Judging the Royals

Do the Royals need to acquire a ‘big-name’ pitcher?

Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore after the 2015 World Series.
Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore after the 2015 World Series. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Sunday’s game against the White Sox was started by Travis Wood and he went 4  2/3 innings, gave up four runs and ended the day with an ERA of 6.91.

Wood has come out of the bullpen to make three starts for the Royals and, on Sunday, he was on the hook for the loss until his teammates came back and tied the game in the eighth and won it in the ninth.

Since Nate Karns went down, the Royals have been scuffling to fill the fifth spot in the rotation; Wood, Jake Junis, Eric Skogland, Matt Strahm, Chris Young and Luke Farrell have all been given starts.

If the Royals are serious about competing this season, isn’t it about time they get some help for their starting rotation?

If I’ve learned anything from being alive, it’s that most of us think any job we don’t have to do ourselves must be fairly simple; people getting lousy performance reviews at their own jobs are more than willing to offer advice to heads of state and big league GMs.

And if I’ve learned anything from covering baseball (which is debatable) it’s this: nothing is as simple as it seems.

The trading deadline: a game of chicken

Acquiring players before the trading deadline is not like picking up a quart of milk at the grocery store … unless the grocery store only has one quart of milk left and wants to hear competing offers from interested shoppers.

Teams that have players available try to take advantage of teams that need players; selling teams might ask for top prospects, a first-born male child, three French hens, two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

If a buying team doesn’t stand tough, it can get taken to the cleaners.

So buying teams might make a counter offer that includes a brand new fungo bat and a bag of used baseballs.

If buyers and sellers are going to get a deal done, they have to meet somewhere in the middle and they have to do it by July 31 at 3 p.m. Fail to compromise and the selling team might not get anything for a player they’re going to lose anyway, and the buying team might not get the help it needs right now.

Like a lot of teams, the Royals most obvious need is pitching

Recently, while listening to a sports-talk radio show, I heard someone say a middle-of-the-road guy wasn’t enough; the Royals need to get a “big-name” pitcher.

But if a lot of teams need pitching, and a big name is available, how much will that big-name cost you?

And even if you outbid the other teams, someone will still be willing to complain.

When it was pointed out that the Royals pipeline is currently a bit sparse in pitching prospects, one fan said: “Thanks a lot, Dayton.”

Which ignores the fact that the reason the Royals pipeline is short of pitching prospects is because some of those pitching prospects were traded away so the Royals could get the help they needed in 2015: Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist.

Those trades helped the Royals win a World Series, so in a completely different tone of voice: “Thanks a lot, Dayton!”

A big name might be necessary to get some fans excited, but teams might have a more sophisticated view:

Let’s say the Royals get a middle-of-the-road pitcher who is slightly better than the collection of guys currently trying to fill the fifth spot in the rotation; let’s say the new guy is just one win better. Now let’s say the Royals make the playoffs by one game.

That middle-of-the-road pitcher was a big acquisition.

If the Royals acquire a middle reliever that helps bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and the back end of the bullpen, and the Royals win more game than they would have otherwise and then make the playoffs by one game, getting that middle reliever was a big deal.

Remember: before the 2015 season began, when the Royals acquired Ryan Madson, Chris Young, Jason Frasor and Joe Blanton, nobody got excited, but all four pitchers played important roles in winning a World Series.

And acquiring a big name pitcher is no guarantee of success

Johnny Cueto was a big name and after being acquired by the Royals in 2015 he went 4-7 and had an ERA of 4.76 in the regular season; 2-1 with an ERA of 5.40 in the postseason.

Fortunately, Cueto came up big in a couple games that mattered.

I’ve got no idea what Dayton Moore and the Royals plan to do or what they feel they can afford, but by 3 p.m. on July 31, we’ll all know.

But whatever they do, remember this: a pitcher doesn’t have to be a “big name” to make a difference.