"You knew Kansas City was going to look to add pitching to their young offensive core, so it's not a surprise to see them do it," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, speaking during a Monday conference call to announce the three-year, $12 million deal with Jeff Keppinger.
"They did it in a big way that makes them stronger," Hahn said. "They added two very good arms in Shields and Davis. They've played us tough over the last several years, so it should make the race more interesting."
That Sunday night trade gives the Royals a starting rotation of Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Davis and the recently acquired Ervin Santana. Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Luis Mendoza remain firmly in the mix.
Ask any White Sox fan or even any player on the team, and they would probably point to Chen, Guthrie and Mendoza as their biggest fears among that rotation, as opposed to the pitcher with a greater pedigree, such as Shields. Guthrie finished with a 1-0 record and one earned run allowed over 29 2/3 innings covering four starts against the White Sox last season, and Chen has a combined 6-2 mark in the last two seasons against the White Sox.
Even Hochevar, who struggled mightily with an 8-16 record and 5.73 ERA in 2012, posted a 2.84 ERA in three starts against the White Sox. Adding Shields, Santana and Davis makes the Royals' rotation decidedly better, but still leaves it behind the Tigers and White Sox within the division.
Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister add up to a highly potent trio for the Tigers, and the potential return of free-agent starter Anibal Sanchez gives Detroit the AL Central's deepest rotation. The combination of Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, a healthy John Danks, Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago certainly puts the White Sox firmly in the top rotation picture.
That group of six quality starters doesn't factor in such near-Major League-ready hurlers as as Simon Castro or Charlie Leesman, meaning that as the Zack Greinkes and Shields of the world come off the board, interest in Chicago's depth of riches will continue to pick up. Conceivably, the White Sox could use one of these starters, such as Floyd, to help upgrade in another area.
According to Hahn, though, keeping these pitchers together remains his preference.
"I've mentioned this a couple of times, but we've been fairly popular because of our depth. We're not really inclined to move any of that strength," Hahn said. "We'll continue to listen and explore options, and should there be something that we feel is so strong we can't pass it up, we'll do it.
"But at this point, we like our pitching staff and rotation and how we match up against anyone one through five. We like our strength in the bullpen. It's not something we are looking to do, but we have an obligation to hear out alternatives, and if one of those makes us stronger, we'll certainly pull the trigger on the right deal."
Moving top prospects for an important veteran piece or two was not a foreign concept for previous GM Ken Williams or Hahn, who worked with Williams for 12 years. There's a delicate balancing act to be found in trying to win the only title currently up for grabs, which would be 2013 in this instance, without trading away the future and creating a must-win scenario in the present that might be unrealistic. The discussion continues as to which category this Royals' deal falls.
"Our intention is to put us in the best position to win in 2013, but at the same time, we don't want to sacrifice multiple seasons after," Hahn said. "Ideally, you want to feel like you are not only improving your chances to win in the upcoming season, but also the next few years after.
"When you start to rob from the future to serve the present, you need to be awfully certain that you are that much better. You have to improve in a way to significantly increase your chance to win right now, as opposed to just moving the time frame around."