A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the All-Star Break
Not long ago (not even a week ago - maybe a day if you read this blog), the Royals were thought to have an upcoming starting rotation logjam after the All-Star Break. Both Denny Bautista and Brian Anderson were due to return, as was Kyle Snyder. It was widely assumed that Lima Time would come to an end, but then what? J.P. Howell would be well on his way to becoming a rookie phenom and Zack Greinke, well, he would surely be back to future ace form by then, right?
Well, today we learn that Brian Anderson is done for the year and Bautista is 'out indefinitely'. The KC Star also speculates that given Snyder's 80 pitch limit, that he will be optioned to the minors following his rehab stint. I think the Star is out of touch on that one - Snyder will be in the post-break rotation if for no other reason than J.P. Howell is doing a very good Chad Durbin imitation this days. Let us assume that, but then where is all the pitching depth?
What if Greinke continues to struggle? Quite frankly, that makes Jose Lima your third best pitcher....in the organization.....YIKES! All joking aside, can the Royals really trade Lima (assuming there is a trade to be made)? If you say that Howell is not ready (he isn't), then who would you bring in to take Lima's spot?
Jimmy Gobble has maybe found a niche in the bullpen and Jeremy Affeldt might just throw a gigantic hissy fit if KC moved him back to the rotation (not to mention that he himself is likely traded AND never really got it going as a starter anyway). Mike Wood, like Gobble, is probably more suited for relief work, and if we are building for 2007 there is no point in putting any of the above three into roles as a stop-gap measure - keep them working where you will need them in 2007.
So....now we're talking about Chris George (4.82 AAA ERA), Dennis Tankersly (4.84) and Danny Tamayo (5.44) in Omaha. How thin is the Omaha starting staff? These three are the only pitches with more than 10 starts in AAA. Shawn Camp, for godssake, is starting for Omaha. Maybe you give George his fifth last chance (I keep forgetting the guy is still just 25 - that's pretty amazing - check his birth records), or maybe you live dangerously and see if Tankersley finally 'gets it'. I think we know what happens here, might as well keep Howell up then, I guess.
What about AA Wichita? Well, unlike the offensive side where every Wrangler appears ready for the jump, none of the pitchers are probably there. Kyle Middleton (3.97 AA ERA) is the staff ace, but he's in his second AA season and is not viewed as a prospect (but then neither was Shawn Sedlacek). You have actual prospects in Brian Bass (5.67) and Mike Stodolka (5.90) who obviously do not appear to be ready, nor does Derrin Ebert (5.76). Intriguing numbers have been put up by Ryan Baerlocher, who sports a 2.59 ERA in 5 AA starts, but again, why rush him at this point? Might was well stay with J.P. Howell.
The next wave of pitching prospects in the system are all the way down in A ball: Kaanoi, Buckner, Gragg & Hughes in High Desert and Cota, Campbell and Christensen in Burlington. Although they are basically in the same draft as Howell, none of them are close to moving through the system like J.P. did (although you can debate whether he should have, but that's another column).
So, pick your poison. Stay with Lima. Trade Lima, for minimal value, and live with Howell growing up in the majors. Trade Lima, send down Howell, and take a chance on a minor league veteran (George, Tank) or a non-prospect (Middleton) or rush another prospect (Baerlocher or Bass). Frankly, and I cannot believe I am saying this, if Bautista is not coming back to much later in the season and given what little we might get in return for Jose, I stick with Lima Time - at least there will be some entertainment.