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Bruce Chen Re-Signing Bolsters Kansas City Royals Rotation But Help Still Needed

The Bruce Chen re-signing was a necessary one, so it’s a good move still early in the MLB off-season for the Kansas City Royals. With today as the arbitration deadline, Chen was going to get some word from the Royals today as to how they wanted to proceed this winter. Apparently he got his word, with the team going beyond offering him arbitration to actually working out a new deal worth up to $11 million over two years with incentives.

It’s a nice chunk of change for Chen, but it’s a very fair market value deal for a pitcher like Chen, especially if he’s able to give the Royals 150 innings a year of what he’s been giving them the last two seasons. In 2010-11, Chen has pitched almost exactly 300 innings, starting 48 games in that time. His value? He has a 3.96 ERA over the last two years with 195 strikeouts and 107 walks.

The bottom line is that Chen is not a frontline starter, so this should not be mistaken for a major move. Is Chen better than league average? Absolutely. He’s found a nice home here in KC with a steady groove on the mound. He’s not very inefficient (although compared to the newly acquired Jonathan Sanchez, he’s Greg Maddux) but he’s able to minimize the damage while keeping the Royals in the game through five or six innings. A rotation full of Chens? Well, that will tax your pen faster than you’d like.

That’s why the Royals still need the final anchor piece. Whether that’s Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt or another pitcher to be determind is inconsequential. The Royals just need somebody, anybody, to be that guy. While Chen and Sanchez are two solid pieces to a rotation, they can also leave a team hanging with poor starts of two or three innings and they cannot be counted on for taking the ball every fifth start and taking over a game.

The Royals have a very volatile staff. Mike Montgomery might join the ML rotation this year, but he’ll go through the same growing pains as Danny Duffy this past season. Felipe Paulino isn’t a proven commodity at this point either, and speaking of Duffy, he hopes to turn it around, but last year was very hard to watch at times. Luke Hochevar has that sort of stamina, but unfortunately he hasn’t been able to consistently get hitters out.

That makes Chen a necessary but minor move. The Royals still need the major one as much as they did before Chen. Here’s hoping the Royals have their sites set on bigger prizes so that Chen becomes complementary instead of central.