With the recent signing of Jeff Francis, it looked as through the Royals might have filled out their starting staff. But given the tenuous nature of players like Francis and Gil Meche, both of whom were injured for significant portions of 2011, the team decided to bring back Bruce Chen to add depth.
The 33 year-old Chen had a strong 2010 showing with the Royals, posting a 4.17 ERA in 140 innings of work. That performance might be the second best of his twelve year Major League career that has been far more bad than good. He's the owner of a career 4.64 ERA, and judging by his career FIP of 5.13, that may actually be a tad on the lucky side. While he has demonstrated some ability to miss bats with a 7.00 career strikeout rate, he walks more than you'd like (3.35) and doesn't get enough ground balls (35.1%).
Chen is essentially the definition of a back-end junk-baller. With a fastball that averaged just 86.2 last year, he's not going to throw the ball by anyone, but he's got five pitches and he'll throw them all at you. That helps him keep hitters off balance, but doesn't keep him from being eminently hittable. That Chen was able to have success in 2010 had little to do with any change in who he was as a pitcher, and far more to do with luck. He was the beneficiary of both a favorable BABIP (.286) and a very lucky 8.1% HR/FB rate (career 13.3%) which helped negate his fly-ball tendencies. Unfortunately, the likelihood of him being so fortunate again is, well, slim.
Chen has spent his career bouncing between the back-end of eleven teams rotations and it's likely that he'll do the same for the Royals. He should provide needed depth that will insulate the team from injury and allow the Royals to keep their top pitching prospects in the Minors for as long as possible, buying them valuable developmental time. It's probably not the most inspired signing in the world, but you could do worse things with 2.0m in guaranteed money.