It's an easy headline that could apply to any team for sure. I'll admit that up front. Every team could use an arm like Justin Verlander. After all, history has written so few stories about the MLB player who pitches well enough to win the Cy Young and take the MVP trophy home as well. But this isn't about someone as super-human as Verlander. It's about the Detroit Tigers having an ace in their deck -- a card the Royals can't seem to find anywhere.
The steps taken this season so far by Danny Duffy are positive, and the team has reason to hope that he turns into a solid starter every fifth day. They also have live arms that can look promising as well, but those timelines will come later this season or even over the next several. But for right now, the Royals have an ace-sized problem that will not go away. Until they do, the notion that the team can be competitive will be an elusive one.
Dayton Moore did well to trade for Jonathan Sanchez using the Melky Cabrera trade chip. Sanchez has the right "stuff" and it's a good flier to take a guy with the upside enough to throw a no-hitter and look good amid the loaded Giants staff. Thus far, however, Sanchez has been the same volatile product since the start of spring training that he's been throughout his career -- short sample size with KC notwithstanding.
Bruce Chen? Luke Hochevar? Luis Mendoza? Felipe Paulino? None of these names conjure up images of the ace that so many teams are missing. Tonight the Royals got a solid pitching performance from Duffy, Aaron Crow and Greg Holland, but it just wasn't good enough. The reason? The ace was better.
"It was a big task facing Verlander," said Royals manager Ned Yos after the game. "We gave him a good game, but it's not the way we wanted it to end."
While there are precious few pitchers of Verlander's stature, there are a few ace-type pitchers available here and there. You just have to break the bank to get them. The Nationals sent a load of players to the A's for the chance to harness Gio Gonzalez's stuff. The Cincinnati Reds sent even more to the Padres for the chance to rely on Mat Latos. Whether those deals were good or not, there's a reason that GMs are making them: the value of an ace is over-the-top if your team somehow can't manufacture one yourself.
Unfortunately as good as the Royals system is, it doesn't even resemble a fellow miserable franchise like the Pirates. Pittsburgh has Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and others waiting in the wings with a number of guys that look to anchor a rotation. The Royals are loaded with position players, but the pitching has yet to match the rhythm.
Give the Royals another year to nurture more talent and they might have enough to make the mega-deal to bring in the ace pitcher. After all, the Nationals' own general manager Mike Rizzo stated that they could not have made the Gio trade just a year ago. The Royals can also hope that another year of growth finds an elite pitcher emerging from the farm. But something has to give and it has to start soon or else the Royals will continue to run into the products of other teams -- and find themselves in the loss column because of it.