Got a lot coming your way today, starting with this blog post and this column on the Royals signing Jason Vargas for their starting rotation. There is also a Chiefs game this weekend, you might’ve heard^, so I’ll have another column dropping later today.
^ WARNING: Video is so sexy it should be NSFW.
You know, this is real Entertain-Inform-Annoy kind of stuff.
So, here on the blog we’re going to talk about the Royals today and I want to start by pointing out the foolishness I see on Twitter, my email and hear in my voicemail about how signing Vargas shouldn’t have been labeled by the Royals as a "major" announcement.
The Royals spent $32 million on a pitcher they expect to make 30-some starts in each of the next four seasons. That’s not major? Maybe the Royals could help everyone out by coding their announcements, where "major" can describe anything relating to an everyday player or starting pitcher, "MAJOR" can be for a big trade or star player, and "eh, you might just check the website later" would be for a middle reliever.
Maybe that would help diminish the snark.
Or maybe the last two decades of Royals baseball has conditioned fans to complain first and ask questions later.
Anyway, two basic points I want to make about the Royals.
First, the Royals’ rotation has essentially traded Ervin Santana for Jason Vargas. The offseason is still young, so we must allow for the possibility of another addition, but chances are this is it.^ The Royals are, barring what would be a major surprise, heading into 2014 with James Shields, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie manning the top three rotation spots.
^ And just to be sure, don’t fall into the trap that Vargas has the upside to be as good as Santana. He just doesn’t. They’re two very different pitchers, and I say that as a guy who loved the Santana trade last year. The link is dead, but here is part of what I wrote:
"Santana is better than the kind of free agent the Royals might’ve given a three-year deal. It is an upgrade for the immediate future without sacrificing the long-term."
Going into the offseason, one of the biggest priorities was to not let the pitching slip. Santana’s production was always going to be difficult to reproduce — Santana himself, with whatever team overpays for him, will have a devil of a time reproducing his 2013 numbers — but signing a no-frills-no-thrills lefty is a clear indication about how the team hopes to do it.
Specifically, they hope to do it with significantly more help from a combination of Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and even Kyle Zimmer. Vargas throws a fastball in the mid- to upper-80s. His ERA has been between 3.78 and 4.25 in each of the last four seasons. He is baseball’s equivalent of a low-interest savings account — a safe place for your money, with no chance of a big return.
Duffy, Ventura and Zimmer are the Royals’ start-ups, the ones with the ceiling and potential for stardom and here is how that meshes with signing Vargas:
A major part of the Royals’ attraction to Vargas is the certainty. Josh Johnson has been a medical trainwreck, Phil Hughes has been horrible in two of his last three seasons, and Ryan Dempster (who the Red Sox are open to trading) is 36 years old and coming off a fairly disappointing season.
In Vargas, the Royals are exchanging a low ceiling for a high floor because when you bring along as many as three fabulously talented but unproven starters you don’t know what you’re getting. If Duffy is at 97 pitches in the fourth inning, it would help if the starting pitcher went at least six the night before.
The Royals have finally found themselves an identity, which is pitching and defense. The most important element of that is the starting rotation, and the Royals are well aware that they enter next season with less firepower than they came into the last one with.
They’re counting on those younger homegrown pitchers to make up for it which, when you think about it, is thoroughly appropriate in a critical season for a franchise that’s built itself up through the farm system and preaches the importance of starting pitching.
The second point about the Royals is that the division is open for them this year. The Tigers and Rangers pulled off a blockbuster trade earlier this week, and with some time to really look at and think about it, it’s the rare trade that’s very good for both sides.
Prince Fielder gets a fresh start in a ballpark that may as well have been designed with him in mind, and the Rangers can now put uber-prospect Jurickson Profar at second base.
The Tigers fill a hole at second base, clear some money they can use on Max Scherzer and others, and get better defensively by moving Miguel Cabrera to first (or DH).
But for the Royals’ immediate outlook, this is a help. Kinsler turns 32 next year, and the last two seasons has essentially been a league average hitter in one of game’s best ballparks for hitters. The departure of Fielder also allows teams to walk Cabrera with a clearer conscience.
In the long-term, the Tigers will probably get better with this. They can re-sign their stars and better transition into a good defensive team — which, in that ballpark, is a must.
But they’re taking a step back in 2014, at least, to do it. The Tigers are so talented it might still be enough to win the division.
But for this upcoming season, it opens the division just a smidge more for the Royals.