Coming off a season that yielded just 72 wins, it may surprise some that the Kansas City Royals entered spring training with very few positions up for grabs.
Still, they need to decide who will be pegged to see the most time at second base, and who will emerge as the team’s fifth starter.
While it is likely that some sort of platoon will take place at second base between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella, Kansas City really needs to find a consistent arm at the back of its rotation.
After an aggressive offseason to upgrade their starting pitching (trading for James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana, and re-signing Jeremy Guthrie), the Royals were left with a handful of familiar faces to battle it out for the final spot.
Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza were all leading candidates for the spot, while Will Smith and Yordano Ventura were long shots.
With just two weeks before the 2013 season kicks off, the Royals announced that Hochevar would be moved to the bullpen (via KansasCity.com). Kansas City also deciding to send Smith and Ventura to the Minor Leagues in order to maintain consistent work as the season approaches.
So now only two options remain: Mendoza and Chen.
Who should be the Royals' No. 5 starter to open the season?
In Chen, the Royals have a fan favorite who has seen nominal success with the team over the past few seasons
However, he took a step back in 2012 posting a 5.07 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. His spring stats are not very encouraging at the moment either: 7.90 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and seven home runs allowed in 13.2 innings.
Chen’s $4.5 million salary and the fact that he is a lefty will also be considered. As it stands, the Royals have no left-handed pitchers in the rotation.
Mendoza embodies more of a wild-card than Chen, as his track record is much shorter but the upside is much greater. Through three spring appearances, he has tallied a .82 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP with just two walks and eight strikeouts in 11 innings.
If the last impression indicates who currently leads for the fifth spot, Mendoza—who is coming off a five-inning, four-hit and four-strikeout performance in Sunday’s 10-0 win over the Chicago White Sox—is running laps around Chen.
While it may come down to preference, this decision could ultimately determine whether the Royals are ready to take that next step forward as a team.
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