Ask nearly anyone about the Royals and they will tell you something along the lines of:

“If they can get a couple of starting pitchers they can compete.”

That’s a pretty fair statement, however the issue is WHERE do you get these pitchers. It is obviously a glaring problem but there are only three ways to upgrade any position.

1. Free Agency

2. Trade

3. Development

Today, I’m going to focus on the first item on the list. It’s one of the ways that is most talked about because it SEEMS like a simple solution to an obvious problem. If only the rich so-and-so’s who run the team would spend money on free agents, then this team wouldn’t suck. It’s a statement that is as wrong as it is simple, but it’s easy to see the logic used.

First, lets  take a look at what kind of pitchers have been available in the past via free agency. Here is a list I found of every free agent starting pitcher available last season, the money they were paid and their fWAR:

Player Age yrs Total $ $/yr 2011fwar
Cliff Lee 32 5 $120,000,000 $24,000,000 6.7
Jorge De La Rosa 30 2 $21,500,000 $10,750,000 1.4
Carl Pavano 35 2 $16,500,000 $8,250,000 2.9
Jake Westbrook 33 2 $16,500,000 $8,250,000 1.1
Hiroki Kuroda 36 1 $12,000,000 $12,000,000 2.4
Kevin Correia 30 2 $8,000,000 $4,000,000 0
Javier Vazquez 35 1 $7,000,000 $7,000,000 3.2
Jon Garland 31 1 $5,000,000 $5,000,000 0.1
Aaron Harang 33 1 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 0.6
Brad Penny 33 1 $3,000,000 $3,000,000 0.8
Brandon Webb 32 1 $3,000,000 $3,000,000 0
Bruce Chen 34 1 $2,000,000 $2,000,000 1.7
Jeff Francis 30 1 $2,000,000 $2,000,000 2.6
Chris Capuano 33 1 $1,500,000 $1,500,000 1.6
Chris Young 32 1 $1,100,000 $1,100,000 0.1
Dustin Moseley 29 1 $900,000 $900,000 0.7
Ryan Rowland-Smith 28 1 $725,000 $725,000 0
Justin Duchscherer 33 1 $700,000 $700,000 0
Erik Bedard 32 1 $1,000,000 $1,000,000 2.4
Kris Benson 36
Bartolo Colon 38 $900,000 $900,000 2.9
Freddy Garcia 35 $1,500,000 $1,500,000 2.2
Andrew Miller 26 Minor Lg 0.2
Andy Pettitte 39
Chien-Ming Wang 31 1 $1,200,000 $1,200,000 0.2

You’ll notice that the pitchers in general are old in baseball years. They have to be since typically they need to spend 6 years at the Major League level to become a free agent. The age brings in a very big potential injury risk.

The other thing that you’ll notice is that in general these are not very good pitchers. Sure Cliff Lee is awesome, but guys like him are rarely available in free agency and as it stands now the Royals have no shot at a guy like that. It’s not JUST because of the money, because Cliff Lee is super-rich and so his focus is on winning a championship. He thought the Phillies gave him the best opportunity to do that, the Royals clearly don’t.

Last off-season the Royals signed Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis. Considering the amount of money that the Royals spent and the production they got, they did an EXCELLENT job of acquiring free agent starting pitching last year. There were a few guys who performed better and some that cost less, but compared to the field I’m impressed.

So let’s see what the Royals staff did last year in terms of fWAR

Jeff Francis – 2.6

Felipe Paulino – 2.4

Luke Hochevar – 2.3

Bruce Chen – 1.7

Kyle Davies – 0.7

Danny Duffy – 0.6

So if the Royals were going to get two pitchers to upgrade this rotation they’ll need to beat a 0.7 fWAR to add additional value.  There are a number of guys who surpassed that, but a number who also fell below. The number of guys who would have been the best pitcher on the staff last year amounted to 3:

Cliff Lee – Now way

Carl Pavano – expensive and didn’t even change teams. Plus it certainly was a gamble and he only JUST beat out Francis.

Javier Vazquez – He was 35 and cost $7m. Again, that’s a hell of a risk.

I know that this is just one free agent class and that they can vary, but in general this is about how they turn out. Free agency is not a panacea to a pitching staff and in some cases it can really weigh on your team..cough…Mike Hampton….cough….Barry Zito…..

The Royals should certainly look to continue what they’ve been doing in free agency. Which is to go out, find some guys who have something left but don’t cost a fortune and see if they can contribute. I don’t believe for one second that this team can markedly improve itself by trying to fill holes in the rotation via free agency. Sure, they may get lucky and have a guy like Bartolo Colon do something pretty darn good, but it’s unlikely.

During the hot stove season it’s fun to talk about free agency, but I’m going to be hoping that the Royals are conservative and mostly stick to the sidelines.


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.