Rick Hahn and Dayton Moore know one of the biggest realities of baseball and wasted no time acting upon it.
If you're going to go to the playoffs, you better have a strong starting rotation.
Last year, eight of the 10 postseason teams were in the top half of their leagues in starting pitcher ERA, with seven of the top nine advancing. The only teams that advanced with starting pitching in the second half of teams were the Rangers and Orioles.
The White Sox were seventh in the American League with a 4.15 ERA from a rotation that saw 12 guys make starts, in large part because opening day starter John Danks made only nine. Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd combined for 387 innings — or 39 percent of the starters' total of 980. They had 37 quality starts between them — 43 percent of the team's 86 overall.
Hahn concluded they were not replaceable, so he exercised Floyd's 2013 contract option while signing Peavy to a two-year extension with a vesting player option for a third year, which kept Peavy from exploring a potentially lucrative market.
Soon he's going to have to make a move to reward his best pitcher. Chris Sale is not arbitration-eligible this time around — he fell 78 days short of Super 2 status — but starts to become an expensive proposition a year from now.
Hahn can wait to provide Sale some security and give the club some cost certainty with a long-term deal for him, especially if it's one along the lines of the one the Rays got Matt Moore to sign a year ago, which guaranteed him $1 million in each of his first three seasons and included club options for his final arbitration season and the first two years when Moore potentially could go on the free-agent market.
Dayton Moore, the Royals' GM, would love to have a young pitcher like Sale. His pitching prospects haven't developed, which is why he now has traded for three veterans in the last two years.
Jonathan Sanchez, who came from the Giants for Melky Cabrera, was a bust. Jeremy Guthrie, acquired from the Rockies in July, pitched so well that he could be tough to re-sign as a free agent. That prompted Moore to take on Ervin Santana, who was being shopped alongside Dan Haren because the Angels weren't going to exercise their contract options.
The Royals believe that they are ready to contend but finished last season with a 5.01 ERA from their starters, ranking 11th in the AL.
"Coming into this offseason, our vision is very clear," Moore told reporters after the trade. "We want to do everything we can possible to upgrade our starting rotation and Ervin Santana clearly does that."
Santana was 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA last season, allowing a majors-worst 39 home runs. He was better in August and September than he was in the first four months of the season, and said on a conference call that he believes he can turn it around and perform like the ace the Royals desperately need.
"I didn't have any physical problems (last season)," Santana said. "Everything was good. I just had bad luck. I was pitching good, and then I didn't have any opportunity to win a lot of games."
The challenge will be lessened for everyone if it turns out that Anibal Sanchez pitched so well in October (1-2, 1.77 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 201/3 innings) that the Tigers cannot afford to keep him.
He fit in very well alongside Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer, and the Tigers' sent their top pitching prospect — right-hander Jacob Turner — to the Marlins to get him. They won't be as strong without him, and know it well.
"We would love to have Anibal Sanchez back if we could," Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said.
It's always about starting pitching, but you have to play your cards carefully. As bad as the Cabrera-for-Sanchez deal was for the Royals, the Indians' acquisition of Ubaldo Jimenez in 2011 looks even worse.
Was keeping Peavy and Floyd the right move? Will Santana make a difference in Kansas City? There's no way to know but Hahn and Moore will sleep better this winter imagining the best-case scenarios they provide.
Heating it up: Losing to the Tigers might be a little more palatable next year. Closer Jose Valverde is a free agent and won't be coming back, so at least a team losing at Comerica Park won't have to watch the big fellow twist and shout as it gathers the bats and balls in the first-base dugout.