Over the last three weeks, I have been going over my Royals off-season check list. Setting up a deep rotation, cutting dead weight and trading off the fat were the first three goals. The final step is to bottom feed. The Royals needs to find any minimal salaried players who could be positive contributors.
In the past, the Royals have gotten decent results for giving league minimum deals to Melky Cabrera, Wilson Betemit and Bruce Chen. Again this season, some interesting players are available who could be signed on the cheap and provide value. With pitchers, I am looking for guys who have been injured, but have rested enough to give it another go around. For hitters, I am looking for failed prospects. These players struggled in the majors, but may find a way to turn around their careers. The group of available players will grow once the list of non-tenders is released, but here are some available as free agents.
Shaun Marcum - Marcum had a horrible 2013 season with the Mets with a 5.29 ERA and neck issues which kept him out of the season's second half. The 32-year-old's high ERA didn't match up with his ERA estimators though.
The difference was from a .322 BABIP after having one under .280 for the 5 previous seasons. The decline could be from his velocity dropping about 1 mph from the previous season. He could probably end up with a $1M deal with incentives
James McDonald - Taking McDonald would totally be a flier, but a chance the Royals should take. He had control issues caused by a bum shoulder which cost him the season's 2nd half. When he did throw, his velocity was at 90.5 down from 91.8 mph in 2012. Before the loss in velocity, he was a 4.00 ERA pitcher.
Jeff Karstens - He had shoulder issues and didn't throw in 2013. He pitched decently in 2011 and 2012 with a miniscule walk rate (<5%). Whoever does sign him will probably do so with a incentive heavy deal.
Colby Lewis - His stock as fallen quite a bit from 2010 and 2011 when he averaged 3.7 WAR. Last season he was recovering from Tommy John and hip surgery. He may garner a little more interest because of his past success, but no one is going to invest too heavily in him.
Jeff Baker - I am a huge Jeff Baker fan. I see him as a Ben Zobrist-lite with the ability to play both the outfield and the infield. The one issue with Baker, he can only hit left-handed pitching.
Split (career): AVG/OBP/SLG
vs LHP: .298/.353/.522
vs RHP: .236/.288/.358
I could see some interest in Baker on the open market and he could go for $1M to $2M.
Ryan Roberts - He would fit into the same mold as Jeff Baker in that he can hit lefties better than righties (.785 OPS vs LHP, .672 vs RHP) and play multiple positions (no outfield). I doubt it would take much money to sign him.
Again, this list will grow and shrink throughout the off-season. The Royals won't be in the market for any major free agents, instead they need to hope to find the Scott Kazmirs and Bartolo Colons of the world.