Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Royals agreed to a $9 million, two-year contract with left-hander Bruce Chen on Wednesday, solidifying their starting rotation.
The 34-year-old Chen has blossomed during the second half of his 13-year career. He was 12-7 with a 4.17 ERA two years ago, and went 12-8 with a 3.77 ERA last year, becoming the first left-hander to win at least a dozen games in back-to-back seasons for Kansas City since Charlie Liebrandt in 1987-88.
Chen was so solid down the stretch that a couple of teams considered trying to trade for him just so he could make a spot start during the pennant race. Nothing materialized, though, and Chen became a free agent, even though both sides had expressed interest in getting a deal done.
Chen will make $4.5 million each of the next two seasons, a person familiar with the deal told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because terms were not disclosed. Chen also can earn $500,000 per year in roster bonuses and $1 million a season in performance bonuses.
Chen is expected in Kansas City next week for a physical. He won’t be added to the 40-man roster until that happens and he signs the deal, so the Royals’ roster remains at 39 players.
The Royals will return a young lineup largely intact next season, the only significant difference coming in center field, where Melky Cabrera was traded to the San Francisco Giants for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez. That move also cleared the way for hot prospect Lorenzo Cain to earn a starting job in the outfield during spring training, which is just a couple months away.
The deal that general manager Dayton Moore swung for Sanchez, combined with the signing of Chen, means the Kansas City rotation is likely set — unless Moore is able to land someone like Roy Oswalt or Mark Buehrle, a true front-line starter that the team is still lacking.
Sanchez and Chen will be joined by fellow lefty Danny Duffy, who showed flashes of brilliance along with a propensity for walking batters during an up-and-down freshman season.
Luke Hochevar is expected to anchor the rotation after a breakout season in which he went 11-11 with a 4.68 ERA, while Felipe Paulino will get the first crack at the final spot after going 4-6 with a 4.11 ERA following a late-season trade from the Colorado Rockies.
Chen is valued not just for his skill, though he’s been the Royals’ most consistent pitcher the past couple years, but also his presence in the clubhouse.
The jovial pitcher emerged as the elder statesman for a team that is filled with 20-something players like first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and shortstop Alcides Escobar. He provided valuable leadership and a calming influence during much of last season.