Feb 25, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) looks on during a workout at Surprise Stadium practice area Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Window Won’t Close After 2014


Sorry, the lack of position battles is making this spring training pretty slow, so when I saw this I started thinking way too far ahead and I think it is worth contemplating with 2 1/2 weeks to kill until opening day.  I promise that this isn’t all about the distant future, and in some ways gives me reason to focus on the coming season and not worry about 2015 and beyond.

Let’s start by discussing our current #1 starter, James Shields.  I set the ceiling for a Shields contract at 6 year and $110 million in the article linked, and Dave Cameron put him at 6 years and $111 million in the link in the first paragraph.  If we use that as our expected contract, then I believe we would all conclude that the Royals are going to pass.  They have never signed a contract any where near that size.

This is not surprising as I think most rational fans are expecting that this is Big Game James’ last season in KC.  What is the more important part is that next year’s rotation has to replace 200+ innings of high level production when he leaves.  One of the other people Cameron projected jumped out at me as a possible solution.

Sep 25, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Justin Masterson delivers in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Masterson has established himself as solid starting pitches.  Last year he jumped his K rate from 6.5 to 7 per 9 innings up to 9 per.  Projections have it coming back a bit, but if he has a season like the projections where the strike outs only fall to 7.5 or 8 Ks per 9 while maintaining his walk rate of 3.5 or less then I think he looks like a good option to replace Shields.  He is a bit less of a pitcher, but the price makes up for it as his projection in the article is 4 years and $58 million.  That seems reasonable for a #2 starter, and something that the Royals should be able to stomach since Shields’ $13.5 million this year will be leaving.

In some ways I would prefer Masterson because he is 3 years younger than James, and if you get to shave a couple of years off of that contract that reduces the chances that you end up with a giant albatross of a contract on your hands.  For this to lead to the Royals as consistent contenders in 2015 and the next several years it will take more than signing Masterson though.  What this signing would signal is that they are intending to have one of the internal guys to be the staff ace.  Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Kyle Zimmer, or recently Sean Manaea are the guys that are going to be pointed to.  If one can become a top of the rotation stud, and another a #3 with Masterson in between, then 2015-2018 could see the Royals with very consistent starting pitching that would be relatively cheap.

All of this discussion is predicated on players being what we expect them to be in 2014, and one long season can change many things.  It does mean something for this year too.  I have heard the feeling from some Royals commentators and fans that this year is playoffs or bust, and that the window will close with the departure of Shields.  This says to me that this is an unreasonable concern.  The core hitters will all be back next year, and a solid free agent like Masterson along with some young guys, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie could lead to a reasonable rotation next year.

Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Omar Infante are under control through 2017, Alex Gordon through 2015, Mike Moustakas or Hunter Dozier or Cheslor Cuthbert could man 3B throughout that period, and we have guys like Jorge Bonifacio and Adalberto Mondesi that could bring more talent as well.  The window is not closing after 2014, or at least it shouldn’t be.  The only thing Dayton Moore will need to do next off-season to keep optimism rolling is find a way to patch the hole left by the departure of James Shields.

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  • jimfetterolf

    The team is being constructed so that the window stays open, just like the Rays. Just keep reloading and aim for the point that a homegrown Shields can be peddled off for more prospects.

    • Brian Henry

      Yes, but saying you want to be the Rays and actually doing it are two different things.

      • jimfetterolf

        True, but the Rays didn’t become the Rays by signing a bunch of FAs or trading prospects. They let veterans go and took the draft picks and prospects. After several years of high drafts it finally clicked and has become self-sustaining. That’s the Royals’ goal.

        • Bert45

          The Royals can’t afford to have misses in the draft if they want to achieve that goal. The 2010 draft still kills me with the Harvey and Sale drafted behind Colon. No disrespect to Colon intended as he looks like hes improving but not enough to overcome those 2, franchise type, #1 studs drafted after him. Everyone is hoping Bubba still comes through but the 3 guys drafted directly after him, Rendon (Nats) Bradley (D-Backs) and Lindor (Tribe) are way ahead of Starling. Not to mention Sonny Gray at #18. 2012 draft looks great with Zimmer, 2013 draft looks outstanding with Dozier and Manaea!! Keep it rolling with the 4 high picks in the 2014 draft. The Royals, to their credit, have done an outstanding job in Latin America which helps offset some of the above misses. The Farm system has to be the heart of this organization and supplement with a Free Agent/trade here or there to achieve the goal.

          • jimfetterolf

            Colon was drafted for need, usually a mistake, and Sale, like Lincecum, was scary for the old school scouts with his mechanics. I watch him and expect his elbow to blow with every throw. Didn’t Harvey have TJS? Scouts might have seen that coming with mechanics. Clubs scare easily at $5m.

            I read quite a bit on the Bubba draft and he was based on ceiling as a five tool player, the holy grail of position players. At the time it wasn’t considered a reach. This year may tell us if it was a mistake. He has physical gifts but looked like bad Hosmer in some video I’ve seen, awkward stride and swing.

  • KCMOWHOA

    The continued success of the team will be directly related to how many of our current pitching prospects pan out as at least middle of the rotation MLB starters. We’ve developed almost no starting pitchers during Moore’s regime and it has crippled what otherwise was a strong system of building from within. Imagine a Royals’ team with a couple of developed starting pitchers currently in the majors. It may have negated the entire Shields trade, and Myers would be in RF. And Odorizzi would be knocking on the door of being a back of the rotation starter.

    As far as Masterson, I think he’s a bit overrated. Last season (which was a break out year for him by any definition) he became inconsistent down the stretch and I think was hurt at least once. He had some impressive shoutouts in the first half, but a handful of times later on he blew up and allowed 5+ runs. I’m talking from memory here so correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Brian Henry

      Not almost, Moore’s regime has developed 0 starters. Barring catastrophic injuries I don’t think that will be the case in the next two years. Masterson was better in 2011 than he was last year, and he isn’t perfect which is why he is not the front of a successful rotation but the second or third option if the young guys can take the lead. He had 8 games with 5 or more runs last year, Shields had 4 for reference, but again that’s why we won’t be able to afford Shields.