The Kansas City Royals have improved their final standing in the American League Central in each of the past three seasons. However, in order to continue with this upward trend next season, the team must improve their starting rotation, which finished this year with a 5.01 ERA.
Fortunately, there will be players available once free agency begins that can help in this department, and whose contract demands will likely make them options given the Royals’ payroll heading into next season.
According to a recent article by Bob Dutton on KansasCity.com, Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse appear to be two of the team’s top targets once free agency begins. Given the Royals’ limited payroll flexibility and competition for these pitchers, only one will be a legitimate option this offseason.
But which one is the better target?
Lohse had a season worthy of Cy Young consideration for the St. Louis Cardinals, going 16-3 with 143 strikeouts and a 2.86 ERA. His win total and ERA ranked in the top 10 in the National League. This is the second consecutive season that the right-hander reached double-digit victories in wins.
However, this fact may also be a reason for the Royals to be cautious in their approach this offseason.
At 34 years old, Lohse has now gone 30-11 during the past two seasons. His win-loss record in the four seasons prior was 34-36. Before winning 15 games for the Cardinals in 2008, Lohse hadn’t reached double-digit victories since the 2002-2003 seasons.
According to fangraphs.com, Lohse’s SIERA score of 4.06 was the 14th-highest among qualified starting pitchers in the National League this season.
Lohse is coming off a four-year, $41 million deal that paid him over $12 million this season. Given the free-agent market for starting pitchers this offseason, Lohse can likely find a deal that will pay him more in yearly salary for another three to four years.
At 34, but coming off two of his best seasons, does Lohse make sense for the Royals as their primary target this offseason?
Then there’s Anibal Sanchez, the right-hander who has now thrown at least 195 innings in three consecutive seasons.
After being acquired by the Detroit Tigers from the Miami Marlins, Sanchez went 4-6 with 57 strikeouts and a 3.74 ERA. This season, Sanchez went 9-13 with 167 strikeouts and a 3.86 ERA. This was also the third consecutive season in which he had over 150 strikeouts. However, Sanchez has also only had one season in his career in which he had an ERA under 3.50.
Sanchez’s FIP during his last two full seasons with the Marlins, however, was 3.35 or less, according to fangraphs.com.
Sanchez will be 29 years old at the start of next season, and made $8 million this season through arbitration. Given the starting-pitching market, Sanchez has a good chance to exceed this yearly salary when he signs his free-agent deal this offseason.
Dutton’s article mentions that the Royals would like to re-sign starter Jeremy Guthrie, who will also be 34 years old at the beginning of next season.
If the Royals are going to improve their starting rotation this offseason by targeting Lohse and Sanchez, at least initially, they must consider the current makeup of their rotation. If the team is able to re-sign Guthrie and add Lohse, they will have three pitchers, including Bruce Chen, aged 34 and older.
Lohse would, however, give the Royals a No. 1 starter heading into next season.
Sanchez, on the other hand, would give the team a younger addition to their rotation to go along with prospect Jake Odorizzi, who made two starts in September. But is Sanchez able to be the team’s No. 1 starter next season? Does he fit with Odorizzi as a 1-2 punch going forward?
Dutton’s article also points out that the Royals’ payroll may push closer to $75 million this offseason, giving the team an estimated $20-$23 million to use towards improvements.
Both of these pitchers will be part of at-least-partial bidding wars between multiple teams, and both could favor signing with teams that are closer to reaching the postseason or that don’t have such stiff competition ahead of them within the division.
But with a 40-man roster with an average age of 26.5, and whose team batting average of .265 ranked No. 4 in the American League last season, the Royals can offer free agents the chance to add experience to a young and improving team, and one that could soon be within striking distance of first place in the AL Central.
It will be difficult to convince either Lohse or Sanchez to sign with the team, and money could quickly become an issue. But if the right cards fall into place, either one of these pitchers could turn into the free-agent signing that helps begin the team’s climb back towards the postseason.