Posted on February 4, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
The baseball world was rocked last month by the sudden and tragic loss of Kansas City Royals pitchers Yordano Ventura. The Royals family in particular will be dealing with the loss for a long time to come, as they will begin spring training later this month with heavy hearts. Unfortunately, while the Royals continue to grieve, they also have to think about the loss of Ventura in baseball terms, and the vacancy that now exists in their starting rotation with spring training around the corner.
“We’ve got a hole in the rotation,” said Royals GM Dayton Moore earlier this week. “That’s an obvious question. We didn’t anticipate that. But we’ve got to look for solutions.” Moore says the team has internal options to fill out their rotation, but that bringing in a pitcher via trade of free agency is also a likely, saying, “I think we’ll do something. I got a feeling. I don’t know what, but certainly before spring training.”
As it stands, Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, and Jason Vargas are poised to lead the rotation, but beyond those three there are question marks about the final two spots. Both Ventura and Edinson Volquez, who signed with the Miami Marlins, gave the Royals more than 30 starts each last season. Dillon Gee and Kris Medlen, two pitchers who signed minor league deals with other clubs, combined to give Kansas City 20 starts last year. That’s more than half a season worth of starts from pitchers not returning to the Royals in 2017.
Moore has previously expressed confidence in 37-year old Chris Young having a bounce back year in 2017. The tall and lengthy Young posted a 6.19 ERA last year while splitting time between the rotation and bullpen. However, the Royals may need him to become a full-time member of their rotation.
The Royals are also high on Nathan Karns, who they acquired from the Mariners earlier this offseason. Karns showed great promise as a starter with the Rays in 2015 and continued to do so early in the 2016 season with Seattle before he was hampered by a back injury that ultimately ended his season in late July. He’s undoubtedly talented and will be favored to win a rotation spot with the Royals, but his health could be an issue.
Kansas City also has a few prospects who could be forced to take a role in the starting rotation. Lefty Matt Strahm was great out of Kansas City’s bullpen last year, but he spent most of his minor league career as a starter and could be moved back to that role. Kyle Zimmer has elite stuff but has been derailed by a series of injuries. If he’s healthy during spring training, he could compete for a rotation spot. Miguel Almonte and Alec Mills are also options, although Almonte may be better used in the bullpen alongside Strahm and Mills has a limited ceiling as a big league starter.
If the Royals prefer to play it safe, they may look to find a starter on the free agent market. Kansas City has been linked to Jason Hammel, who is arguably the best starter still available on the open market, as well as Doug Fister. “There are still some free agents out there,” says Moore. “Whether it works to our advantage right now, I don’t know.”
There may be an opportunity for the Royals to work out a trade for a starter, but not at the moment. “Historically, most teams are going to wait until they get through spring training and assess the general health of their pitchers before they start moving pitchers,” explains Moore. “But they’ll be some opportunities, perhaps, at the end of spring training.”
It’s sad beyond words that the Royals have to look for a starter to replace Ventura, but it’s a reality the team has to face. Kansas City may have enough pitchers in house to fill out its rotation, but doing so would be rolling the dice to some extent. If the Royals have their sights set on a return to the postseason less than two years after winning the World Series, they have to add a reliable starter before the start of the season.