Royals could search to fill starting rotation

KANSAS CITY – We all know the No. 1 priority for Royals general manager Dayton Moore this off-season is to find one, hopefully two, quality pitchers for the 2013 rotation.

Though manager Ned Yost said recently he’d be happy going into the 2013 season with the same team he has now, the reality is the Royals cannot afford to roll the dice with just the rotation candidates they have now.

The good news is that Moore has indicated management (owner David Glass) will give him the resources this winter to get the job done.

While a trade is always a possibility, to get a front-line starter would require giving up major talent in return. And the feeling here is that Moore and the organization do not want to disrupt the best thing they have going for them – a young, talented and exciting crop of position players.

That leaves us with the free-agent market, and while I agree completely with Moore’s assessment that free-agency is the wrong way to build a winner in a small market, the Royals simply have no choice if they want to improve upon their 72 wins in 2012. Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino could be front-line starters, but they are both recovering from Tommy John surgeries and aren’t likely to contribute until 2014.

Left-handed prospect John Lamb, who had the same surgery two years ago, could be the surprise addition to he 2013 rotation. But there’s nothing certain there, either.

That leaves the Royals with Luis Mendoza, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, Jake Odorizzi, Will Smith and perhaps someone from the bullpen to be converted into a starter. That’s hardly a cast of hurlers that will spur confidence in the fan base.

Moore would seem to have no choice but to go fishing in the free-agent market, starting with the team’s own free-agent, Jeremy Guthrie.

Here’s a look at some of the free-agent candidates who may nor may not fit with the Royals:

Jeremy Guthrie: Really a must-sign for the Royals. Letting go the one pitcher who was virtually dominant the last two months of the season will antagonize an already frustrated fan base. The good news is that at age 34, Guthrie may not attract the attention of the big spenders, which could keep the price down for the Royals. A two-year, $18 million deal may do the trick.

Zack Greinke: The former Royal will be financially out of reach, even if you could convince him to return to the organization that drafted him and nurtured him through some tough personal times. Zack is likely headed for a $100 million contract. It’d be the story of the year if the Royals even got in line for the Zack sweepstakes.

Edwin Jackson: Just 29, Jackson has only so-so numbers but most scouts think he has finally become a pitcher instead of a thrower. He made $11 million this year for the Nationals and will be looking for a three-year deal in the $35-40 million range. Possible fit in KC.

Jake Peavy: Peavy is 31 and probably heading back to the White Sox. He has a $22 million option for 2013, but the buyout is a little less than $4 million, so presumably the White Sox will take that, and try to re-sign him at a more affordable. The Royals might make some inquiries here – they’ve seen him enough to know what they would be getting. A rotation with Guthrie and Peavy at the top would be better than anything Royals fans have seen in awhile.

Anibal Sanchez: The 29-year-old right-hander from the Tigers has been talked about on sports radio in KC as a candidate for the Royals’ rotation, but I can’t really see it. I’m not suggesting he’s a Jonathan Sanchez type, but Anibal Sanchez also had command issues (a 1.65 WHIP) in Detroit and it would be a risky signing that could blow up in Moore’s face.

Ryan Dempster: At 35 years old, Dempster’s just not a great fit here. Had a good start in 2012 with the Cubs, then was a bit shaky with the Rangers. Too much risk, not enough reward.

Dan Haren: It will be interesting to see what the Angels do with Haren. He has a $15 million option but the Angels could buy him out for about one-fourth of that. He’s 32 and even with back issues over the last two years, he’s been solid and consistent. Not a bad short-term fix in KC, if you could talk him into it.

Shaun Marcum: Plenty of Royals fans rooting for Marcum to wind up here because he’s from Excelsior Springs. The problem is, Marcum could be a big risk in terms of injury. While he seemed to have recovered from elbow surgery three years ago, he did experience elbow tightness throughout 2012. That could be a red flag. Very competitive on the mound and he could be affordable – but as I said, risky.

Ervin Santana: Only 30 and still has a live arm, but the production hasn’t been there. Angels will probably pass on his $13 million option. Someone, though, will take a chance on a multi-year deal and perhaps the Royals gamble that Dave Eiland can fix him. Could be affordable.

Brandon McCarthy: When healthy, a front-line starter with the A’s. He’s only 29 but he’s battled a ton of injuries, and that, of course, makes him risky. But he’d be priced in the Guthrie range and would be a good small-market fit.

Gavin Floyd: Another White Sox pitcher the Royals know quite well. The Sox hold a $10 million option for 2013 but could decide to pass. His numbers have faded the last few years but he’s only 30, and he hasn’t had any major injuries recently. Wouldn’t take a huge investment.