The Royals announced a bit of news on Monday that was not unexpected. They extended a qualifying offer to Ervin Santana, insuring they would receive a compensatory draft pick if he signs with another team this winter. Another announcement made by the Royals concerned a pitcher within the organization who seems to have been forgotten by Royals fans. Felipe Paulino was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list.
Paulino has made 28 appearances in Kansas City, including 27 starts, and has an overall ERA+ of 116, has struck out 8.8 batters per 9 innings, and has a groundball rate of nearly 45% in 162.1 innings. He’s been worth 3.4 fWAR in roughly three-fourths of a season’s work. In case you aren’t familiar with statistics, those are good. To give you an idea of how good that is, keep in mind that Santana only put up 3.0 fWAR in 2013. 3.4 fWAR would’ve been good enough for 16th best in the American League, tied with Justin Masterson of the Indians.
Paulino’s problems have been health related. His 2012 season was cut short due to requiring Tommy John surgery, which also caused him to miss several months in 2013. While on rehab assignments, Paulino suffered more injury setbacks, resulting in him not making any big league starts last year. In Paulino’s minor league rehab starts, he was ineffective and seemed to lack control, walking 15 batters in 27.2 innings between AA and AAA. I was able to watch one of his starts in Omaha, and while his velocity seemed fine – sitting around 94 MPH – he definitely struggled locating all of his pitches and just didn’t look comfortable.
With all that being said, Paulino’s upside is still present. If he can stay healthy, Paulino is a guy the Royals could slot into the middle of their rotation. Granted, that “if” is so big it can be best described as Paulino’s nickname: Jumbo. And even if he does come to spring training in good health, Paulino’s success is far from a guarantee. He has 385.1 career innings with an ERA of 4.93, so it’s possible he regresses to that kind of level if given enough time. Putting too much stock in Paulino’s small sample of success could lead to unrealistic expectations. I personally think he should be able to post an above average ERA while striking out opposing batters at a solid rate, although he may not duplicate his numbers from 2011 and 2012.
Luckily for the Royals, Paulino is still under team control and can be tendered a contract for probably around $3 million, meaning they wouldn’t be wasting too much money trying to find out if Paulino’s success is for real or not. If the gamble pays off, the Royals will have a much deeper rotation with plenty of options from which to choose. If Paulino can’t get healthy or can’t find the strike zone, they can cut ties without worrying about future obligations. With that kind of low-risk opportunity, the Royals simply must give him a chance.