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Many a quote from many a great baseball man has stated that nothing is more important in the game than pitching. If you have it you can make up for weaknesses elsewhere. If you don’t, then don’t expect to be playing in October.  The Kansas City Royals knew this and spent last off-season fixing their pitching problem. Pitching is still an issue with the Royals and this past week a couple of notes related to the Royals pitching arose.

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The most obvious note was the restructuring of Jeremy Guthrie’s contract. Sure, at first I wondered if there was a deeper meaning for Guthrie to restructure his dollars. Maybe he felt a greater need for shoes in 2015 rather than this year. Maybe the Backstreet Boys are planning to come out with a new album next year and he plans to follow them on tour. Speaking of, I don’t really understand his fascination with boy bands. I mean, if he was more old school, maybe more into New Kids on the Block, that would make sense. Hey, if he loved New Edition I would totally get it. I used to love New Edition, until Bobby Brown left and Johnny Gill took his spot. I know, I know, Gill wasn’t that bad. But he was no Bobby, as Whitney used to attest to…wait, I was discussing Guthrie…

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If you are anything like me, once this was announced alarms went off. Big alarms. You normally only restructure a contract for two reasons: to free up room on the payroll because you are over or to make another addition. My thought was the addition of another starting pitcher. With the Royals seemingly set in their starting lineup, it only makes sense that Kansas City would go after another starter. I’ve felt(even after the Vargas signing) that the Royals needed to add another starter, at least for insurance. For one, there isn’t a lot of proven depth. You have James Shields, Guthrie, Vargas and then….well, it gets dicey from there. Sure, the Royals are hoping Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura step up this year (and as far as we know they could) but it’s not assured. Wade Davis is still lingering around and (God help us all) they’ve even mentioned giving Luke Hochevar another (last) shot. Still, none of these guys are certain locks nor good replacements for Ervin Santana. So the idea of the Royals going out and bringing one more starter to Spring Training seems like the logical way to go. Although, speaking of Santana…

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As of this writing Ervin Santana is still out there and available for the taking. The longer Santana is available, the better chance Kansas City has to bring him back. Now, most believe that Santana is just waiting for Masahiro Tanaka to sign with a team and then the dominoes will fall and Erv will have a new home. But at the same time, a lot of teams aren’t for sure Santana can duplicate his great 2013 season. Add in that to sign Santana you would have to give up a first round draft pick and more teams are leery to sign him to a long term deal. So far the Blue Jays, Mariners and Orioles have all been mentioned in rumors for Erv, but two of those teams seem like a bad fit for a flyball pitcher. So with all that said, there is a very outside chance that Santana could come back to play for the Royals in 2014. Now, it would take him not getting the type of deal he has coveted all winter, but it could happen. I’m sure if he did return, it would be on a one year deal (and Dayton would have to get permission from the Glass’ to up the payroll) for at least $15-16 million. It actually would make some sense for him to go back to the Royals. Let’s say he returns to Kansas City this year and performs at least moderately close to how he did last year. Then he could return to the free agent market and with two straight solid seasons under his belt could probably get the type of deal he has wanted this off-season. But once again, this is a big long shot and I highly doubt it will happen. As far as we know, a team like Toronto will swoop in this week and lock him up for 3-4 years. But the longer he is out there, the greater the possibility that Santana is a Royal in 2014.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Kansas City Royals

With all this being mentioned, Royals fans took a blow to the stomach this week as word came out that James Shields was seeking a “Zack Greinke-like” deal next off-season. Peter Gammons had reported this, as he was looking forward to next year’s pitching crop in free agency and the affects of Clayton Kershaw’s giant new contract. This is about the worst news the Royals could get, as that is money that the Royals just can’t spend on one player, even if that player is the caliber of Shields. Just as a reminder, Greinke’s deal is a 6 year, $147 million contract. Now, if you are like me, this hasn’t affected you much. I always felt the Royals weren’t going to be able to sign “Big Game James” so this was just confirmation that Wil Myers was traded for two years of James Shields. Now, there are warning signs that could hinder Shields being able to get a contract of that magnitude. For one, Greinke was 29 when he signed his deal; Shields will be 33 by the end of this season. Shields has also put more innings on his arm than Greinke has(although after the 2013 season they were fairly close on major league innings). But even if Shields lowers his expectations for his contract, it will still be out of the Royals price range. In theory it would be nice to bring Shields back after next year. But if you really thought about it, would you want the Royals to sign James to that big of a contract? More than likely it will have to be at least a four year deal, which would make him 37 by the end of the deal. At that point, regression would be his name(and game). Don’t be surprised if the Royals deal Shields before the trade deadline this summer if they are out of the playoff race. It would be the smart thing to do to at least get something for him rather than nothing. Even if they keep him for the duration of his contract, his time in Kansas City seems to be winding down.

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With all of this in play, it makes for a very interesting next 9 months.  Without a doubt the starting pitching will be a bit of a question mark and that looks to continue into next off-season. I personally feel that is just another reason to sign another starting pitcher now rather than wait until it is too late. Hopefully by Spring Training we have a better idea of who fits in where and whether there needs to be more concern about the pitching or if it sizes up with 2013. Stay tuned, folks…it’s starting to get interesting.

 

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