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.
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.