There is something to be said about veteran inning eaters – they can keep a shaky bullpen from being overworked or exposed. Teams with bullpen issues absolutely love pitchers like Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie and James Shields. Beyond what they are able to provide on the mound with their pitching, those pitchers are valued for their ability to go out there virtually every season, pitch over 200 innings and take the ball every fifth day.
However, the Royals are not one of those teams. The Royals had the best bullpen in the American League last season, as their relievers combined for a 2.55 ERA and the lowest batting average against in all of baseball. The bullpen also pitched the third fewest innings in baseball last year, with 461.1 innings of work last year. There simply was not enough work to go around for the relief corps last year, as only Luke Hochevar and Greg Holland had more than 60 innings pitched out of the bullpen.
Although it is possible that the Royals enter the 2014 season with two question marks in the rotation, there still may not be enough work to go around. With the plethora of young, controllable relievers, it may be that the Royals find themselves in a position to move one of these arms, either for a prospect or as part of a trade to help fill out potential holes in the lineup.
Even if the Royals were to trade someone like Aaron Crow or even Hochevar to a team in need of help in the bullpen, they would likely still have a solid core to close out games. Holland has been one of the top closers in baseball since taking over the role in the middle of 2012. Kelvin Herrera may have struggled to start 2013, but from the time he was recalled on July 19th through the rest of the season, he was 2-2 with a 2.64 ERA, striking out 41 batters while issuing six walks. Wade Davis proved that he could fill Hochevar’s role with his performance in 2012 for the Rays, and he appears as though he may be best suited for a bullpen role. With the depth the Royals have, it may be possible to move one or two arms and not see an appreciable difference in performance.
The signing of Jason Vargas could have further ramifications beyond what it would mean to the rotation. Adding Vargas could lead to even less use for the bullpen, making some of the Royals relievers expendable. This signing may have a ripple effect on the entire pitching staff, and not just in terms of where Vargas slots in the rotation.