KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One of the many questions facing the Royals this off-season will be what to do with right-hander Wade Davis.
The answer seems somewhat obvious: Davis has been far more effective during his career as a reliever. And this season has provided more evidence of that.
As a starter this season, Davis simply has been hard to watch. He went 6-10 with a 5.67 ERA, with one of the worst WHIPs (1.75) this side of Jonathan Sanchez.
As hard as the Royals tried to make him a starter again this season — remember, he excelled in the bullpen last year with Tampa Bay — it simply didn’t work.
And manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore finally had no choice but to get Davis out of harm’s way as a starter and into the bullpen two weeks ago.
Again, Davis has shown he excels in that relief role. Granted, it’s a small sample size with just three games, but he is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP.
Davis, likely the most soft-spoken Royal in the clubhouse, took the news of his “demotion” in stride.
“(Yost) just told me I needed to go to the bullpen,” Davis said, almost whispering. “I needed to make some minor adjustments.”
But how did Davis feel about the switch?
“It is what it is right now,” he said. “Just trying to move on.”
If Davis continues to pitch well out of the ‘pen, the Royals may have another one of those seemingly tricky decisions in the off-season, the same decision they will have to make with Luke Hochevar and Will Smith: Do they force them back into the rotation or accept that they simply are more productive in relief?
“Those are all things we’ll worry about after the season,” Moore said. “This isn’t the time (to discuss) when we’re in a playoff chase.”
Much will depend on what Moore does to bolster the starting rotation. Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen are pending free agents, and if the Royals lose both of those veterans, they will have two major holes to fill.
You can bet that Davis, Smith and Hochevar will be anxious to fill those roles.
But I’m not sure it would be wise to even entertain that notion. The Royals have the best bullpen in the American League, and we know how vital that component is, especially for this offensively challenged team that plays so many tight games.
And one of the reasons the Royals have the best bullpen in the league is because of the brilliant transitions to the ‘pen by Hochevar, Smith and now Davis.
Tinkering with that success could come back to haunt the Royals in 2014.
And the Royals certainly don’t want to fall into the trap of forcing issues by believing some players are something they actually are not. (To wit: The Royals finally have backed off trying to force Alcides Escobar into a No. 2 hitting role when all the statistical proof suggests he is better down in the order.)
Still, I understand the difficult situation Moore is in. He has to solve the rotation riddle first and foremost, and there could be some gaping holes if Santana and Chen part ways with the Royals.
If Santana and Chen leave, the Royals will come back with James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Danny Duffy at the top of the rotation, and then pray for solutions from within such as prospects Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer. One Royals official told me Zimmer progressed so rapidly this season that he could fit into the starting rotation by next spring.
Meanwhile, the Royals’ front office will have to swallow some pride regarding Davis, whom they thought could be a legitimate starter and thus strengthen the public acceptance of the blockbuster Wil Myers trade.
But forcing Davis into the rotation and watching him fail there could be an even bigger public relations issue for the Royals.
As for Davis, he simply shrugs his shoulders when asked about his preference.
“We’ll see what happens in spring,” he said. “I know I was up and down as a starter this year. But hey, at the end of the day, I just want to pitch in the big leagues.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.