.103 WHIP, 5.8 SO/9, 1.6 BB/9 and a 3.57 SO/BB ratio. Being a flyball pitcher, Guthrie fits well in pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium and pitching coach Dave Eiland worked on Guthrie’s delivery.

Guthrie is good number three starter. There’s a chance he could regress, but not as bad as his Colorado performance. If the Royals sign Guthrie for around $16MM and two years, he’ll be an asset to the rotation. But the Royals still need to get another starter in addition to Guthrie.

Shaun Marcum: With his ties to the Kansas City area, Marcum is a name bandied about as a potential free agent target for the Royals. With the Brewers this season, Marcum has a 3.86 ERA, 1.250 WHIP, 8.0 SO/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 2.94 SO/BB ratio. He’s struggled with injuries for most of the season, pitching only 112 innings. When he’s healthy, he’s good. Marcum made $7.7M this year and if the Royals make a offer in the $16MM for two years range, he might be a welcome addition. If he stays healthy.

Edwin Jackson: For 2012, the Washington Nationals signed Jackson to a one-year $11MM contract. With the Nationals, Jackson has a 3.77 ERA, 1.178 WHIP, 8.0 SO/9, 2.6 and a 3.06 SO/BB ratio. He’s been pretty durable with 29 starts and 181.3 innings pitched. He’s an important part of the Nationals rotation and helped them reach the playoffs.

Depending how Jackson and the Nationals do in the playoffs, Jackson might command a high salary, a multi-year contract and the interest of several teams. Or he might be affordable enough for the Royals to sign him.

Anibal Sanchez: The Detroit Tigers got Sanchez from the Miami Marlins late July and With Miami, Sanchez had a 3.94 ERA, 1.256 WHIP, 8.2 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 3.33 SO/BB ratio. With Detroit, Sanchez has a 3.95 ERA, 1.288 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 3.79 SO/BB ratio. However, his 2012 9-13 win-loss record isn’t impressive.

Despite the losing record, Sanchez has a decent ERA, pitched 189.1 innings this season, has a fair amount of strikeouts and doesn’t walk many batters. If the price and years are right, Sanchez could be a solid number three starter.

The Royals need to get two number three starters like Guthrie, Marcum or Jackson. Getting at least two of these pitchers will improve the starting rotation and make the Royals more competitive in the A.L. Central.

But if the Royals are serious, Glass has to take a risk in money and years and make an effort to sign Greinke. It would send shock waves through baseball and show the fans and other teams in the American League Glass is serious about winning. Adding Greinke is not a guarantee the Royals will contend in the A.L. Central, but it does improve the starting rotation. And if the team could get Guthrie or Sanchez for a reasonable price, perhaps 2013 could be the Royals time.

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