KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the second straight offseason, the Royals went scouring through the Angels’ rotation looking for help.
And the Royals can only hope that this year’s acquisition — left-hander Jason Vargas — can match the success of last year’s — right-hander Ervin Santana, for whom general manager Dayton Moore traded and who responded by throwing 211 innings with a 3.24 ERA.
Vargas comes to the Royals through free agency — a four-year deal signed Thursday worth $32 million — and likely will take the spot almost certainly to be vacated by Santana, who is seeking a five-year deal worth $112 million.
Santana’s sticker price seems like a reach for the Royals’ pocket books, and for the first time, Moore seemed to acknowledge that Thursday.
“It would be a difficult maneuver for us,” Moore said of re-signing Santana. “We’ll see. We’ll certainly stay engaged in the process.”
Moore also conceded that his priority now will be to “get a bat through free agency or a trade,” which may mean the Royals are done shopping for pitching. And that means next year’s rotation likely will start with James Shields, then Vargas and then Jeremy Guthrie, with the final two spots up for grabs among Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Wade Davis, Kyle Zimmer, Will Smith and Luke Hochevar.
Moore also did not rule out the possibility of re-signing Bruce Chen, who solidified the bottom of the rotation after the All-Star break in 2013.
The signing of Vargas, 30, came quickly this week, and likely was spurred by the fact the Royals lost out on two other free agents who signed elsewhere this week. Former Braves right-hander Tim Hudson signed with the Giants, and former Blue Jays starter Josh Johnson signed with the Padres. The Royals had serious interest in both.
“No question that those moves gave us a sense of urgency,” Moore said.
And the Royals even upped their offer from three years to four years to Vargas, giving him a lengthy contract not seen among pitchers with the Royals since Moore signed Gil Meche to a five-year deal in 2006.
“It was believed in the industry that if he was going to get just a three-year deal, he would have stayed in Los Angeles,” Moore said. “And we didn’t have a problem going to four based on our scouting and on our medical reports.”
Vargas, who made $8.5 million last season, even admitted he may have sacrificed more money in free agency to lock into a longer deal.
“It was very important to me to have the longevity,” said Vargas, who will wear No. 51 with the Royals. “That was important and so was the type of team I was going to go to. I was always very impressed with Kansas City, the community, when I played here and how we were treated even as out-of-town players.”
Vargas leaned on former Royal Mike Sweeney, another Southern California resident, to give him a scouting report on Kansas City.
“I know they have a good, exciting young team,” Vargas said. “And I knew they have a spectacular defense — three Gold Gloves. But Mike also filled me in on the community and I was sold. Mike doesn’t say things that aren’t true.”
The Royals, meanwhile, did their due diligence, too, by talking to Sweeney as well, and by talking to new bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who managed Vargas in Seattle. Vargas pitched four seasons with the Mariners.
“Every report we got was a positive one,” Moore said. “We know we got a guy who can pitch a lot of innings and compete and get guys out. We really felt like he was a perfect fit for our rotation and for our ballpark.”
Vargas missed two months last season when he had to have a blood clot removed from his left armpit area but said he is fine now, and Moore said his medical people agreed.
Before the surgery, though, Vargas was on his way to a fabulous season. He was the American League pitcher of the month in May, when he went 5-0 and threw two shutouts. He also beat the Royals twice during that span, allowing the Royals just four runs in 14 1/3 innings.
Vargas did struggle at times upon his return from surgery but still threw a late-season, four-hit shutout of Oakland. He finished the season 9-8 with a 4.02 ERA. His best year came in Seattle in 2012, when he went 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA.
“He’s got quality stuff and he can paint the corners,” Moore said. “We feel certain we’ve improved our rotation.”
After adding Vargas to the 40-man roster, the Royals designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at email@example.com.