The Kansas City Royals might be one of the most young, exciting teams in the Major Leagues, but it’s also clear they still have much to prove. The starting rotation is not up to par with any playoff caliber team and it’s there that much of the focus has come this off-season — with the resigning of Bruce Chen as well as the Jonathan Sanchez trade for Melky Cabrera. They’ve been rumored on a number of other pitchers via trade or free agency, so it’s possible they might kick the tires on a new name that’s become available — but they’d be better off to leave it alone.
Joe Saunders is one of the latest free agents on the free agent market after being let go by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Coming off of a career year, the 30-year-old will net millions from someone. And he deserves a nice paycheck. He went 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA last season in 212 innings. He’s pitched at or near 200 innings the last four seasons, so he’s definitely a model of consistency and teams can never have enough dependable pitching. So the Royals should make a bid right? Well, maybe not.
Saunders also comes with some unimpressive peripherals that equal more baserunners allowed than what any manager can feel comfortable. The reality is that Saunders, when pitching in the AL, usually settles in at a mid-4 clip in ERA. His career WHIP is 1.374 yet he also can’t blow by hitters with his stuff (as illustrated by a 1.75 career K/BB ratio). In short, when these contract years come around for Saunders, he finds a way to allow a half-run or so less per game. Other than that, he comes out rather middling in his results.
Now there’s a time and place for those guys and the Royals could definitely use an innings-eater. But they also have to understand they’re not getting a sub-4 pitcher who can anchor they’re staff. They’re instead adding a solid No. 3 or 4 starter. And don’t they already have some candidates for those slots? If they’re going to drop the millions, they need to amp it up a bit more and grab an Oswalt for a lesser commitment than what Saunders will demand.
The hopes are that in the next two or three years, some of these young arms take over the top of the rotation. In the meantime, Saunders is going to command more money than what he’s worth for the Royals. The Royals are learning to buy-low (a la Sanchez, Broxton) and Saunders would reverse that course.