PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 17: Paul Maholm #28 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the St Louis Cardinals during the game on August 17, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Looking ahead at the free agent market for this winter, it appears the Royals will likely have to work out a trade to obtain a quality starter for the 2012 season.
The always great MLBTradeRumors has a list of the upcoming free agents for 2012 and 2013 that is continuously updated and going into the offseason, one area of need for the Royals is certainly looking at upgrading the starting pitching stuff. As of now the Royals are set to lose Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen to free agency.
In house, it was been talked about in the media that the Royals may look at moving either Aaron Crow or Greg Holland to the rotation. Crow was predominately a starter until the last year, so it wouldn't hurt to give him a look in spring training, but with the numbers and the type of thrower Holland is, he has closer type stuff and could be an heir apparent to Joakim Soria down the road. Crow throws a changeup which would assist him in the rotation, while Holland with fastball (including a split-finger variation), slider, and curveball. Both pitchers runs their fastball at roughly 95 mph averages.
Looking over the list of pitchers who will be free agent next year shows a veteran group that goes against the Royals philosophy. While it would be beneficial to the younger pitchers such as Danny Duffy to have a veteran presence, the ones the Royals could afford are likely to be retread types.
Browsing over the list, the ten names I find most intriguing by are:
Zach Duke (29 next season)
Jeff Francis (30)
Rich Harden (30)
Paul Maholm (30)
Mark Buehrle (33)
Chris Capuano (33)
Jason Marquis (33)
Joel Pineiro (33)
Chris Young (33)
Brad Penny (34)
Outside of Buehrle, there aren't any star players on the list that would be impact game changing pitchers next season for the Royals. However many on the list can be serviceable if signed to small one or two year contracts.
Duke is 3-4 in 17 games (nine starts) for the Diamondbacks this season, with a 4.01 FIP, however if healthy he could potentially eat up some innings at the back end of the rotation on a cheap contract. Another reason I like Duke on the cheap is his home run ratio this year per every nine innings pitched is just 0.76. That number would lead the Royals starting staff this year as Felipe Paulino has a 0.78 ratio this season to lead Kansas City,
Francis is 4-14 with the Royals this season, but his 3.98 FIP shows he hasn't been as bad as the record alone indicates. Much like Duke, Francis likely could be resigned rather cheap and if all goes well could potentially be trade bait if the Royals receive any boost next season from any starting pitchers currently in the minor league system (as of now I wouldn't bank on it for 2012).
Harden is a wild card as he is often injured but has a career strikeout rate of 9.19 per nine innings pitched.
Like Duke, Paul Maholm is another pitcher than is able to keep the ball in the park as this season he has only allowed 0.61 home runs per every nine innings pitched. His career mark is a solid 0.82. Though he is just 6-14 with the Pirates this season, his FIP is 3.76 and his 2.2 WAR would qualify as tops this season among Royals starters.
Buehrle has a career 3.14 ERA in 12 big league seasons and the St. Louis native would be a welcome addition the Royals staff. His current contract is for 4 years and $56 million, so it's not out of the question Kansas City could sign him. However, this signing would likely be just a dream.
After many years in Milwaukee, Capuano has put together a solid season for the Mets this year at 9-11 with a 4.71 ERA. I wouldn't be thrilled by any means in the Royals pursued Capuano, but being left handed it may be worth a look.
I like Marquis as he is another pitcher with a low home run rate this year (0.75) and could be a solid back of the rotation guy.
Pineiro has struggled with the Angels in 2011, posting a 5-6 record with a 4.58 FIP, but after having decent seasons in 2009 and 2010, he could be worth a look in spring training to see if he has anything left in the tank.
Though he will be 33 next year, Chris Young has always been an interesting pitcher to watch due to his 6'10" size. He's not an overly high strikeout guy and he traditionally gives up too many walks, but he is another guy worth looking at in spring training for the back of the rotation due to his size and solid career ERA (3.74).
Penny is a solid veteran that may help the younger Royals pitchers due to his big league success and having played for many winning teams over that time. As a member of the Tigers this year he is 8-9 with a 4.97 ERA. He's on the backside of his career and rarely strikes anyone out anymore, but it never hurts to see what he has left in the tank, much like Pineiro.
So as you can see the pitching that may be available to the Royals this winter doesn't look very solid. Of course Buehrle would be a great addition but due to the weak market his price will likely be inflated. Of the cheap guys Kansas City can surely afford, I like looking at Duke and Maholm the most.