As the San Francisco Giants have proved twice in three seasons, the best way to a World Series title is developing a homegrown rotation of Cy Young winners and contenders: Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner all were first-round draft picks.
The trouble with the Kansas City Royals is they've developed exactly two decent starting pitchers in 25 years. And one of those two got hurt early in his career, and the other was traded.
Which is why the Royals traded for Angels right-hander Ervin Santana, a guy coming off a 5.16 ERA and a major league-worst 39 home runs allowed. It's a low-risk investment, with the Royals picking up the "majority" of Santana's $13 million option the Angels picked up, according to Royals GM Dayton Moore. Santana pitched much better over his final eight starts -- 4-3, 3.44 ERA, 0.99 WHIP -- although his home runs allowed per nine innings remained the same as his first 22 starts at 2.0 per nine innings. (Keith Law's Insider analysis here.)
Los Angeles Angels
Santana had won 28 games with a 3.65 ERA over the previous two seasons, so he has a track record of success. Of course, the Royals took a similar risk last offseason when they traded Melky Cabrera to the Giants for Jonathan Sanchez. That blew up on them, as Sanchez was horrible and later traded to Colorado.
Santana is a better risk than Sanchez, a guy who always lived on the edge with his control. Santana's basic skill set remains in operation -- he's mostly a fastball-slider guy, but his average fastball fell from 92.8 mph to 91.7 mph and his heat maps indicate too many fastballs left over the middle of the plate. That resulted in a home run-to-fly ball rate of 18.9 percent, well above his career rate of 10.8 percent. When nearly one of every five fly balls you give up clears the fence, you're not going to have a good year.
For the Royals, Santana essentially replaces the slot of free agent Jeremy Guthrie in the rotation. Other rotation candidates would include Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, prospect Jake Odorizzi, Luke Hochevar, waiver wire pickup Chris Volstad, and the rehabbing Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino.
Back at the start of the 2011 season, the Royals were heralded as owners of the best farm system in baseball. They've yet to see the fruits of that group. Eric Hosmer had a horrible sophomore season (.232 BA/.304 OBP/.359 SLG), leaving his impending-star status in question. Mike Moustakas' second-half slump (.211, five home runs) left the 24-year-old third baseman with subpar overall numbers (.248, 20 home runs, but a lowly .296 OBP). Alcides Escobar, once regarded as a good-field, poor-hit shortstop, actually finished with a higher OPS than Hosmer or Moustakas. Pitchers such as Duffy, Mike Montgomery and John Lamb haven't developed or have battled injuries. Overall, progress has been slow: 65 wins in 2009 to 67 to 71 to 72.
At least there's hope with the offense, once you factor in Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and catcher Salvador Perez. The bullpen, full of power arms, was terrific in 2012, posting a 3.17 ERA that ranked fourth in the American League.
So, as always, it turns to starting pitching with the Royals. This franchise has one winning season since the 1994 strike season. In those 18 seasons of the wild-card era, only 11 pitchers have won at least 25 games with the Royals. That unfortunate roll call:
1. Zack Greinke, 60 wins, 3.82 ERA: first-round pick, 2002.
2. Kevin Appier, 49 wins, 3.97 ERA: first-round pick, 1987.
3. Tim Belcher, 42 wins, 4.38 ERA: free agent, 1996.
4. Jeff Suppan, 38 wins, 4.73 ERA: purchased from Arizona, 2008.
5. Jose Rosado, 37 wins, 4.27 ERA: 12th-round pick, 1994.
6. Brian Bannister, 35 wins, 5.13 ERA: trade with Mets, 2006.
7. Luke Hochevar, 33 wins, 5.36 ERA: first overall pick, 2006.
8. Kyle Davies, 29 wins, 5.34 ERA: trade with Braves, 2007.
9. Gil Meche, 29 wins, 4.27 ERA: free agent, 2007.
10. Bruce Chen, 28 wins, 4.35 ERA: free agent, 2009.
11. Runelvys Hernandez, 25 wins, 5.38 ERA: amateur free agent, 1997.
The Hochevar pick -- Dayton Moore was hired just before the draft that year -- was especially disastrous, as Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw and Lincecum were top-10 selections that year. Going back even further, between 1997 and 2001, the Royals spent top-seven picks on pitchers Dan Reichert, Jeff Austin, Kyle Snyder, Mike Stodolka and Colt Griffin. None developed.
And that's the hitch. Every team wants to develop its own Cain/Lincecum/Bumgarner trio. It isn't so easy to do. After acquiring Santana, the Royals might still be in play for another veteran free agent, although it won't be easy to convince a guy such as Anibal Sanchez or Kyle Lohse to come to Kansas City (money always talks, of course). We'll see.
As for the Angels, clearing Santana's salary creates an opening for hard-throwing right-hander Garrett Richards. They'll also have to decide by Friday whether to pick up the $15.5 million option on Dan Haren. Certainly, they'll be among the bidders for free agent Greinke. But with C.J. Wilson having offseason elbow surgery to remove bone spurs, Santana gone and Haren possibly gone, it could be an overhauled rotation for 2013. It seems paramount now that they convince Greinke to return.