Who Will Win Battle for 5th Starter Job?


Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s spring (probably not where you are, but somewhere). Time to play ball – starting tomorrow for Royals fans!

A lot of people are saying this year feels different. It certainly does to me. Maybe this is the year we finally get to shake the “long-suffering” tag that often precedes the designation “Royals fans”. September may yet break our hearts, but as of right now – we’re contenders (and no, that’s not just the percocet talking).

The Royals begin spring games with few questions. Barring injuries, the opening day line-up is pretty well set. Other than who will win the back-up catcher job, and what will happen with our surplus of live arms in the bullpen, the most intriguing decision for management will revolve around the fifth starter’s job.

Given Ned Yost‘s comments about the recently re-signed Bruce (effin’) Chen, the first four spots appear locked up by James Shields, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, and the Panamanian Wizard. But there’s no shortage of candidates vying for that final slot, and the decision won’t be an easy one. There’s a lot at stake for the players. The average salary for starting pitchers is about 3X that of relievers. That’s a lot of coinage, to say the least.

The primary contenders are Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, and Kyle Davies (just kidding Dayton – don’t get any ideas). Brad Penny, a 35 year-old vet trying to make a comeback after having pitched only 28 innings in the big leagues since 2011 (none in 2013), is a long-shot candidate. And Kyle Zimmer is being brought along slowly, possibly as a late-season rotation boost, a replacement for anyone who tires or falters.

I believe the final decision will most likely come down to Duffy or Ventura. Hochevar and Davis both excelled in the pen last year, and could be valuable as primary set-up men for our All-Star closer. They’ve already failed as starters. And both are vets who could always be re-slotted to start later in the year if needed, in the event of injuries.

I think Ned, who has just as much at stake as any of the players involved, will go with Ventura. A 100 mph live fastball is just too good to pass on. And even though Ned will probably call him “Yordy” or “Venty”, how could he not go with the guy whose obvious nickname is “Ace”?

Considering the comments by Yost and Duffy in this recent article by Dick Kaegel at kcroyals.com, I think the decision may already have all but been made. Duffy will make a good bullpen better, with another left-hander option to complement Collins, and like Hochevar and Davis, could always be stretched out for starting duty later in the year if the need arises.

Regardless of how it all turns out, 2014 feels like a long way from the dark days, when Scott Elarton was our opening day starter. Or Jose Lima. Or Brian Anderson. Just thinking about those days makes me want to reach for more of the percocet. I’ll pick-up the refill today, just in case.