By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
Bruce Chen had a mixed reaction when he learned the Kansas City Royals had acquired starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The trade, along with the acquisition of Ervin Santana and re-signing of Jeremy Guthrie, means Chen — last year’s opening-day starter — isn’t guaranteed a spot in Kansas City’s five-man rotation.
“When I heard about the trade I was like, ‘Yes!’ And then I was like, ‘Wait a second, that means less spots in the rotation,’” Chen said. “But in all reality, our team got better. We have a much better starting rotation than we’ve had in the past. If you want to be able to compete and go to the playoffs, you have to have a good team, and those players make our team better.”
Chen was joined by left-handed pitchers Danny Duffy and Will Smith, as well as Royals Hall of Famer Dennis Leonard, as part of the Royals Caravan on Monday at Northpark Mall’s Vintage Stock. The pitchers discussed the need for making individual sacrifices in order to help the Royals earn their first winning season since 2003 and first trip to the playoffs since 1985.
The Royals’ starting pitching is expected to improve significantly. Shields, who finished third in the Cy Young vote in 2011, won 81 games over the past five seasons with the Rays. Santana, a former All-Star, had been one of baseball’s best before a lackluster 2012 season. Guthrie, a former ace in Baltimore, was 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts for the Royals last season. Davis won 23 games over the 2010 and 2011 seasons as a starter for the Rays.
“There’s going to be a lot of competition in spring training,” Chen said. “Nothing is guaranteed, but I’m working very hard and I’m trying to do everything I can to help this team win. I think 2013 has the makings of a special season, and I want to be a part of it. That’s why I’m training and working very hard, doing everything I can to help this team win.”
Chen, a 14-year MLB veteran, has been the Royals’ best starting pitcher over the past three years, going 35-29 with a 4.39 ERA during that span. Yet, Royals manager Ned Yost has said that the first four spots are locked up, meaning Chen will have to compete with former No. 1 draft pick Luke Hochevar, Smith and Luis Mendoza for the final turn in the rotation.
Still, Chen is saying all the right things.
“(It’s) not frustrating, but obviously I feel like I’ve pitched (effectively),” Chen said. “But I see it as a challenge and opportunity for me to get better. It’s an opportunity for the Kansas City Royals team to get better. Who am I to stand in the way? If there are guys better than me, then they should be starting. If I’m one of the best five guys who should be going out there every five days, then give me the ball.”
The acquisitions also affect Smith and Duffy.
Smith, 23, made his major-league debut in May 2012 and went on to start 16 games with a 6-9 record and 5.32 ERA. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefty will try to make a crowded Kansas City bullpen if he fails to make the rotation out of spring training.
“I have no problem with it,” Smith said. “That’s not my call whether I make the rotation or go to the bullpen. My job is to play baseball. Whatever they tell me to do, I’ll do it as long as I’m up there. That’s where you want to be.”
Duffy was one the Royals’ best pitchers through his first six starts of the 2012 season. He was 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA before injuring his elbow and being forced to miss the rest of the season after having Tommy John surgery.
The 24-year-old lefty said the pitching additions not only helps the team get better, but it also allows him to make sure he’s healthy before returning.
“I’m just happy we have all the pieces in place,” Duffy said. “If that means I go to the bullpen, if that means I come in for a spot start, if that means I stay in the minor leagues longer during my rehab start, I’m not tripping. As long as it’s translating to wins, I’m happy.”
Kansas City’s pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 11. The Royals will open the regular season on April 1 at Chicago and will have their home opener on April 8 against Minnesota.