Pitching was the Royals' strength in a surprisingly successful 2013 season.
Management aims to keep the staff strong into the future.
Filling the slot vacated when right-hander Ervin Santana hit the free agent market, the Royals signed free agent left-hander Jason Vargas to the four-year, $32 million contract Nov. 21.
Vargas went 9-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts for the Los Angeles Angels last year, missing about two months midseason because of surgery to remove a blood clot from his armpit.
His best year was 2012 with the Seattle Mariners, when he went 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA.
Vargas spent four seasons in Seattle and also pitched for the Miami Marlins and New York Mets, compiling a 51-58 record in eight seasons with a 4.30 ERA in 174 career games.
He joins a rotation fronted by right-hander James Shields, who went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA last season, and right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who finished 15-12 with a 4.04 ERA.
Santana and Bruce Chen, who picked up his ninth victory in the season finale and made 15 starts to close out the season, are free agents. Santana, who was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA, figures to land a rich contract elsewhere.
The Royals hope rookie right-handed starting pitchers Yordano Ventura, who made his big-league debut in September, and Kyle Zimmer, a 2012 first-round pick, will be ready to step in sometime next season. They also are counting on left-hander Danny Duffy, who was 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA in five starts after having Tommy John surgery in 2012, healthy enough to make 25-plus starts in 2014.
2013: 86-76, third place in AL Central
TEAM MVP: RHP James Shields lived up to his billing as 'Big Game James' and was a clubhouse leader as well as mound leader. His 13-9 record belies on how well he pitched. He worked 228 2/3 innings and struck out 196, which ranked among the American League leaders. The Royals have lacked a true ace since trading Zack Greinke after the 2010 season, but Shields filled that role.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: 3B Mike Moustakas' numbers are tumbling south, not improving. After hitting .242 with a .296 on-base percentage and a .412 slugging percentage in 2012, Moustakas' numbers dipped to .233/.286/.364 in 2013. Moustakas, the second player picked in the 2007 draft, hit 20 home runs with 73 RBIs in 2012, but only 12 HR and 42 RBIs in 2013. Those are unacceptable numbers for an everyday corner infielder.
TOP PROSPECT: RHP Yordano Ventura, 22, has a fastball that can and does reach 100-102 mph on radar guns. While listed at 5-11, 180 pounds, he already carries the name of "Ace" Ventura. Ventura was a September call up, going 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA in three starts in his first major league games. Ventura could start next year with Triple-A Omaha, but he likely won't remain there for long. And if RHP Ervin Santana and LHP Bruce Chen sign elsewhere, he could be in the Opening Day rotation.
--RF Norichika Aoki was acquired by the Royals from the Brewers on Dec. 5 in exchange for LHP Will Smith. Milwaukee recently picked up the $2 million option on Aoki's contract. The leadoff hitter batted .286 with a .356 on-base percentage, a .370 slugging percentage, eight homers, 37 RBIs and 20 stolen bases this year. Over two seasons in Milwaukee, the 31-year-old has a .287 average and 50 steals.
Smith, 24, spent parts of the past two seasons in the major leagues with Kansas City, going 8-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 35 games, 17 of them starts. He is 6-10 with a 5.48 ERA as a starter and 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA as a reliever.
--2B Chris Getz was non-tendered by the Royals on Dec. 2, making him a free agent. Getz opened last season as the starting second baseman, but injuries and a puny offense caused him to lose that job. He has little value as a utility infielder as he is primarily a second baseman, so Kansas City cut ties with him. Getz, 30, hit .220 with no power in 78 games for the Royals in 2013.
--C George Kottaras was traded from the Royals to the Cubs in a cash deal Nov. 26. Kottaras, who was designed for assignment by Kansas City the previous week, could take over as the backup to Chicago C Welington Castillo. The previous backup, Dioner Navarro, is a free agent who is not expected to re-sign with Chicago.
Kottaras, 30, hit .180 with a .359 on-base percentage, a .370 slugging percentage, five homers and 12 RBIs in 46 games last season. He will be eligible for salary arbitration this winter.
--INF Irving Falu was released by the Royals on Nov. 26 after a season in which he played in one major league game. Falu, 30, went 1-for-4 against the White Sox on the final day of the season. He spent most of the year with Triple-A Omaha, batting .256 with a .320 on-base percentage, a .329 slugging percentage, two homers, 31 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 135 games.
--LHP Jason Vargas signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the Royals on Nov. 21, filling the hole created when RHP Ervin Santana became a free agent after the season. Vargas went 9-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts for the Angels last year, missing about two months midseason because of surgery to remove a blood clot from his armpit. His best year was 2012 with the Mariners, when he went 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA.
--RHP Felipe Paulino, limited to seven appearances combined over the past two years due to injuries, refused the Royals' outright assignment to the minors and became a free agent. Paulino, 30, had Tommy John surgery in 2012 that limited him to seven starts that year and cost him all of 2013. He subsequently underwent shoulder surgery in September 2013. Over a five-year major league career that includes stops in Houston, Colorado and Kansas City, Paulino is 13-32 with a 4.93 ERA in 93 games (61 starts).
--C Francisco Pena, son of former Royals manager Tony Pena, signed a major league contract with the club on Nov. 17. The 24-year-old Pena, also the brother of former Royals player Tony Pena Jr., was added to the 40-man roster. He was a minor league free agent. The Mets signed Pena out of the Dominican Republic when he was 16 years old for bonus of $750,000, but he never quite excelled in New York minor league system. He hit .257 last season for Triple-A Las Vegas with nine homers and 39 RBIs. He committed just three errors and threw out 30 percent of attempted base-stealers.
--RHP Luis Mendoza was released by the Royals on Nov. 11, and he plans to sign with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. Mendoza, 30, went 2-6 with a 5.36 ERA in 22 games (15 starts) for Kansas City in 2014. He would have been eligible for arbitration this winter.
--RHP Ervin Santana declined the Royals' one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer on Nov. 11. Should Santana sign with another team, the Royals would receive draft-pick compensation.
--RHP James Shields had his $13.5 million option exercised by the Royals on Oct. 31. Shields, 31, went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA this year. "His record doesn't begin to reflect what he's meant to our team," manager Ned Yost told the Kansas City Star. "He's a true No. 1 starter. Someone like that has an impact on the rest of your rotation, your bullpen and your entire club. That's what James Shields has meant to us."
--1B Eric Hosmer protected his .302 batting average by sitting out the final game. Even if Hosmer had gone 0-for-5, his average would have rounded up to .300, so there was little danger of him falling below that. Hosmer had one home run and 16 RBIs on June 1, but added 16 HRs and 63 RBIs after that.
--C Salvador Perez made his first career start at first base Sept. 29. While Perez hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning and went 3-for-4, he also committed a fielding error, misplaying a foul pop up. Perez had been taking ground balls at first base and is athletic enough to play there, but he will be back behind the plate when next season starts.
--RHP Greg Holland logged his 47th save, a franchise record, in the 4-1 season-ending victory over the White Sox. Holland, however, did make it interesting. He gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases before striking out the final two batters. Those two strikeouts brought Holland's total to 103, which tied Jim York for the most strikeouts by a Royals' reliever in a season. York struck out 103 in 1971.
--LHP Bruce Chen, who began the season in the bullpen before going back into the rotation, picked up his ninth victory in the season finale at Chicago. Chen, who was the 2012 Opening Day starter, had posted double-figure victories in his previous three seasons. He has won 44 games the past four seasons.
--3B Mike Moustakas finished 22nd among 23 third basemen who played at least 124 games last season with a .651 OPS and .364 slugging percentage. Compare Moustakas' 12 home runs and 42 RBIs in 472 at-bats to discarded Royal Yuniesky Betancourt, who hit 13 home runs with 46 RBIs in 388 at-bats with the Brewers. Moustakas is going to play winter ball in Venezuela in hopes of rediscovering his stroke. He will play for Cardenales de Lara, the team which Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol manages.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we're making progress as an organization. Ten games over .500, it's a significant first stop and we need to continue to build on it. It's a good start." -- Manager Ned Yost, on the Royals' 86-76 record.
The Royals would like to add a power bat to the middle of their lineup. There are some free agent outfielders that fit that bill.
The only position up for grabs in spring training likely will be second base.
BIGGEST NEEDS: It is all about retaining a rock-solid rotation. The Royals' improvement in the won-loss column could be directly attributed to the trades last offseason to acquire RHPs Ervin Santana and James Shields. Santana is a free agent, and his 3.24 ERA in 2013 was a career best. He will command a hefty contract, so the Royals replaced him with free agent LHP Jason Vargas. LHP Bruce Chen, too, is another free agent and a glove-like fit as the No. 4 or 5 starter for the Royals.
ARRIVALS: LHP Jason Vargas (free agent from Angels), RF Norichika Aoki (trade with Brewers)
DEPARTURES: C George Kottaras (traded to Cubs), LHP Will Smith (traded to Brewers)
FREE AGENTS: RHP Ervin Santana, LHP Bruce Chen, INF Jamey Carroll, INF Miguel Tejada, 1B Carlos Pena, 2B Chris Getz
There is no doubt the Royals want Santana back, but whether they will be able to come close to matching other high-dollar offers he is certain to receive remains a key question. They certainly will make a qualifying one-year offer, so to receive a high draft pick in return if he signs with another club. Chen would like to remain in Kansas City and the Royals would like to have him back, but at what price? Carroll, who turns 40 on Feb. 18, won't be back. The Royals have no interest in bringing back Pena on a big-league contract. Tejada, who also has a PED suspension, has probably played his final game in the majors.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Greg Holland, RHP Luke Hochevar, 2B Emilio Bonifacio, OF Justin Maxwell, LHP Tim Collins, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Aaron Crow, 1B Eric Hosmer
The Royals are about to take a major salary hit with the volume of arbitration eligible players. Closer Holland, who saved a franchise record 47 games, and setups Crow, who was an All-Star pick in 2011 as a rookie, and Collins are eligible for free agency for the first time, so their paychecks will escalate accordingly. Hosmer, too, will get a big bump in salary after hitting .302. If the Royals are unable to pick up a second baseman via trade or free agency, Bonifacio would be the leading candidate to open next season at second base.
IN LIMBO: RHP Luke Hochevar
Hochevar, the first player picked in the 2006 draft, was shifted to the bullpen in 2013 after failing as a starter in previous years. He thrived in relief, but made $4.56 million in 2013. Even with a modest raise via arbitration, his salary would climb to $5 million in 2014. Will the small-market Royals be willing to pay that for a setup reliever? He could be traded before spring training.
--LHP Danny Duffy (strained left elbow) missed the season's final three weeks. Duffy, who had Tommy John surgery in 2012, will rest and come into spring training competing for a starting job.
--RHP Felipe Paulino (Tommy John surgery in July 2012, right shoulder surgery in September 2013) is expected to be ready for spring training.
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- Ervin Santana
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