April 23, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Jason Vargas (60) pitches in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

What the Jason Vargas Signing Means for the Royals Bullpen


Aug 1, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Royals won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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  • Ed Connealy

    let’s hope so..if this signing means a trade of hoch or holland netting some much needed hitting..it looks a bit better

  • jimfetterolf

    With Duffy a near certainty and Ventura likely, I think the BP will have plenty of opportunities.

    • DownUnderFan

      Got that right, Jim. But I am still betting one of the two is gone in trade in next 3 weeks.

      • jimfetterolf

        Quite possible. I’ld add Aaron Crow and Tim Collins to the mix. I’ld guess that short of Holland, some of the rest will move as part of a bigger trade. I’ld still trade Gordon for a bunch of prospects.

        • DownUnderFan

          Bottom line is Royals have way too much relief pitching and some need to go. Besides the current staff, have Joseph, Mariot and Dwyer who could all fill roles.

          Hochevar, Davis and Holland are the prime candidates to provide salary relief. But Crow and Collins could also go.

          However, I think Moore will have to give up at least one of his young starters as well. Whether it is Duffy, Ventura, Dwyer, or Possibly Adam or Almonte will depend on how soon the trading team needs help.

      • jimfetterolf

        Don’t think Duffy or Ventura is moved, was thinking Holland and Hoch. My bad.

  • DownUnderFan

    Look for at least one of Duffy or Ventura along with Hochevar, Davis and/or Crow or Herrara to be traded in the next 3 weeks as Dayton finds someone to trade him a power hitter and shed some salary. That could thin out the bullpen a little, or just give Joseph and Mariot an opening to move up.

    I will not be surprised if Chen is signed back or Dwyer or Smith fill the last starting spot (the part time spot) for the first two months until Zimmer or Adams can make the jump.

  • moretrouble

    The idea that the bullpen is so good that KC doesn’t need it any longer is flawed. Yost doesn’t have many choices, day to day, about who is used in a particular game. The consistency KC developed last year in the second half was due, in part, to the depth of the bullpen; depth in the rotation, too. Why mess with success?

    Sure, KC can trade away some of the lesser used people because they can be replaced. But, the main guys? KC should make sure trading from a position of strength doesn’t mean taking away their strength.