By now you already know the Royals rotation has some strong spots, along with some weak spots. There’s actually talent from all five starting pitchers, so there’s potential for a solid start from any one of the five. Of course, there’s also blowup potential. We’ve seen some bad starts from all five (though Ian Kennedy’s one bad start wasn’t even that bad), and we’ve seen some horrendous starts from four of the five.
Bad starts happen. What needs to change, though, is the Royals need innings. They’re currently on pace to throw less than 900 innings as a unit this season. That’s not good.
Just for fun, let’s look at the last five seasons. Only 10 teams failed to get 900 innings from their starters. Those clubs averaged a 70-92 record. The best season of the bunch was last year’s Diamondbacks at 79-83. They were so content with their starting rotation that they went out and spent $200 million plus on Zack Greinke and traded away a haul of prospects for Shelby Miller. The worst team of the bunch went 64-98. No matter how good your bullpen is, a starting rotation that can’t get to 900 innings for the season is one that can and likely will cause some trouble.
The question is, what exactly are the Royals to do? At this point, there’s not a whole lot they can do. They can look internally, but their options are few and far between. Dillon Gee could be a solution, but I’m not completely convinced he’s an upgrade over what they have in spite of what he did last night. Of course, if he could go six innings every time out, that would be a huge boon for the bullpen.
They could turn to Danny Duffy, but Duffy has worked as a reliever all season, including spring training. He’d need to be stretched out. I could actually see that happening, though. Or they could turn to Chien-Ming Wang. He’s been better than I expected out of the bullpen. He’s given up some hits, but that’s really about it.
If you want to look to the minor leagues, there’s not much available. John Lannan is getting lit up in Triple-A. Jonathan Dziedzic has had his moments so far, but I’m not sure anyone sees him as a real rotation option in the big leagues. Miguel Almonte has shown flashes, but has walked so many hitters that he’d already fit in the Royals rotation. Maybe Brooks Pounders could get a look. He did look great in the Arizona Fall League after pitching very well in Double-A to end the 2015 season. It would have been nice if Kyle Zimmer had been healthy to open the year, but he’s still working his way back. You could look to Double-A, but I’m not sure the Royals will jump a prospect a level. If they did, Christian Binford, Jake Junis and Alec Mills have all shown potential and Matt Strahm is a big favorite in the organization. I don’t see any of that happening, though.
If they choose not to stay internal, the Royals could turn to the free agent market. Currently, there are three lefties available who have eaten innings in the past and have stymied the Royals, so they might have a positive impression of all of them. Mark Buehrle is still not quite retired, but I’m not sure he has any real intention of playing. John Danks was just released by the White Sox, but he’s also not very good anymore. And Tommy Milone is an option, but he suffers from the same issues as Danks in that he’s not very good. The Royals could look for some magic with Tim Lincecum or Kyle Lohse. I shouldn’t even put those two in the same category, as I think Lincecum might actually have a shot to be decent.
Then there’s the trade market. There’s not a ton out there because it’s May 10 and teams typically aren’t ready to sell so early. That said, a few teams are really far out of the race, and others seem likely to deal at basically any time, so here are a few names to at least consider (in alphabetical order):
Jhoulys Chacin - Chacin is another guy in the mold of Chris Young in that he’d just be a rotation placeholder and another guy who can help the Royals get 162 starts. He’s certainly not my favorite on this list by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s been decent for the Braves this year with a 3.90 FIP and more than a strikeout per inning pitched. I can’t imagine he’d cost much.
Scott Feldman - Talk about uninspiring. Look, I don’t like the idea of Scott Feldman every fifth day either, but the guy has averaged better than six innings per start over the last two seasons. They need innings badly, and Feldman has already been relegated to the Astros bullpen. Maybe he could be had for something cheap in terms of a prospect. I can’t see a team giving up much for him.
Jeremy Hellickson – The Phillies are winning right now, but I don’t think they believe they have a chance to keep it up. He hasn’t been very good for the Phillies, but that’s a terrible ballpark for him. Personally, I’m not a fan, but he kind of seems like a Royals-type acquisition.
Ervin Santana - Ugh. I’m not even sure I’d want Santana with that contract at this point, but let’s turn over every stone and all that. He’s been good for innings the last three seasons, and the Royals know him well from his solid season in 2013. It’s no secret that the Royals and Twins don’t make trades often and deals within the division aren’t the most common things in the world, but the Twins are really bad, so they should be shopping anyone with trade value and Erv has trade value.
James Shields - Another former Royal. Shields has lost velocity on his fastball and his control isn’t what it was when he was with the Royals a couple years ago, but I have a feeling he’d welcome a trade back to Kansas City. The Royals could sure use his innings. He’s gone over 200 for nine straight seasons and has averaged about 6.2 innings per start since 2012. I know he’s expensive and I know he’s not the greatest pitcher in the world, but the stability of Shields in this rotation looks really good right now. I almost wonder if the Padres would just like to get out from under his deal and it wouldn’t take a ton to acquire him. An interesting twist is that Shields can opt out of his contract after this season if he’s traded, and with so few options out there, I would assume he would do that. That could hurt his value.
Dan Straily – Here’s another stopgap, but one with a little upside. I think his 2013 season with the A’s hypnotized me, but I think he can be a decent enough starter to bridge a gap to some prospects being ready and then can be a valuable bullpen piece. He’s not an innings guy, but the Reds would almost certainly be willing to deal, which is pretty important when talking about moves in mid-May.
Julio Teheran – Anybody and everybody is likely available from the Braves, no matter what they say. Teheran is their best starting pitcher, and he comes with all sorts of trade value. He’s young, has had success and is locked up long-term. That’s quite a combination. I’m not so sure the Royals will be willing to give up what the Braves would want for him, but if they are, he’s an option that could help even beyond the 2017 season when so much of the team can leave as free agents. There are concerns with him too, but he’s probably the best pitcher who could be traded this early in the season.
All I know is something has to change, and something has to change soon. The Royals need innings, whether that comes from the guys currently in the rotation, guys currently on the team, guys currently in the organization or someone who isn’t currently with the world champs. They simply can’t continue to get starts like the one they got Monday, or the one they got on Sunday, or the one they got on Friday, or the one they got on Wednesday. If they want to make the playoffs, and I still believe they will, that has to change. And fast.