September 27, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Oswalt (44) pitches in the game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. The Phillies beat the Braves 7-1. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

On the Royals Missing Out on Roy Oswalt

If you’ve read one Royals article this offseason – on Kings of Kauffman or elsewhere – you couldn’t have missed the “biggest weakness is starting pitching” mention. It’s in every single one.

And for good reason – the Royals starting pitching was rough last year and without a significant acquisition, the rotation from the end of 2011 will return intact in 2012 (as long as you substitute Jonathan Sanchez for Jeff Francis). There may be surprises in spring training who ascend to the starting rotation, and injuries are always possible with a pitching staff, but we’re probably looking at the same group as last year (though with the benefit of not having to start the year with Kyle Davies, and Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazzaro probably aren’t going to make any starts any time soon).

I’ve been in favor of the Royals making a big splash in free agency to acquire a starter for this year, going so far as to say that the Royals should sign both Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt. It was a long shot. Buehrle wasn’t on the market for long, signing with Miami for three years and $48 million.

Oswalt, however, is still technically on the market. Some reports had Oswalt agreeing to a deal with the Cardinals last night, but team officials and other reports have suggested that that’s not the case but that both sides might be close. Retirement has been mentioned as an option, too.

I’m aware of the back problems that plagued him last season and that he had his lowest career strikeout rate in 2011. In a down year, Oswalt was better than every Royals starter from last year. I think he’d still have been a good fit, perhaps even a huge bargain, even at $10 million or more, if he were to remain healthy and effective all year.

Any outside chance the Royals had of being the “mystery team” is gone, which is disappointing.

We’re used to this as fans. With a team that has regularly finished last or close to it over the majority of the last two decades, Kansas City isn’t a very attractive spot for a potential free agent. Still, as the Oswalt saga continued, his asking price seemed to keep dropping, from asking for a multi-year deal early on to being accepting of a one-year deal. Then it became clear a one-year deal would be all he’d get from a team and the price started dropping.

As recently as this week, teams were offering as low as $5 million for a year of Oswalt’s service. It would have been nice for the Royals to have been one of those teams.

Maybe they were, and it came down to Oswalt. There’s no rule that if you’re offered a bigger contract by one team that you have to accept it. Players are human and even if the money’s good, it’s their prerogative to turn it down if they simply don’t want to go to that city. That’s easy to forget. It’s possible (even likely) that the Royals weren’t close at any point in the Oswalt pursuit, not due to their lack of interest, but in Oswalt’s. According to Jon Heyman, Oswalt has already turned down a $10 million offer from the Tigers. If he’s willing to turn down a contract of that size with the team favored to win the AL Central, then there are other factors in play in his selection process.

As it stands now, the best pitcher on the market is Edwin Jackson, someone who I’ve changed my mind about, but still no lock to lead a staff. I don’t buy the “well why has he been on six teams before his 28th birthday” concern because there are still teams out there who want him. It’s just a weird market.

Luke Hochevar hopes for consistency; Photo Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

With Mike Montgomery (hopefully) poised to make his debut in 2012 at some point, Danny Duffy (hopefully) ready to make the adjustments to be a solid starter and (again, hopefully) Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Felipe Paulino looking to build off some stretches of success in 2011, the Royals may have felt that seeing how that group develops together is better than trying to fit in a pitcher on a one-year deal who MIGHT get them closer to the playoffs. The Royals have a strange problem in that they have pitchers who are good enough to fill out a rotation, but not good enough (barring some big strides) to get them to the top of the mountain. But the pitchers are also too good to cut, too good to relegate to the minors (though Duffy could end up there if they have to make room, especially if the Royals get cute with his service time), and too good to only get 70 to 80 innings from out of the bullpen.

As the offense starts to develop (as I expect it to) into one of the better ones in the league and the bullpen continues to get a jolt from the many great young arms currently established and on the way, it’s on the rotation to make the same jumps. That may start to happen as the team starts to win more, so that in the future, if it’s necessary to go to market, the Royals won’t leave empty-handed.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Bruce Chen Danny Duffy Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Luke Hochevar MLB Roy Oswalt Royals

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