Royals Off-Season Needs: Starting Pitcher

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With a current crop of free agents now free and able to work out new contracts for the 2014 season, now is as good a time as any to take a look at one of the Kansas City Royals needs for next season. We’ve already taken a look at right field so now it’s time to take a look at the other major need, starting pitching. Now, the Royals don’t need as much help in this category as they have in years past, but with Ervin Santana looking to be gone, they will need to replace him AND maybe even pick up a second arm(you know, because injuries do happen). So with that said, let’s look at some of the team’s options at starting pitcher.

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Ervin Santana

I know, I know. I already said he is gone. I firmly believe Kansas City isn’t going to be able to match the years and dollars that Santana is probably due, so he is as good as gone. But…there is that outside chance he could stay. Kansas City followed normal protocol this week and gave him a qualifying offer, which is made just as much for the draft pick the Royals would receive if/when he leaves as much as anything. Santana seems to actually enjoy being in Kansas City and is an upbeat part of the locker room. He even roots for the Chiefs on Twitter! So there is an outside chance he stays. But should he? I hate to say this because I’ve been just as supportive of Santana as anyone else this past season, but part of me wonders if it was a one year thing. Go ahead and look at the career stats. Santana has a history of following a good year with a bad year, or at least doesn’t seem like the most consistent pitcher on the planet. This guy will probably get anywhere from 3-5 years and fairly close to $20 million a season. For those numbers, I just can’t accept that it would be smart for the Royals to re-sign him. I love that he loves this team and wants to be a part of it. But you also have to be smart for the financial sake of the team. So more than likely, Santana will be elsewhere in 2014.

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Bronson Arroyo 

Arroyo seems like just the kind of pitcher Dayton Moore would want to sign, and I’m not completely saying that with snark or sarcasm. On one hand, Arroyo has been about consistent as possible over the years. The man has started over thirty games every year since 2005, and we could probably add 2004, as he started ONLY 29. He obviously is durable and  doesn’t seem to be made of porcelain like some pitchers do. BUT…he also gives up a lot of home runs, and gives up about as many hits per season as innings pitched. In other words, he is close to being a poor man’s Jeremy Guthrie. I like Guthrie, and don’t hate him like some folks, but I also know that part of his success could be attributed to smoke and mirrors. Arroyo is looking for a multi-year deal this off-season, which would seem to scare Kansas City off. But like I said, he seems like the kind of pitcher Dayton likes, so we can’t count him out as a possibility.

Detroit Tigers v Toronto Blue Jays

Josh Johnson

There is a big part of me that hates the idea of Johnson signing with Kansas City. For one, he would be one of those pitchers made of porcelain I mentioned just a moment ago. He just seems to have a hard time staying healthy. But there would be upsides to giving him a go. Johnson only wants a one year deal, as he is hoping for a bounce back season and then cash in on it. If the Royals could get him at a decent price, that would be great. We all know that Johnson has electric stuff and even just last season I was aboard the bus that would gladly bring him to Kansas City. But another injury riddled season has made me more skeptical about whether or not he can hold up. MLBTradeRumors.com predicted last week that he would sign with the Royals, which seems like the team’s modus operandi. Take a chance on a pitcher and get him at a good price. I’m fine with this if a)he doesn’t get paid too much and b)he isn’t counted on to be a major part of the team. Just like the Royals did with Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino this year, if Johnson ends up in Kansas City they should just be happy with whatever they get from him.

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Scott Feldman

This feels a bit like deja vu. I mean, last year I felt like the Royals should go after this guy. Feldman was a reliever for Texas for the longest time before they shifted him to the rotation, where he found a bit of success. The Cubs signed him to a nice deal last off-season, then flipped him to Baltimore for a couple of young arms. A smart move by Chicago, who knew they weren’t going anywhere in the standings. Feldman is a free agent again, and he would seem a perfect fit for the back part of the Royals rotation. Feldman isn’t flashy, but he gives you innings, keeps the ball in the park and keeps the ball down. There is even a good chance he has even more success in a ballpark like Kauffman, the opposite of the parks he has called home in his career(Arlington, Wrigley and Camden). Feldman probably isn’t a top of the rotation guy, but he is a great fit in the back end and could probably be had at a decent price.

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Tim Hudson 

This would be a long shot for the Royals, but I would love to see Hudson in Kansas City blue. Hudson is coming off of a gruesome injury, so he probably isn’t going to get a long term deal, or even one that is pricey. Most expect him to end up back in Atlanta, and that is probably where the safe money is. But Hudson is a former Brave(see that? I just got Dayton Moore’s attention!) and a former top of the rotation starter. He’s not completely what he used to be, but he would still be a great addition for a team that is on the brink of playoff contention. The Royals should at least kick the tires on Hudson and see what it would take to sign him. Seems like a better option than someone like Dan Haren(who’s back issues scare me).

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Phil Hughes

Hughes had an awful 2013 season. Like, REALLY AWFUL! To give you an idea, Hughes had over 30 starts, yet threw only 145 innings this past year! His biggest detriment was the long ball, which accounted for his stats to be so bloated. The positive that teams have taken away from Hughes though is that his ERA away from Yankee Stadium was a decent 3.88. It would seem that throwing in the Bronx, a park with a very short right field, does more damage than good for Hughes. There’s a good chance that Hughes will not be returning to New York and will want to sign a one year deal somewhere. Hughes at ‘The K’ could be interesting. He is at least someone to look into.

BASEBALL: World Baseball Classic-Korea vs Venezuela

Suk-Min Yoon 

I mentioned earlier that mlbtraderumors.com predicted the Royals would sign Josh Johnson, and they also predicted Kansas City would sign Yoon. Yoon has been in the Korea Baseball Organization and is looking to make the jump to MLB. This seems like a weird choice, since Yoon had a rough 2013, as his velocity was down after competing in the World Baseball Classic. Yoon looks to be a back of the rotation arm, but with the decreased velocity might end up in a bullpen somewhere. As we are all aware, the Royals have bullpen arms. They don’t need another. Especially one who’s agent is Scott Boras, which means you will probably overpay for them. Just say no, Dayton. Step away.

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That’s just a look at some options the Royals will have this winter on the free agent pitching market. For all we know, Moore will make a trade and acquire a pitcher that way(for say, Billy Butler?) but if not there are some decent arms on the market. I could mention a few more that interest me(Burnett? Only wants to go back to Pittsburgh. Johan Santana? questions on if he can come back from injury) but these are some good choices. Either way, the Royals need a starter or two for next year if they want to compete. The team was lucky in 2013, as no major injury hit their way, so the chances of that happening two years in a row is slim. For all we know, a guy like Duffy, Paulino or Yordano Ventura will take up a slot and fill a void. Even if that happens, standing pat isn’t an option. Last year Dayton brought in two big starters. Competing means you have to go all in, and the window isn’t open for long. Let’s just hope the Royals are at least smart about this, rather than treat it like Monopoly money.

Decision Time

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Jeff Francoeur is a polarizing figure for many Kansas City Royals fans. On one hand, you have a guy who is fawned over for his great character and his leadership in the clubhouse. On the other hand, you have a guy who is hitting .212 after a season where he might very well have been the worst starting player in baseball. All  of baseball. Whichever side you sit on, there is very little doubt that his time with the Royals might be coming to an end very soon…or will it?

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What is pushing the issue at the moment is Jarrod Dyson’s rehab assignment. Dyson hurt his ankle earlier in the season in a game against the Angels, but has been in the minors the last few weeks rehabbing said ankle. From all accounts, it seems as if the ankle is holding up and he is currently halfway through a 20-game assignment in Omaha. Dyson could be back any day now, and when he does, the Royals have a decision.

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The decision seems easy to most of us. It comes down to either getting rid of Francoeur, or sending David Lough back to AAA. Just going off of stats, Lough easily should be staying with Frenchy being jettisoned. But remember what I mentioned earlier? The Royals LOVE Francoeur’s leadership and the intangibles he brings to the clubhouse. He also is a right handed hitter, which neither Dyson nor Lough are. Royals manager Neddaniel Yost loves his lefty-righty match ups, so there is a chance Frenchy will get a reprieve from exile and be kept around. Is this the right move for Kansas City? Probably not. Lough has shown he deserves to stay in the majors and has been solid both offensively and defensively for the Royals. 2011 really seems like the anomaly of Frenchy’s career, as his numbers over the years skew downward besides that one odd good year. Sooner, rather than later, we will know if the Royals really want to win, or are just serving lip service.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals

But that isn’t the only decision the Royals are going to have to make soon. Both Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino are on rehab assignment down in the minors as they attempt to come back from the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Duffy is a bit farther along, as he has been throwing in Omaha while Paulino is still down in AA. Let’s start with Duffy first. Despite his last start, Duffy has thrown good but he does have options left and the Royals could decide when his rehab assignment is done to keep him in AAA and get more work in. That isn’t the worst thing in the world, as the Royals have a fairly solid rotation and it’s never a bad thing to take your time coming back from this surgery. The Royals could also use him in the bullpen, which is an interesting idea. Duffy throws in the mid-90’s and the idea of him coming in for an inning and just airing it out is very intriguing. The good money though is on him getting some more time in Omaha before being called up later in the season.

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Paulino on the other hand is out of options and sending him down would mean they could lose him through waivers. Since Kansas City probably has no inclination on doing that, it is a safe bet that once he is done with his rehab, he will be on the main roster. But where do you put him? The obvious answer to most of us is moving Wade Davis to the bullpen and have Paulino fill his spot. But the Royals have invested a lot into Davis and he has shown enough in his starts that the Royals might not feel like giving up on the project of having him in the rotation. They also might send Luis Mendoza to the pen and have Paulino take his spot. Just thinking about that frustrates me, as Mendoza has earned his spot, but might be the odd man out. Yost has been adamant the last few years that he believes that Mendoza is a better fit as a long reliever but has been put in situations where Luis has to start. Soon enough we will find out how the pieces all fall in place and what direction the team wants to go with the back end of the rotation.

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The Royals so far this year haven’t had to make a lot of roster decisions, but soon enough they are going to have to make some choices. Those choices are going to tell us two things about this team. One, it will tell us what they are truly valuing on this team and what direction this team truly wants to go. Second, it will tell us whether or not they truly want to win or they are telling us that but not truly taking the steps to do this. The right moves seem pretty obvious to most of us, but the Royals don’t always take logic into their decision making. Soon enough we will know, and hopefully it is for the betterment of the team.

Royals Come to Play…But Will They Contend?

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In December, Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore pulled off a blockbuster trade, acquiring pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa Bay for top prospect Wil Myers and three other minor leaguers. With this trade, the Royals pushed all their chips in, declaring themselves contenders. But can this team really contend? Was pitching all this team needed to be taken seriously? Will the offense bloom under new hitting coaches? and will Jeff Francoeur find his swing? Time to take a magnifying glass to the 2013 Kansas City Royals and decipher whether they are contenders or pretenders.

James Shields

Let’s start where the Royals focused their attention on this offseason: pitching. Obviously, the Royals have improved their starting rotation with the additions of Shields, Davis, Ervin Santana and re-signing mid-season acquisition Jeremy Guthrie. This rotation is not the same one the team sported in 2012, not even close. James Shields gives the Royals a top of the rotation guy, while Santana and Guthrie have both been solid starters in the past. As much as this rotation is better, it’s not like it’s the reincarnation of the old Atlanta Braves rotations led by Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. Shields has always been a number two guy in Tampa, while Santana had his worst season last year with the Angels. Guthrie was atrocious in Colorado last year before being acquired by Kansas City, but he seemed to get the train back on the tracks by the end of the season and was quite possibly the best pitcher for the Royals in the second half of the season. Wade Davis is a bit of a question mark. Davis had a great 2012 with the Rays, but that was in a relief role. The Royals are sliding Davis back to the rotation, where he struggled in 2011. He wasn’t horrible in that role, but the numbers look eerily like Luke Hochevar’s best season, which in hindsight still wasn’t that good. It will be interesting to see not only how Davis does back in the rotation, but also how long of a leash the Royals will give him if he struggles. That leaves the fifth spot in the rotation, and as of this writing it is down to Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza. Now, looking at Chen’s stats this spring, and add in an underwhelming 2012, and it would appear that Mendoza should have this spot all locked up. But manager Neddy Yost thinks Mendoza is the perfect long reliever, despite Mendoza battling Guthrie in the second half of last year for title of ‘best pitcher in the Royals rotation’. With all that being said, my gut tells me Neddy will pick Chen to start the season. That is fine if Chen can show he is the guy who is a former Royals Pitcher of the Year. If not, one can only hope he is replaced before too much damage can be done. It should also be mentioned here that the team could get a bump in the middle of the season, as both Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino will be close to returning around that time. I say this reluctantly, as there is no guarantee that those two will be able to contribute much, as they are both coming back from Tommy John Surgery. Time will tell, but those two could help the team down the stretch if so needed.

Bruce Chen

From all appearances, it seems the Royals bullpen will be an above average unit once again in 2013. Last year, a bullpen lead by Holland, Herrera and Crow were one of the best bullpens in baseball, and they had to be as they accumulated a ton of innings in 2012. This was a big part of why the Royals needed to upgrade their starting rotation, as if not for the bullpen last year, the Royals would have been even worse than they were. Let that sink in for a minute. Luckily for Kansas City, most of the crew is back in 2013, and should be just as strong as it was last year. It will be interesting to see how former starter Luke Hochevar acclimates himself to a role in the pen. For all we know, having to work less and being able to go all out might be the thing to unlock some of the potential that Royals management have been talking about for years. Overall, this is a deep and solid bunch, and could be even better if the rotation holds up their end of the game.

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Now we shift to the offense. At first glance, it would appear that this would be another positive for the Royals in 2013. But not so fast. The same thing was thought last year, but this Royals bunch just didn’t score runs. I talked about it here. Funny thing is that Royals management made no changes to the offense this offseason, so what you see this year is the same as last year. Obviously, the Royals are counting on a turnaround by a bunch of their younger players and a few veterans. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon more than held their own last year. Either one could make the argument that they were the best player on this team last year. Alcides Escobar took another step forward as well, flirting with .300 most of the season, and Salvador Perez showed us that those last few months of 2011 weren’t a fluke. But for this team to really reach their full potential(and become a playoff contender), they need a number of things that went wrong in 2012 to go right this year. Mike Moustakas had a great first half of the season, both offensively and defensively. There was even talk that he was a candidate to be an All-Star. But Moose fell far in the second half of the season. There is a prevalent thought that a knee injury was a big part of that slump, and if that is the case then expect Moose to take another step forward in 2013. Eric Hosmer struggled mightily in 2012, to the point that he never found his groove. A lot of the team’s success this year will fall on Hos’ shoulders, whether that is deserved or not. This spring he has looked better at times, while at other times he has looked like the Hosmer of 2012. The big part for him needs to be consistency. If Hos can keep his swing consistent, then the Royals will feel comfortable moving him up in the lineup and taking pressure off of the rest of the lineup. If not, the team might be shopping for someone to fill in at first base until(if?) he can find that consistency. Another person they need to step it up this year is Jeff Francoeur. If Francoeur plays like he did last year, the Royals won’t be contenders. Period. The Royals were so confident that this would happen that they felt comfortable trading prospect(and probable Francoeur replacement) Wil Myers this offseason. If Frenchy can’t find his swing, then the team will have to look for his replacement. Second base is also a question mark, as it looks as if Chris Getz will be the second bagger for the team. The fact that management didn’t feel the need to go out shopping for this spot says a lot about how they feel about Getzie. The honest truth is that if he is starting, they can expect very little in the realm of offense with him. He is what he is, Royals management. The Royals have very little room for mistakes this year, and they need a different look offense in 2013 if they want to contend.

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The Royals were bit by the injury bug early and often last year, and they have to hope this year is a complete 180 degrees from last year. As much as this team has more depth than they have had in a very long time, this is still not a team who has a replacement ready for most of their positions. If a major starter(Butler or Gordon) comes down hurt, it will be a major blow for the team and probably push back their chances of being in a pennant race. The pitching has more depth, for sure, and even have options for a change, but there is a fall from their top starters to the relief that will be sitting at Omaha. As it showed last year when catcher Salvador Perez went down in Spring Training, the Royals just can’t handle a major blow to the team. The depth just isn’t there. So if someone goes down, it could spell doom for this ballclub.

Ned Yost

There is one more thing we should factor into this season for our boys in blue. I know not everyone agrees, but I am of the belief that having Neddy Yost still at the helm for the Royals factors into this season. The Royals can have a lot of the question marks mentioned above go right for them, and there is a good chance that will happen. But it could all be negated by Yost. Some might think a manager doesn’t make that big a difference on whether or not they win or lose, but it does. Very few teams get anywhere if they don’t have a good manager, or at least one that knows when to trust his players and coaches and step aside. Then there are managers like Yost. Yost likes to tinker when he doesn’t need to. Just look at all the lineup changes last year. He also doesn’t seem to handle pressure well. Anyone remember the Royals 12 game losing streak last year and the decisions Yost made? If that isn’t enough for you, how about in Milwaukee. The Brewers fired him with only twelve games left in the season and the Brew Crew pushing for a playoff spot. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t invoke confidence in Yost’s managerial skills come crunch time. Let’s say the Royals are contending in September. I would have to say there is a good chance Yost will find a way to screw it up and do something so monumental that we will be talking about it for years to come. I would almost guarantee it. Since his hire, I have thought Yost is not the guy to take the Royals to the promised land. He was a decent placeholder for this ballclub, but if the organization is serious about being a playoff club, then Yost must go. I would like to think when it comes down to the nitty gritty, Yost will step aside, not over-manage, and allow the talent to take over. But Yost likes to tinker–and bunt. He could make all the difference this year on whether or not the Royals sniff the postseason.

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This is, without a doubt, one of the most pivotal seasons in Kansas City Royals history, and one that will determine whether or not the current regime keeps their job or the Royals move in a new direction. Dayton Moore has thrown his chips on the table and it is .500 or bust. If the team falls short, Moore and probably Yost will be gone. If they reach that goal, they will probably be given 2-3 more years. There is a buzz about this team that hasn’t been there in the last decade, and it shows just how passionate Royals fans truly are. But to be honest, I don’t think it is enough. As much as Kansas City needed pitching, they ignored a lot of the other problems this team had in 2012. I do think some of those problems will improve this year, but there is no way you can expect all of them too. When you add in how the American League Central got stronger in the offseason, it is hard to see this team improving by 15-20 wins. Right now, this team seems to me to win 78-80 games, falling just shy of .500. There is a chance it could go a few more either way, but that is what I would guess as of right now. I do hope I’m wrong, and the Royals are able to contend. Lord knows Royals fans deserve it.

Dayton Moore, Saying all the Wrong Things

I just need to vent real quick. Earlier today, the Kansas City Royals claimed pitcher Chris Volstad off waivers from the Chicago Cubs. Volstad didn’t have a great year last year, but my gut tells me the Royals signed him more because of his potential, which is fine. This signing is okay as long as he is used next year as either a reliever or an emergency starter. If he starts over 15 games next year…well, if that happens there is a good chance the Royals are in trouble. But it wasn’t the Volstad signing that bothered me. It was the comments GM Dayton Moore made after the signing. So lets pick apart what Dayton is saying and why it is so distressing.

“We know who we are and how we have to build this team,” general manager Dayton Moore said, “and how we have to build our rotation. We’re going to be as aggressive as we can, but we know who we are and how we need to do it.”

 

This is Dayton alluding to the Royals being a small market team and how they can’t spend as thrifty as the big dogs in baseball. It’s true, but it almost reads like we as fans shouldn’t expect much this offseason. As in “no big catch on our fishing line”. I totally think this is Dayton preparing us for them to not sign a Zack Greinke or Anibal Sanchez. I can understand this to a degree, but I would rather have a GM who is confident and doesn’t use a team’s limitations as an excuse.
Luke Hochevar, Version 2.0

“His career, obviously, hasn’t gone to script,” Moore said. “He’s had a lot of ups and downs, but he’s still very young. Our scouts have seen him, and his stuff is still good. He just hasn’t had a lot of success but, hopefully, we can get him back on track.”

 

Of course Moore is talking about Volstad here. I have no issue with the Royals signing guys like this. It is a necessary evil in baseball, just in general. But doesn’t that read the same as if he was talking about Luke Hochevar? Shouldn’t you be fixing the first Hochevar you have first before taking on another Hochevar? and do the Royals get a discount for having two Hochevar’s on their roster? BOGO anyone?
“We’ve got to look internally,” he said. “We’ve got to look through trades. We’ve got to look, certainly, through free agency…we might be able to pick off a player or two, but we’re not going to build our team through free agency. It won’t work.”
I actually agree with Moore here. I think the teams needs to really look for trades this offseason rather than on the free agent market. I’ve written before that Tampa Bay would be a good partner. But as a small market team, you need to have an open mind and keep all options available. The Royals won’t be able to go out and sign a major name, but they can still make a splash in the free agent pool if David Glass is sincere about spending the dough.
“We’re not going to jump out there and be crazy on things,” Moore said. “We’re going to be aggressive and try to create as much depth and competition as we can. We know it’s going to continue to be a work in progress with everything we do in building a rotation.”
Depth is good. Bring as many pitchers to camp to compete as you can. Just don’t break the bank on lesser talent players. Spend money accordingly. Although, if there is a pitcher out there that you can get at a good price, the Royals should pounce. What if Greinke or Shawn Marcum would take a hometown discount? You can be crazy without anyone checking you into the nuthouse.

“He’s healthy and still young,” Moore said. “He broke into the major leagues when he was very young. He’s had some success, but it’s mostly been down lately.

“That being said, you get guys when they’re on the downturn. You don’t get them when they’re on the upturn.”

 

Alright, this is where I have a problem. Look at that last line. I’m sorry, that is just stupid thinking. You CAN get players on an upturn. You’ll have to either pay the money or trade talent for them, but like I have said ad nauseum, to get talent you must trade talent. If all you acquire are guys who are at the downturn of their careers, then that will be all you have; players at the downturn of their careers. Yes, some will pan out and improve. But the chances of that happening are slim and none. I’m sorry, but making such a ridiculous comment is insane and makes me think the sooner Dayton is fired, the better. I get that the Royals are not going to be a financial monster. But neither is Oakland’s Billy Beane and look what he does year after year. Dayton just seems like he can’t be creative or isn’t even willing to try. Maybe it’s just me, but I think having some of these “upturn” players would help Kansas City. It’s like Moore is working inside of his little itty bitty box and isn’t willing to venture outside of it.
How many cool points does Dayton get here for the shades?

So what do we take away from Dayton Moore’s comments today? Well, it seems like Moore is willing to live and die by his constraints. I really hope this doesn’t mean the Royals don’t sign two solid, established starters. I hope this doesn’t mean that they won’t re-sign Jeremy Guthrie. I hope this doesn’t mean that February rolls around and the pitchers competing for a starting gig are a bunch of Volstad’s. More than anything, I hope that this doesn’t mean that they are putting all their eggs into the “well, Duffy and Paulino will be back soon” basket. Sure, they should return in 2013. But you have to look at them as if they will not contribute to the Royals next year. Anything you get from them is a bonus. If they are counting on those two to return, plus Chen, Hochevar and Volstad to improve plus whatever lot of castoffs they acquire this winter, then we are in trouble. Dayton Moore has had over six years to build a rotation that is acceptable at the least. Instead, the Royals rotation looks like the island of misfit toys. At this point,  I would take King Moonracer in the Royals rotation.

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