Coming off a World Series title, the Kansas City Royals have, for the most part, kept their championship roster together. However, it’s still an industry run by money so while the Kansas City Royals were able to retain some key pieces, namely Alex Gordon, they did lose veteran Johnny Cueto who they acquired from the Cincinnati Reds at the deadline last year. The 30-year-old signed a lucrative six-year, $130 million contract with the San Francisco Giants in December.
Losing Cueto, along with Jason Vargas slated to miss most of the year with Tommy John has left an open spot in the Royals rotation. It’s pretty well agreed that barring any injuries, Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy and Kris Medlen will make up the top four in the Kansas City rotation come April. For the fifth spot though, there’s four viable options the Royals could elect to go with.
The most likely option for the Royals to go with would be Danny Duffy. He’s 27 years old and already has a fair amount of experience as a starting pitcher. The worry that does arise with Duffy is his less than stellar 2015 campaign which saw his ERA jump from 2.53 in 2014 to 4.08. His strikeout total dropped by 11 and his WHIP rose from 1.11 to 1.39. The other factor that must be considered with the California native is whether or not Kansas City may want him to pitch in for a short-handed bullpen that will be missing Greg Holland and Ryan Madson. While Duffy has primarily been a starter, he has worked out of the pen on numerous occasions, so it’s not outlandish to suggest Ned Yost may consider putting him there for depth.
The next option is veteran Chris Young. After struggling to make it with the Washington Nationals in 2013 while battling injuries, the tall, lanky starter made a comeback with the Seattle Mariners in 2014 and had a very nice year as a back-end starter. As a result, he was rewarded with a solid contract from the Royals and responded with career-lows in ERA and WHIP. Then the playoffs came along, and the big man produced two solid starts and two solid bullpen appearances. As mentioned earlier, the Royals are a little low on bullpen arms and considering Chris Young pitched out of the bullpen a fair amount last year, he may be a more likely candidate for that job than Danny Duffy. Young may not have the durability to last a full season in the rotation. He’s likely more suited for a swingman role between the ‘pen and rotation.
The final name to consider is former Atlanta Braves starter Mike Minor. The 28-year-old lefty is an interesting case to say the least. After a great 2013 campaign, his production fell of significantly in 2014 and he posted a measly 6-12 record with a bloated 4.77 ERA and only 120 strikeouts. When 2015 rolled around, Minor felt shoulder discomfort early on and wound up needing surgery for a torn labrum, costing him the season.
Despite that checkered medical past, the Royals signed him to a two-year, $7.25 million contract with a $10 million club option for 2018. Realistically though, it’s hard to see the Tennessee native making the rotation unless he has some kind of special spring. Coming off injury, and with other candidates ahead of him, there’s a good chance that Mike Minor either finds himself in the bullpen or down in Triple-A working back towards the big leagues.
Without a doubt, it’ll be an interesting race to keep an eye on. On top of three names listed, there’s also outside shots for youngsters Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford though it’s most likely Miguel Almonte ends up in the bullpen again, and Christian Binford likely starts in Triple-A. As of right now, Duffy has the best shot at claiming the fifth spot, but so much can happen between now and April that it’s tough to say what the end result will ultimately be.