Royals need an ace

I think we can all agree that the next step in the evolution of the Kansas City Royals needs to involve a pitcher. A front-line, top-of-the-rotation pitcher who the Royals can fill in around. Someone who can take the ball every fifth day and make a fan base feel confident.

In other words, the anti-Luke Hochevar.

Tampa Bay lefty David Price would be a dream-come-true for the Kansas City Royals. But it probably isn’t going to happen.

He was supposed to be that ace by now. Clearly, that’s not working. A pipeline that has produced some pretty good sticks has bogged down when it comes to arms. And it has left the Royals stuck in a below-.500 state of purgatory.

I see in this week’s edition of “Sports Illustrated” where Joe Sheehan, one of the magazine’s baseball guys, has suggested the following trade: Left fielder Alex Gordon, second baseman Johnny Giovatella and left-handed starting pitcher Mike Montgomery from the Royals to Tampa Bay for left-handed starter David Price.

I nearly spit up my Fruit Loops when I read this proposal. And I immediately called Sheehan to tell him about some land I own in western Kansas.

Come on man.

Price is arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He was 20-9 in 2012 with a 2.56 ERA. He’s 27 years old and arbitration eligible for the first time. He can’t become a free agent until 2016, meaning he’s under team control for a while still although his earnings from arbitration are sure to be significant. And, of course, the Rays or another team that trades for him could work out a long-term contract.

To get Price, though, the Royals would have to give up more than Gordon, a good left fielder who recently won his second consecutive Gold Glove; Giovotella, an unproven if intriguing commodity; and Montgomery, a former first-round draft pick who has failed to live up to his advance notice thanks to injuries and performance.

Those three wouldn’t even get you inside the state of Florida to talk about a deal for Price, let alone the Rays’ front office.

Tampa Bay always seems to have a surplus of starting pitcher. But Price is a unique talent and it’s hard for me to believe he’s going anywhere, even with the Rays’ desperate need of more offense.

Now, if Kansas City mixed in top prospect Will Myers instead of Giovotella, Tampa Bay would probably listen. That’s the kind of trade, and the kind of pieces, it takes to attempt to pry a No. 1 pitcher away from a contending team. And the Royals desperately need an ace since it appears nobody in that realm is either Kansas City or coming up through the minor leagues.

Having added Ervin Santana to a group that could include Hochevar (how many chances does this guy get?), Bruce Chen, Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy and perhaps Jake Odorizzi, it’s obvious Kansas City lacks talent in the starting pitching staff. The Royals still could make a play for a free-agent starter like Kyle Lohse or Anibal Sanchez, but likely would have to over-pay for either.

The best bet is a trade, although Price is an ambitious target. Obviously, the Royals would have to think long and hard before dealing someone like Myers, who was Baseball America’s minor league player of the year in 2012. Again, though, that’s the kind of talent teams ask for before dealing a pitcher like Price.

Perhaps a Gordon-Giovotella-Montgomery package would lure someone like Washington Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmerman, but he’s not a No. 1 starter. He’s more in the No. 2 starter range, although he’d be the ace of the Royals staff on the day he set foot in Missouri.

What about Detroit’s Max Scherzer? Would the Tigers be open to trading the former Missouri pitcher? Detroit has a need at shortstop and in left field. Would the Royals be willing to deal Gordon and shortstop Alcides Escobar? That’s a lot to give up and it’s especially painful to trade a shortstop because good ones are so hard to find.

Kansas City could be in the mix for former Wichita State pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who is recovering from elbow ligament replacement surgery. Pelfrey, who has been with the Mets, could be non-tendered by New York. He has had trouble gaining traction with the Mets, so perhaps a change of scenery would serve him well.

But Pelfrey isn’t a No. 1. They don’t grow on trees.

Price is a definite No. 1. And if Sheehan’s fictitious offer of Gordon, Giovotella and Montgomery is enough of a package to seal that deal, the Royals should be falling all over themselves trying to make that one happen.