MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported recently that right-handed starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens was non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves, making him a free agent. With a relatively thin pitching market this offseason, Jurrjens is sure to have any number of suitors.
One of the teams who should make sure to give him a call is the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals have been on the prowl for starting pitching ever since the offseason began. They traded for Ervin Santana and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie to a three-year contract. Despite these moves, it appears that the team is not satisfied and is still seeking to add another impact arm to their staff.
The Kansas City Star’s Bob Dutton wrote that the Royals have considered dealing top prospect Wil Myers if it would land them a front-line starter. He also revealed that they have inquired about James Shields and Jon Lester, presumably to see if they could be had in some sort of deal focused on Myers.
To date, nothing of substance has come from those preliminary discussions, but should the Royals even consider such pricey options when pitchers like Jurrjens are available?
In a separate article in the Star, Dutton revealed that although the Royals are operating with a 2013 soft salary cap figure of $70 million, that could possibly change. Team owner David Glass confirmed that “nothing is set in stone.”
Operating with such a relatively low budget (according to USA Today only six MLB teams, including the Royals, had a 2012 payroll less than $70 million) the Royals have to be especially careful about how they spend. So, while they are kicking the tires on the more expensive players, they should also explore lower-cost options like Jurrjens.
Jurrjens was once one of the most impressive young pitchers in baseball, winning 13 or more games in three of four seasons between 2008 and 2011. However, beginning in 2010, he has had injuries in each of the past three seasons, causing him to miss significant time and experience flagging results.
This past season, Jurrjens struggled mightily with the Braves, going 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA in 11 games. He missed time because of a groin injury and was also banished to Triple-A Gwinnett to try to work out his ineffectiveness.
With a 4.98 ERA in 14 games with Gwinnett, Jurrjens showed his stint in the minors did little to help. However, he may have never been fully healthy. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Carroll Rogers reported he experienced dizziness during a game, causing his early exit. He may have also been working through the lingering effects of previous injuries. Fortunately, he finished the minor league season healthy, posting a 4.20 ERA over his final four starts.
If the Royals can determine that a now-healthy Jurrjens can regain his previous ability, signing him should be made a priority. He will be only 27 next season and has proven that he can pitch very well when not dealing with health concerns. He made $5.5 million in 2012, and because of how his tenure with Atlanta ended, probably won’t command a huge deal.
It is reasonable to assume that at least part of Jurrjens’ recent decline was caused by the injuries. FanGraphs.com shows that his average fastball velocity declined in each of the past three seasons, from 91.1 MPH in 2010 to 88.6 MPH this past season.
Jurrjens was also more hittable than he had ever been before, as batters made contact with 89.7 percent of all swings they took at his pitches, representing a career worst by a wide margin.
Although it has come in a relatively small sample size, Jurrjens has proven that he can pitch in the AL. In nine interleague starts, he has gone 4-1 with a microscopic 1.32 ERA. Perhaps even more impressive are the two home runs he has allowed in 61.1 innings against AL teams.
The Royals could offer Jurrjens opportunity; both to pitch and to re-establish his value. If he were to come to Kansas City he could possibly end up being the team’s No. 2 or 3 starter. He also wouldn't have to fight for a job like he might with other teams with more solidified starting rotations. Most importantly, he wouldn't cost the Royals a truckload of money or a valued prospect like Myers.
It's a gamble worth giving a very long look.
Statistics via BaseballReference