Kansas City Royals: 2020 free agent options, Part I: Pitchers

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore on Sunday, February 17, 2019 in Surprise, Ariz. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore on Sunday, February 17, 2019 in Surprise, Ariz. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images) /
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Michael Wacha #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Michael Wacha #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Realistic Targets: Pitchers, Part I

Aside from Ian Kennedy, in recent years, the types of pitchers the Royals have mostly targeted in free agency, or via trade, fall into one of two categories:

  • Reclamation projects.
  • Veterans with limited options.

In the past, with pitchers like Ryan Madson, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen and Jason Frasor, it worked–albeit briefly. More recently, that strategy has failed with the likes of Brandon Maurer, Peter Moylan, Jason Hammel, Blaine Boyer, Justin Grimm (dope name, though) and Brad Boxberger. It did, however, work with Homer Bailey and Jake Diekman, two guys who pitched well enough to acquire future lottery tickets.

Don’t expect the Royals to veer from this strategy this offseason. By the looks of it, there are at least a dozen or so pitchers who will hit the market, if they’re not on it already, who could be considered a reclamation project or a veteran with limited options looking to extend his career with one last deal.

I won’t go into all 12 of those pitchers, but here are eight intriguing options, either for the back-end of the rotation, for the bullpen or some combination of the two.

Michael Wacha, RHP (29)

With the St. Louis Cardinals, Wacha’s career started out very promising with three solid years between 2013 and 2015, when he made the All-Star team and finished the season 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA, 116 ERA+, 3.87 FIP and a 1.213 WHIP across a tick over 181 innings. Since then, things have been shaky, including an ERA 20% below the league average in 2016 and only 15 appearances in 2018.

This year, things don’t look much better, as Wacha’s now made five appearances out of the bullpen, which is more than any other year except his rookie season. His ERA+ is just 81 and his ERA of 5.22 is the worst of his career. Still, he’s about to cross 100 innings pitched, and is being relied upon by the Cardinals down the stretch.

Considering his injury history, his return to the Cardinals next season looks questionable at best. He won’t garner a QO, but will probably seek a one-year-prove-it deal on the open market, perhaps heavy on incentives.

Dayton Moore should consider bringing him to Kansas City on such a deal, perhaps with a club option with a small buyout in case things go south in a hurry. Wacha would also bring to the Royals extensive postseason experience as he pitched in one World Series and two pennants, even winning the NLCS MVP in 2013 against the Dodgers.

Shelby Miller, RHP (29)

Another ex-Cardinal, Miller has bounced around since his days in St. Louis. First he was traded to the Atlanta Braves before moving on to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Next came a very brief time with the Texas Rangers before landing with the Milwaukee Brewers on a minor league deal.

Which is what the Royals should offer the once promising flamethrower: a minor-league contract with an invitation to Spring Training and a legitimate shot at making the Major League roster. Miller will only be 29 at the start of next season and has thrown less than 760 career innings. He hasn’t pitched much in the Majors in the last three years, but perhaps in a low-key, expectation-free environment, he could return to his 24-year-old form, when he posted an ERA 27% better than the league average despite going 6-17.

Alex Wood, LHP (29)

Wood’s first (and probably only) year with the Cincinnati Reds has not gone well. Part of the Homer Bailey Reds-to-Dodgers trade in the offseason, Wood, a 2017 All-Star with L.A., has only pitched 24.1 innings with the Reds, and in that brief time, he’s been roughed up: his ERA is 5.92, 21% below the league average, and his FIP is a ghastly 6.25.

Still, he’ll be under 30 when he hits free agency, and will be looking for a solid bounce-back year to re-build his stock. Signing Wood as a starting pitcher could give the Royals three left-handed starting pitchers. But Wood also has bullpen experience, making 43 career relief appearances.

Much like with Wacha, the Royals could go after Wood with a one-year deal with a club option for another year. With Wood, though, the guaranteed salary would have to be higher, and so, too, would the buyout.

Lest we forget, just two years ago with the Dodgers, Wood went 16-3, tossing over 152 innings with an ERA 52% better than the league average while striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. If he returns to that former in the City of Fountains, that would fetch quite the high-caliber prospect(s).

Matt Harvey, RHP (31)

Harvey, the former starting pitcher for the New York Mets who talked himself back into Game 5 of the 2015 World Series against the Royals before imploding, has fallen off the map since that appearance. He managed to stick it out with the Mets another two full seasons before landing with the Reds for the majority of 2018.

In Cincinnati, he had a bit of a resurgence, but it didn’t last. After signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States of America of Planet Earth this past offseason, he saw his ERA skyrocket past seven–seven!–before getting released and inking a minor-league deal with the Oakland Athletics.

And yet, those 24 starts with Cincinnati last year remain tantalizing. Over 124 innings pitched, while his ERA was slightly below average (93 ERA+), he had a respectable 4.33 FIP, a solid 1.25 WHIP and managed a 3.98 SO/W.

Honestly, The Dark Knight may be at the end of the road of his career. Yet, if he’s got a modicum of stuff left, what do the Kansas City Royals have to lose by bringing him in with a Spring Training invitation?