In disarray and disrepair, the KC Royals’ starting rotation needs some help.
Who is in Kansas City’s starting rotation isn’t an easy question to answer. Mike Minor, leading the team with six wins, definitely is, and so is Brady Singer who’s displayed signs of improvement in two of his last three starts. Brad Keller belongs, but a fifth straight poor outing (he’s given up 21 runs in 20.1 innings over his last four) could alter his status.
And Danny Duffy appears to be at least a part-time rota member—Manager Mike Matheny suggested to The Kansas City Star’s Lynn Worthy that he’ll get some starts, but also pitch out of the bullpen while working his way back from spending over a month on the Injured List. Kris Bubic drifts in and out of the starting five. Matheny has successfully used Kyle Zimmer as an “opener,” but whether he’s a starter is a matter of perspective.
This club needs another reliable rotation member. But where to find one?
Their own pitching inventory is the easiest and preferred source, but the Royals have tried that this season. Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar, the organization’s No. 2 and No. 5 MLB Pipeline prospects, didn’t survive long: Lynch went 0-2, 15.75 in three starts, and Kowar 0-2, 18.00 in two starts and a three inning relief appearance. Both are back in Triple-A.
Help could also come from hot prospect Daniel Tillo who, but for last summer’s Tommy John surgery, might be in the rotation now. The KC Royals sent him on a rehabilitation assignment Sunday. Whether he makes it to Kansas City this season depends on how he recovers and progresses; if the club does promote him, though, it will probably come too late to help it get back into contention.
Jakob Junis is another internal option after starting for most of four seasons before this one, but he’s been subpar this season (2-3, 5.19) and now works alongside Lynch and Kowar at Omaha, where he’s 0-1, 3.52 in three starts.
Should the Royals turn to the market for rotation help? They certainly could, but Royal custom isn’t to go big on premium outside help when not in serious contention, and good help would cost the club dearly in personnel, money, or both.
So it is that Junis may be the club’s best option at this point. Kansas City’s current 20 games in 20 days slate, with no scheduled time off until the All-Star Break, means a full five-man rotation is ideal, so Junis’ experience and ability to go somewhat long (he averages almost six innings per start) could help.
The Royals might also consider a minor trade, but that isn’t likely.
Making these needed moves won’t guarantee success for the 2021 KC Royals.
Unfortunately, baseball moves guarantee nothing, especially with a franchise hesitant to take big risks and spend big money. The rotation and hitters won’t improve overnight if the Royals replace Cal Eldred and Terry Bradshaw, but the changes must be made. Making Edward Olivares, Jarrod Dyson, and Hunter Dozier everyday outfielders isn’t going to assure October baseball in Kansas City, but stability should help. And finding another starter won’t bring the club a pennant, only a few more wins.
But unless Kansas City changes course and defies its conservative past, or reels off a couple of long winning streaks to get deep into contention, those kinds of changes will be the ones made. And for now, they’re better than nothing.
The KC Royals open a four game road series with American League East leader Boston tonight. Time will tell whether any changes are made before first pitch, or even during the series. But some must be made soon.