It can be a bit dangerous to try to answer these questions before the start of Spring Training, but it is well worth looking at the different aspects of the Kansas City Royals‘ new-look pitching staff. Once again, the Royals will be going into the year with a radically different rotation than they had for the previous Opening Day; this past April in Anaheim, they had Bruce Chen start the first game of the season, with Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, Luis Mendoza and Danny Duffy filling out the rotation. Two of those players are already out of consideration for this year’s rotation; Duffy will miss the start of the year as he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Sanchez is long since gone from the club.
This leaves Chen, Hochevar and Mendoza plus the additions of Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis to try to fit into a five-man rotation. At some point the Royals will also have Duffy and Felipe Paulino returning from injury. The only thing clear about this set up is that Shields will be the ace of the rotation; only an injury could stop him from starting the season opener on April 1st. The rest is murkier, but the first thing to consider is who will not even make the starting rotation. Although the Royals did use a six-man rotation for the last two weeks of the 2012 season, this appeared to be a result of the expanded rosters and a desire for experimentation; they will almost certainly be back to a five-man rotation for the start of next year, which means two players are going to miss out. The likely candidates are Hochevar and Mendoza; the latter can go to the bullpen, and Hochevar looks like he could do with some time at AAA after last year. Although Davis pitched in the bullpen last year, there does not appear to be any chance that he will do so for the Royals.
With Shields at the top of the rotation then it looks like Guthrie, Santana, Chen and Davis behind him in some order, with Mendoza and/or Hochevar available to make a spot start in case of an injury. Regardless of the order that is a fairly strong rotation, but the order is not unimportant. It’s not a trivial matter to see how the rest of the pitchers will be ordered either, and it might come down to Spring Training performances. Going into camp, however, I expect Santana and Guthrie will be ahead of Davis and Chen. All four of those are decent middle-of-the-rotation starters though, and I expect competition will be fierce. All the more reason to look forward to March.