The Royals arrive in San Diego for the Winter Meetings with a couple of king-size holes to fill.
First, they need someone to replace James Shields at the top of the rotation. We can debate whether Shields is an “ace” or even a true “number one starter” (he’s neither) but the fact is, on the Royals staff, he was the top dog. His 8.2 fWAR is clearly the best mark among pitchers during his two year tenure in Kansas City. That’s not simple to replace.
The Royals have been linked to former Royal Ervin Santana. Santana is an intriguing option, a year removed from his turn in Kansas City. He’s rumored to be looking for a five-year deal, which is insanity. Not insane on Santana’s part, he’s entitled to ask for whatever he can get. But for a “second-tier” free agent starting pitcher to get five years… I’m not certain that’s something the market will bear. The Royals rumored comfort level is a three-year deal, which is their prerogative, but let’s not forget they showered Gil Meche with a five-year deal once upon a time. Of course, that was on a different team with a different payroll, so I’m not sure that’s a relevant comparison. However, let’s not pretend the Royals have never awarded a large contract before.
Anyway, Santana was almost as good for the Braves in 2014 as he was for the Royals in 2013. That should lay to rest fears about his health. He’s still throwing a bunch of sliders, but last year, he cut down on the slider in favor of more change-ups. With the success he had, there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to move forward as a fairly valuable starter.
While hitters have gone off the free agent board, the starting pitching market has been slower to take shape. I suppose that has something to do with Jon Lester. Weird how he’s the guy everyone is focused upon and we don’t hear anything at all about the market for his alleged fellow first-tier starters, Shields and Max Scherzer. I would expect some movement on this front in San Diego with at least two of the so-called Big Three finding new homes this week.
Second, the Royals need to acquire a right-fielder, preferably one who swings a right-handed bat. This is where things get a little dicey. They are rumored to have interest in Melky Cabrera. (He’s a switch-hitter, so that will fill the bill as well.) Cabrera is now the best bat remaining on the market and is likely seeking a five-year deal of his own. Cabrera just turned 30, has been popped for a failed drug test in 2012 and had surgery to remove a tumor on his spine in 2013.
After Cabrera you have Alex Rios or Michael Morse. There’s also the possibility of Kendrys Morales. See what I mean? It’s thin on the hitter market. That means the Royals could look to make a move via trade. Dealing from a position of strength to patch a weakness. That means the Royals could look to break up the bullpen.
Having said that, I’m not sold the Royals will move a bullpen part. I’ll add the caveat of at this time. The blueprint the Royals established is three lockdown, late game relievers. Coverage for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. That’s Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Yes, that trio is going to cost in the neighborhood of $18 million next summer, but the Royals rightfully believe those guys were key to their successes in 2014. I’m not saying they wouldn’t move a reliever if the price was right, but I wonder what the trade market will bring.
Davis is less expensive than Holland and has cost certainty for the next three seasons. Holland will cash in more than Davis thanks to arbitration this winter, and has one more additional turn before he hits the free agent market following the 2016 season. It stands to reason the Royals would rather hold onto Davis for fiscal reasons, but those reasons that make him attractive to the Royals likewise make him appealing to other teams looking to deal.
Adding to their reluctance is the face we can’t count on Luke Hochevar to be a member of that late inning triumvirate. He hasn’t begun a throwing program as of yet. The hope is Hochevar can start in January. Besides, there’s no way to tell how Hochevar will come back from his surgery until they get some game action. It’s useful to remember with Tommy John surgery, while the velocity returns quickly, the command lags behind. It would be wise for the Royals to ease him back into the bullpen. Maybe some low leverage situations or a handful of sixth inning appearances to get his arm reacclimatized to game action.
At any rate, I expect something to happen this week in San Diego. Either a starting pitcher or an outfielder. It would be a disappointing meeting if the Royals return to Kansas City with the same holes in the lineup as when they left.