Bruce Chen signs, headed for new start with Royals

DAVE SKRETTA AP Sports Writer Published:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The competition for a spot in the Royals' rotation just got a little tougher.

Kansas City announced the signing of veteran pitcher Bruce Chen to a $4.25 million, one-year deal on Saturday that includes a mutual option for the 2015 season, and manager Ned Yost said he expects to keep the left-hander as a starter rather than a reliever.

That would leave just one job available for a whole bunch of candidates.

"I don't know how it's all going to play out," Yost said at Royals FanFest. "I'm real open-minded, but you try to go into it and you think about all scenarios and all cases."

The Royals are solid at the front of the rotation with James Shields, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie, and Chen was dominant the latter part of last season after beginning in the bullpen.

That means young flame-throwers Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer, talented but injury prone left-hander Danny Duffy, starters-turned-relievers Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis, and even veteran Brad Penny could be competing for a single rotation spot in spring training.

Royals pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 14.

"If Danny Duffy doesn't make the rotation to begin with, what more does that do to the bullpen?" Yost said, offering one example of how things might play out. "That gives us another left-handed arm that we can get through the All-Star break and bam, like Bruce last year, here comes a fresh, healthy Danny Duffy if someone is slacking a little bit.

"We'll see how it plays out," Yost said. "I want to give everyone a fair chance at it."

The 36-year-old Chen became a free agent after last season, when he went 9-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 15 starts and 19 appearances out of the bullpen. He attracted some interest from a handful of clubs, but he always said he'd like to return for a sixth season in Kansas City.

The sides reached an agreement Thursday but had to wait to announce it until Chen passed a physical. He'll make $3.25 million this season and $5.5 million with a $1 million buyout next season. He can also earn a performance bonus of $125,000 for each start from 16 through 25.

"You can't evaluate Bruce in spring training," Yost said, "because he's not one of those guys that can compete, because he's not a spring training pitcher. But once the bell rings, he's been phenomenal for us. You know what you're going to get with Bruce.

"So unless something just dramatically happens between now and then, Bruce will probably be slotted into one of those five spots. In all reality, yeah. But we'll just see what happens."