Chen and the Royals on Wednesday night finalized a two-year deal worth a guaranteed $9 million, plus the possibility of $2 million more in incentives. The base salary would be $4.5 million each year.
"Bruce has been our most consistent pitcher over the last two years," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "He's someone we count on -- for not only his leadership, but his ability to be a consistent performer in our rotation."
The deal represents a sizable pay raise for Chen, who this year had a one-year contract for $2 million, plus $1.5 million in incentives.
The new contract hinges on Chen, 34, passing a physical examination next week in Kansas City. Although he missed more than a month with a lat strain last season, he was so healthy at the end that he pitched eight shutout innings at Minnesota in the Royals' final game.
Firming up and improving the starting rotation was the Royals' top priority for the offseason, and Moore moved quickly -- acquiring left-hander Jonathan Sanchez from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for outfielder Melky Cabrera on Nov. 7.
That positions Chen, Sanchez, Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino at the forefront of the rotation. Others likely in the picture are Aaron Crow, Luis Mendoza, Sean O'Sullivan, Mike Montgomery, Vin Mazzaro, Nate Adcock and Everett Teaford. So it'll still be a free-for-all, and the Royals will keep scanning the pitching market for more candidates.
"We'll continue to look," Moore said. "I mean Chen, Sanchez and Hochevar probably solidified themselves in our rotation. But we've got competition with Paulino, Duffy, Crow, Teaford, Mendoza and Montgomery -- and we're still going to be very open-minded and aggressive to continue to add pitching. We like our depth; we just need to continue to look for ways to improve our team."
This marks the fourth time that the Royals have signed Chen as a free agent. After he underwent Tommy John surgery that kept him out for the 2008 season, the Royals signed him to a Minor League deal for 2009 and he made it back to the Majors.
Then, quite surprisingly, he emerged as the Royals' top winner in both 2010 and '11, with records of 12-7 and 12-8, respectively. This year, he posted a 3.77 ERA in 25 starts. He was especially effective against American League Central rivals, with an 8-3 record and a 2.47 ERA in 14 starts.
Since joining the Royals' rotation on May 30, 2010, Chen has a 23-15 record and a 4.00 ERA in 48 starts. He's the team's first left-hander to win 12 or more games in back-to-back seasons since Charlie Leibrandt did it in four straight seasons (1985-88).
"Bruce is a tremendous leader, he's very prepared, he's a very hard worker," Moore said. "He's very deserving of what has occurred over the past couple of years, and we look forward to having him continue to succeed."
Chen, who broke into the Majors in 1998 with Atlanta, has become a clubhouse leader for the young Royals -- especially helping the large number of rookies on the pitching staff this past season. He also brings levity, with his jokes and video antics on the Kauffman Stadium scoreboard.
He was voted the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year Award for 2011 by the Kansas City baseball writers. His strong finish included a 6-3 record and 2.93 ERA in his last 10 starts, holding opponents to a .218 average.
Chen was with his family in his native Panama for the Thanksgiving holidays and couldn't be reached for comment after the announcement.
But in a conversation following the season, Chen said his hope was to pitch in the postseason -- and he believed that the Royals were getting close to achieving that.
"I do believe the Royals are a team that can be a contender. But it's not going to be easy, it's not going to be something that we're going to roll out of bed and beat up on everyone," Chen said. "We're going to have to work very hard. We're going to have to work harder or want it more than the next team in our division."
Now, he's back in the house and can help them pursue that.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.