KC Royals: Five options to fill Ventura’s spot in the rotation

Sep 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel (39) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel (39) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

The Royals’ rotation was unsettled before Yordano Ventura’s tragic death. Now where will Kansas City turn for starting pitching?

I take no joy in writing this column, but I think all our minds have gone there at some point during the grieving process: How will the Royals fill Yordano Ventura’s spot in the rotation?

If the season started today, Kansas City’s starting rotation would most likely look like this:

  1. Danny Duffy, LHP
  2. Ian Kennedy, RHP
  3. Jason Vargas, LHP
  4. Nate Karns, RHP
  5. Chris Young, RHP

Before Ventura’s death, Karns, Young and rookie Matt Strahm figured to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. Karns will likely be forced into the No. 4 slot now, with the Royals’ last rotation spot completely up in the air.

Here’s a look at possible rotation pieces for Kansas City after Ventura’s tragic passing:

Free agent: Jason Hammel, 34, RHP

The top starting pitcher left on the free agent market, Hammel is no spring chicken, but over the past two years with the Cubs he posted a 3.79 ERA and averaged 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings. There’s no qualifying offer attached to Hammel and he would arguably benefit as much as anyone from the Royals’ top-shelf outfield as a flyball pitcher.

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But he’s also likely in line for a three-year deal in the $35 to $45 million range, which would likely price the Royals out of his services.

Free agent: Travis Wood, 30, LHP

Despite just starting nine games over the last two years – and none in 2016 – Wood might be the next-best pitcher still without a team. Nothing against Wood, but that speaks more to the starting pitcher market than to his abilities throwing a baseball. An All-Star in 2013 when he went 9-12 with a 3.11 ERA over 200 innings, wood recorded a 2.95 ERA last year over 61 innings, all of them in relief. His last season as a full-time starter was 2014 when he went 8-13 with a 5.03 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 173 2/3 innings.

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Again, the question with Wood is salary. Would he take a discount to go somewhere like Kansas City where he’d have an opportunity to start? MLB Trade Rumors projected Wood to sign for a three-year, $21 million deal, which again sounds awful rich for the Royals.

Free agent: Doug Fister, 33, RHP

An arm Kansas City fans know well from his successful three-year run in Detroit, Fister had an uneven season with Houston in 2016, going 12-13 with a 4.64 ERA for the Astros. Never a fireballer, Fister saw his strikeout-to-walk ration plummet to 1.85 last year, easily the worst of his career.

Just as troubling, he tumbled after the first half of the season, posting a 4-7 record with a 6.20 ERA in the second half of the year.

Tampa Bay Ray: Jake Odorizzi, 26, RHP

The one-time Royal is reportedly on the trade block as Tampa Bay does what it must to reload on young talent to stay financially above water yet competitive in the A.L. East. Odorizzi had the best season of his career in 2016, going 10-6 with a 3.69 ERA and 166 strikeouts over 187 2/3 innings. Best of all, the Royals would retain control of him through the 2019 season.

The question would be what would the Royals give up and if they have the prospect or prospects to pull off a deal for a solid, middle-of-the-rotation arm like Odorizzi.

Kansas City Royals rookie: Matt Strahm, 25, LHP

A revelation out of the bullpen last year, Strahm posted a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings of relief for the Royals. The lanky lefty struck out 30 against just 11 walks in his first big league action.

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The Royals No. 2 overall prospect according to Baseball America, Strahm will still officially be a rookie as he hasn’t pitched 50 innings in the majors yet.  Just a 21st-round draft pick, he has excelled at every stop in the minors since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2014. Splitting time between A and High-A ball in 2015 Strahm had a 2.59 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 94 innings. The North Dakota native followed that up by recording a 3.43 ERA in 102.1 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas last season, fanning 107 during that stretch before getting the call-up to Kansas City.

Before the horrific accident in the Dominican Republic, Strahm was likely, but not guaranteed to stick with the Royals out of spring training. The luxury of starting him in the minors is gone now, though, as he’ll either win the No. 5 spot or work out of the bullpen for the big league club.