The Kansas City Royals just concluded their best season in 24 years. However, in order to take the next step forward and reach the playoffs next season, the boys in blue will need to get some help from the free agent market.
On Tuesday, the Royals announced that Ned Yost had been signed to a two-year contract extension. This move should not have come as a surprise, as no team fires a manager after their best season in almost a quarter-century.
That said, I am not a huge fan of Yost. I think he makes some pretty bad calls, especially with his lineups and how long he lets floundering players see the field. I also have not seen an ability to think multiple steps ahead, instead making moves one at a time without thinking of what the repercussions will be.
Sadly, I do not get to make the calls in the Royals front office. General Manager Dayton Moore does, and he re-signed Yost. Few can fault him, though, for sticking with the skipper that won 86 games.
As long as the players respect and like Yost, I do not have any huge reservations letting him come back next season. But if the Royals fail to find the postseason in 2014, then Yost and Moore should both be shown the door.
Now that Yost’s job is solidified, he needs to start looking for some help for next season. The current squad has the potential to reach the playoffs, but they seem to have some trouble reaching that potential and will no doubt lose some players from this season to free agency.
The first point of order needs to be a starting pitcher. While James Shields established himself as a leader in the rotation and will be back next year, Ervin Santana may not be back and Bruce Chen is getting a little old to keep starting games for a playoff team. Jeremy Guthrie is still locked in for two more seasons and Danny Duffy is under team control through 2017. So the Royals have three spots that are spoken for, and one may be filled by Santana.
Other starters might be found in the Royals’ farm system, like young fireballer Yordano Ventura, but the team needs to find a starting pitcher or two on the free agent market. Starting pitching depth is incredibly important, and an established starter is always a good addition to a team hunting for its first playoff appearances since 1985.
The biggest name on the market for starting pitchers this winter is Matt Garza. Garza finished the 2013 season with a 10-6 record and a 3.82 ERA playing for the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers. Even though his numbers were not as good after being traded to Texas in July, Garza is a legitimate No. 2 starter and will be sought after by a plethora of teams.
Ultimately, Garza will likely land outside the Royals price range, but it is worth taking a shot at him. His carer 3.84 ERA and 1.283 WHIP would make him a nice addition behind Shields.
After Garza, the market drops off some. Hiroki Kuroda is the next best starter, but he is aging and will want to stay on the coasts somewhere if he does not retire or return to Japan.
One option may be Paul Maholm. The 31-year-old lefty is not a hard thrower by any means, but gets a lot of ground balls. A 10-11 record with a 4.41 ERA are not stellar numbers, but he has a career 4.28 ERA and the Royals’ defense is one of the best in the majors, which would surely make him even better. Maholm could be a solid No. 2 pitcher behind Shields and possibly get his ERA below 4.00.
Yankees starter Phil Hughes is another option, and could possibly be a buy-low candidate. Hughes posted and ERA over 5.00 for the second time in three years, but he is still young at 27 years old. One of his main problems has been a tendency to give up home runs, which would be less of an issue in the spacious grounds of Kauffman Stadium.
Neither Scott Feldman nor Bronson Arroyo are flashy arms, but could be options if the larger names cannot be lured to Kansas City. However, those two would not be much of an upgrade, if any, over what the Royals currently have.
The next best thing may be to buy low on a couple of veterans and hope to strike gold. Josh Johnson and Colby Lewis have battled injuries recently and Tim Lincecum has been downright bad recently, but all three have had success at the major league level in the past.
If the team does not want or cannot get another starter, they may want to find a full time right fielder. David Lough had a good rookie season, but he and Justin Maxwell are in their late 20s and unlikely to improve too much.
The best option would be to go for Carlos Beltran, a formal Royal. Beltran may be 36 years old, but he has continued to perform at a high level with a .296 batting average and 24 homers this season with St. Louis.
A Beltran signing would surely excite the fanbase and instantly improve an underachieving Royals lineup.
Whatever the team decides to do, they need to add a couple of players to improve on the success they had this season. After mortgaging the future in the trade for Shields, a playoff appearance in 2014 is a must, and more help will be needed to achieve that goal.