Surprise Royals Signing Adds Confusion to Opening Day Roster

Austin Nola signed a major-league deal with the Royals on Thursday
Austin Nola signed a major-league deal with the Royals on Thursday / Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals continued their active offseason with a surprise signing Thursday night, adding former Brewers catcher Austin Nola on a major-league deal to bolster depth.

Nola, the brother of standout Phillies' pitcher Aaron Nola, spent the last four seasons with the Padres before joining the Brewers on a minor-league contract in January. He was granted his release upon request and now expects to serve as the primary backup to Salvador Pérez.

If this comes as a surprise given Freddy Fermín's impressive work in that role last year, you're not alone. Let's break down the move below.

Royals Free Agency: Kansas City Signs C Austin Nola to Major-League Deal

Kansas City's roster was already complicated, with a number of promising prospects crowding the infield and outfield. Catcher felt like a relatively stable position, though Nola's acquisition complicates things.

Nola has experience playing first and second base as well but hit just .146 with a .260 on-base percentage (OBP) and 31 strikeouts in 50 games last year. At 34 years old, it's fair to wonder if his best days are behind him.

Fermín quickly became a fan favorite in 2023, hitting .281 with a .330 OBP with nine home runs and 32 RBIs in 70 games. He's only 28 and had a +3 fielding run value compared to a -4 from Nola, per Baseball Savant.

It's notable that Nola is familiar with offseason signings Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha after playing with the duo in San Diego. Both Nola and Fermín have minor-league options remaining as well, so this may just be J.J. Picollo setting up a Spring Training competition for the backup catcher job.

A complicated roster puzzle just got more confusing, but tough decisions are the ones competitive teams have to make if they're truly trying to win.

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