Royals Trying to Sort Out Rotation

The Royals are on the market for an ace, and acquiring one could give their rotation a vastly different – and improved – look from their April visions.

It’s not often at this point in the season a team with as healthy a lead in the standings as the Kansas City Royals currently enjoy also has so many question marks surrounding its pitching rotation.

The Royals are 57-37 and 6.5 games ahead of second-place Minnesota in the American League Central. Somehow, they simultaneously are in need of starting pitching, yet may have more starters than spots in the rotation. It’s quite the interesting dynamic in Kansas City, where the Royals keep on winning despite having no ace and injuries continuing to plague their best young arms.

Tuesday, the Royals optioned Opening Day starter Yordano Ventura to Triple-A Omaha to make room for Jason Vargas, who was coming off an injury. Vargas lasted less than two innings before heading back to the disabled list with a torn UCL, which means Tommy John surgery in his future.

So Ventura is back from the minors before he ever left, but a spot in the rotation for the talented, but struggling, right-hander is hardly guaranteed, especially if Kansas City makes a trade for a frontline starter.

MLB: OCT 11 ALCS - Royals at Orioles - Game 2

There’s plenty of buzz the Royals are trying to acquire Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels or David Price or…you get the idea. The rumors make sense with the lack of a true No. 1 on the staff, especially with the situations in right field and second base feeling less desperate than they did a few weeks ago.

So say, for the sake of an example, the Royals bring in Cueto. That leaves Kansas City with Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy, Chris Young, Ventura, Jeremy Guthrie and Joe Blanton, who have all been in starting roles for significant parts of the season. There’s also Kris Medlen, who was solid in his return from Tommy John surgery this week who could eventually work his way into the rotation.

Duffy has been fantastic since returning from the disabled list. Volquez (9-5, 3.15 ERA) and Young (8-6, 3.21 ERA) have given the Royals everything they could reasonably expect from a pair of crafty veterans.

Looking at the bullpen, along with Medlen there is the HDH trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Obviously, none of those three are in danger of losing their job anytime soon. The middle relief crew includes Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales and Luke Hochevar, none of which have minor league options left and all too valuable to let go.

The simple fact that there can only be 25 on the active roster makes it seem likely the Royals could be willing to include a Major League pitcher in a trade for an ace.

At first glance, it might look like Blanton and Guthrie are prime candidates to be the odd men out. Yet Blanton displayed his worth Tuesday night when he worked long relief in place of the injured Vargas, throwing three and two-third scoreless innings. With Guthrie, everyone remembers the few outings in which he was severely roughed up, but overall he’s done a better job of giving the offense an opportunity to win than Ventura.

08 SEPTEMBER 2014:  Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (11) looks for the pitch sign during a regular season game between the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers played at Comerica Park in Detroit, MI.

There’s also the simple fact that Ventura is the one with minor league options left, so sending him to Omaha is a relatively risk-free venture. Not to mention that such career detours worked out quite well for Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and others in the relatively recent past.

If and when a trade is made, Kansas City is looking at a rotation much different than the one envisioned in April, when “Ace” Ventura seemed worthy of the nickname. Could the Royals head down the stretch with Cueto (or Price or Hamels etc.) followed by Duffy, Medlen, Volquez and Young?

That’s an intriguing thought, and looks a whole lot more like a championship rotation than what the Royals have pieced together throughout the season thus far. Blanton and Guthrie would make nice additions to an already loaded bullpen.

It can be difficult to come to grips with a healthy Ventura potentially sitting out a Royals run to the postseason, but these are the kinds of moves a contending team sometimes has to make. The Vargas injury, while potentially devastating in the long term, actually had the short-term benefit of saving Kansas City from having to make another tough decision like designating Blanton for assignment.

It may not be what they were initially expecting, but it all has potential to work out quite well for the Royals.

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