Two starting pitchers for the Kansas City Royals are recovering from Tommy John surgery last summer, and both are presently rehabbing in the minors. At the beginning of the 2012 season both Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino were integral parts of the Royals’ rotation. If both make it through rehab without any major set backs (Paulino had to push back his second rehab start due to back stiffness), where do they fit in with the present Kansas City pitching staff?
Expectations should not be high for either pitcher for the 2013 season. Returning from TJ surgery at full strength this quickly is almost unheard of. Arm strength and control must be built up and harnessed. Let’s just imagine (dream?) for a moment that both Duffy and Paulino recover sufficiently enough by late July, and are ready to rejoin the team. Just where do they fit in?
Both are starters but who would they displace? James Shields has pitched like an ace, despite his record. So has Ervin Santana. Jeremy Guthrie‘s surface numbers look good but he has relied on a lot of luck (a subject for a whole different day). He was signed to a 3-year deal so it is doubtful Guthrie will be going anywhere.
Wade Davis has been the least effective starter for the Royals but has pitched better of late. In his last three outings, he has gone 17.2 innings, allowing 4 earned runs (3 unearned), with a 2.04 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, and 2 wins. He has lowered his season ERA almost a full point to 5.18. More importantly, the Royals need Davis to be a success as a starter so they can claim some long term success in their deal that sent Wil Myers to Tampa for Davis and Shields. The Royals have club options through the 2017 season and if Davis is a success, he will end up being a cheap starter in those years. Davis will need to have a horrible July for them to replace him.
The last rotation piece is Luis Mendoza. His 6th inning meltdown on Wednesday night against the Indians notwithstanding, Mendoza has been reliable and steady all season. While he is not flashy in the least, he has been a dependable fifth starter. If a starter was to be replaced by a healthy Duffy or Paulino, Mendoza would probably be the odd man out.
There might night even be room for either in the bullpen. Greg Holland is set as the closer while Tim Collins and Aaron Crow have been terrific as set-up men. Kelvin Herrera has a wealth of talent but has struggled with his location at times this season. Luke Hochevar has been better than expected in relief and Bruce Chenhas been very solid.
The odd man out, if the Royals decide to put Duffy or Paulino in the bullpen, would probably be J.C. Gutierrez. Although he has pitched in 17 games, he has only allowed a run in 4 of those outings. He doesn’t overwhelm anyone with his stuff but he hasn’t been brutally bad this season. It is doubtful the Royals feel like they have a big stake in Gutierrez, so he could be the first pitcher to give up his roster spot.
The best case scenario would be for Danny Duffy to be able to stay in the minors this season, building up his arm to 100% and working on his shaky control. He hasn’t been lights out yet in his 5 rehab starts and obviously isn’t ready to rejoin the big league club just yet.
Ideally, the present rotation can stay healthy and continue keeping the light hitting Royals in games, and within shouting distance of the Tigers, or a wild card spot, until Paulino can ready himself. He probably will not be ready to face MLB hitters until early August, with no more set backs, but he is a much more skilled starter than Luis Mendoza (and probably Guthrie and Davis as well). A strong, healthy Paulino could give the Royals even more strength in their rotation the last 2 months of the season.
Other scenarios that could arise include the Royals completely falling apart in the next 5 weeks and dealing Santana for a bat for the future. Another possibility is that the Royals do hang in the race, despite General Manager Dayton Moore insisting on standing pat with a below average group of hitters, and maybe Kansas City can package some combination of Duffy, Paulino, Hochevar, Chen, or Gutierrez in a deal with prospects to upgrade the offense for the stretch run.
Both Paulino and Duffy have their positive aspects but both certainly have their drawbacks. Paulino, at this point in his career, is probably the most polished of the two but he does have a poor health history and a past filled very poor performance early in his career. Duffy looks to have a lot of talent but suffers from poor control and probably could use more work in the minors if the Royals do not need him right away.
As of right now, the pitching is not the problem for the Royals. If both were ready today, Kansas City would not have a place for both right now. It is a luxury the Royals have not enjoyed for a long time. If pitching is a commodity, maybe Moore can flip some of the excess for a bat or two. A healthy Paulino would upgrade an already good pitching staff. It is not certain Duffy would at this point in his career.
Both pitchers may not fit if they were to come back healthy in the next 5 weeks. It is actually a nice problem to have for a change.