On the surface, signing Bruce Chen doesn’t look like a terrible move. He has his benefits. He adds depth to a starting rotation that would have had to rely on the likes of Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis in the event of injury to one of the starting five.
As a left-handed reliever, which is what Chen might end the season as, Francisley Bueno, Donnie Joseph and a slew of minor-leaguers can easily fill that role equally as well or better. As a starter, Chen’s ceiling is not nearly as high as many of the Royals internal options, including the struggling Davis, but his floor is every bit as low. From 2006 to 2009, Chen only threw 171 innings, had a 6.53 ERA and was on the verge of being ousted from baseball. It hasn’t been all roses since then either. In 2012, he had a 5.07 ERA for the Royals as their “Ace.” He’s not the consistent, security-blanket pitcher that many give him credit for.
His erratic ability isn’t even the worst part. That bothersome aspect is compounded by the price the Royals paid to sign Bruce Chen. I’m not talking about the $4.25 million guaranteed, which isn’t crazy. I’m referring to the way the Royals decided to clear payroll. It cost the Royals Emilio Bonifacio.
Bonifacio can play every position on the field except pitcher and catcher. His average defense and strong arm make him a very valuable bench player. His speed off the bench is what makes him a weapon. He has legitimate 80-grade speed. On a team that has a full-time designated hitter, bench weapons are important to any team that wants to compete for a playoff spot. The Royals gave up a rare weapon who can fill in for almost any injury.
It wasn’t really that they lost Bonifacio, either. In the end, he’s a utility player. A valuable one, sure, but a part time player, nonetheless. It was the way they lost him.
Dayton Moore asked an extremely high price for him and when other teams passed on the deal, Moore released him. But that’s not all. The Royals released Bonifacio just weeks after signing him to a $3.5 million contract, putting them on the hook for $780,000 of his salary. So, actually, Chen cost the team $5 million.
There is no one in baseball I want to have success more than Bruce Chen. He’s funny and a genuinely good teammate, friendly and caring. He is basically impossible to dislike. I just don’t see him being a major contributor to the club’s success this year over the options they already had.
As a replaceable left-handed short-starter swing-man type, the Royals don’t need him. They would have gotten more value out of Bonifacio’s speed and versatility than they would have out of the depth Chen adds. Bonifacio was money well-spent within the confines of the Royals roster structure. Chen is only a little better than dead weight.
Hochevar’s injury makes this a marginally better signing, but not enough to make it a good deal.
Overall grade: D