The Royals’ decision to claim struggling right-hander Chris Volstad on waivers Friday from the Chicago Cubs could be more than a simple move to assemble greater short-term inventory for a troubled rotation.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
It might also signal the club plans to pursue affordable low-risk starting pitchers this offseason rather than enter into expensive free-agent auctions for Anibal Sánchez and Kyle Lohse, or even stretch their budget to retain Jeremy Guthrie.
“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.”
Volstad, 26, is coming off the worst season of his five-year career at 3-12 with a 6.31 ERA in 21 starts. He spent part of the season at Class AAA Iowa, where he wasn’t much better: 3-5 and 5.17 in 12 starts.
“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.”
While Moore didn’t rule out an offseason push to sign an impact free-agent pitcher, he said it “won’t be a long-term answer for us” in part because the club anticipates plentiful in-house options by the start of the 2014 season.
“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.”
The club’s hesitancy stems, at least in part, from the continuing escalation on the anticipated cost of signing free-agent pitchers – particularly Sánchez and Lohse, whom the Royals had atop their offseason wish list.
Industry estimates now suggest Lohse, at 34, might command a deal similar to what C.J. Wilson received last year from the Angels: $75 million over five years. The bidding on Sánchez, 28, is expected to start at $60 million over four years.
Those dollars have club officials pondering more affordable alternatives as a bridge to what they see as a coming wave of homegrown rotation help by the start of the 2014 season – plus the return of Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino from elbow surgery.
Those in-house possibilities include Jake Odorizzi, Yordano Ventura, Kyle Zimmer, John Lamb and Mike Montgomery. Odorizzi should have a chance to win a job in spring training; others could crack the big-league rotation by the end of next season.
“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.”
Volstad fits into that plan. At 6 feet 8 and 230 pounds, he offers what the Royals see as untapped potential at a low risk. He made $2.655 million this season and will be eligible again this winter for arbitration, but he also has one option remaining.
The Marlins selected Volstad with the 16th overall pick of the 2005 draft and brought him to the majors as a 21-year-old in July 2008. He was 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in four years before a Jan. 5, 2012 trade sent him to the Cubs for pitcher Carlos Zambrano.
Volstad never found a comfort zone in Chicago.
“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.”
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