I’m not sure I really understand this. Jeremy Guthrie was the Royals’ best starting pitcher after joining the team in July. The Royals gave him a chance to right the sinking ship that was his career. He did it, and he was thankful for the opportunity. So thankful, he expressed his willingness to negotiate a contract extension as soon as possible. This was during the season.
What was the Royals’ response? We’ll wait.
Excuse me? Why? What is to be gained from waiting? It’s safe to say that among the most important goals the Royals should be reaching for is the re-signing of Guthrie. It’s the general consensus among Royals talking heads (myself included) that the Royals will need to find at least two starting pitchers who can range from 2-3 in the rotation to be competitive. This formula, though, is predicated on the re-signing of Guthrie. If the Royals cannot re-sign Guthrie, they need three new starting pitchers of 2-3 quality.
Finding two quality starting pitchers is hard enough. Finding three in one offseason is bordering on impossible, especially when considering the current state of Royals pitching prospects. Kansas City has players with plenty of potential: Jake Odorizzi, Yordano Ventura, Kyle Zimmer, Kyle Smith (who people sell short for some reason), John Lamb. But none of these players is Opening Day 2013 ready. Most are 2014-2015 prospects, which means none of them will be stepping up to fill the void for next season.
And really, you can’t have enough starting pitching anyway. Even if one or two of these prospects were ready to take the ball in April, the Royals should still be talking to Guthrie yesterday. My favorite theory of pitching development is to have as many quality pitchers as possible, have them compete for spots which makes them better, and then when someone inevitably gets hurt, the pitching staff can maintain. Bonus: the extra quality pitchers are trade commodities. This idea that one pitcher might block another is, as Joe Biden would put it, malarkey.
My fear is that the Royals missed a golden opportunity with Guthrie. By talking to him in September and making it clear they want him around, they could have squelched the pull of free agency, the pull to have teams bid for him. Certainly, they can overpay for him once free agency starts, but that type of short sightedness doesn’t help small-market teams. By talking early, they held the potential to keep his agent form putting feelers out and seeing what market demand might be, or at the very least, the gesture shows the level of support the Royals were willing to provide.
Every day a deal doesn’t get done, the pull of free agency grows. Other teams saw his turn around after being traded from Colorado. They know he can pitch under the right conditions, and other teams are more willing to utilize statistical analysis to understand just what they can get and should be willing to offer Guthrie.
So, I return to my question: Why didn’t the Royals start talking contract extension with Guthrie in September? Did they want to see him start one or two more games? If that’s the case, it’s ridiculous. One or two more starts won’t tell a team much about a pitcher. I’m thinking, as I puzzle over this question that truly confuses me, that maybe it’s a case of paralysis by analysis. Maybe the Royals front office was afraid of the downside of signing Guthrie and that froze them into passivity.
Small-market teams cannot be deliberate. They cannot wait and see. Some people criticize Dayton Moore for the quick moves he makes in free agency. I don’t mind this strategy. I don’t think it’s always the best, but I like the idea that he has a strategy that attempts to level the economic playing field. He needs to turn that strategy to Guthrie, to sign him before free agency opens, as soon as possible in fact. If he’s reading this, and I’m sure he is, he needs to stop and call Guthrie’s agent immediately, even before writing a snazzy comment about how awesome my idea is.