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Royals zeroing in on free agent pitching targets

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The Royals are increasingly connected to free agent starting pitchers.

The Royals have increasingly been connected to free agent starting pitcher targets lately with Dayton Moore recently confirming their desire to add a starting pitcher. The pitcher they are able to land depends much on how their negotiations go with free agent left fielder Alex Gordon. If the Royals are able to land Gordon to a long-term deal, that may not leave much money left over to pursue starting pitching, especially if the Royals want to maintain their financial flexibility for 2018, when much of the team is eligible for free agency.

Heyman:

The Royals like Chen, Gallardo and Kazmir, but might make a push for Chen, probably the top lefty still unsigned. He could represent the biggest outlay ever for the Royals if they were to do it, but in light of their consecutive World Series appearances and Series victory this year, they are said to have some "flexibility."

Let's take a closer look at the starting pitchers the Royals may be targeting.

Scott Kazmir

Kazmir will be 32 next month and is believed to be seeking a four-year deal worth around $12-15 million per season, although he may have to settle for a three-year deal. He has won 98 games in eleven big league seasons with the Rays, Angels, Indians, Athletics, and Astros, and has enjoyed a renaissance since being out of baseball in 2012. Last season, Kazmir had a 3.10 ERA with a 3.98 FIP and 2.4 fWAR, although he slumped badly at the end of the year with a 4.17 ERA/5.19 FIP in thirteen starts after getting dealt to Houston. His falling strikeout rates towards the end of the year suggest Kazmir may have worn down as the year went along. Moving from home run-happy Minute Maid Park to Kauffman Stadium would also help his numbers.

Kazmir struggled with command early in his career, but since coming back to baseball he has significantly improved his walk rates, allowing 2.9 walks-per-nine-innings last season. His fastball remains steady, averaging 91 mph, but his strikeout rates have fallen in each of the last three season, down to 7.62 per-nine-innings last year.

The lefty has had a reverse split the last two seasons, faring better against right-handed hitters. He has improved his changeup quite a bit, showing the biggest difference in fastball and changeup velocity in baseball last season. He relies mostly on his four-seam fastball, throwing in the changeup and slider. Kazmir is durable, having only landed on the disabled list once since returning to the Majors in 2013, but he has averaged just 5.8 innings per start over that time.

Kazmir was part of the Oakland Athletics team that got into a skirmish with the Royals early last season, with Kazmir being the pitcher that plunked Lorenzo Cain in the leg in the Sunday finale, although it was a breaking pitch that seemed unintentional. He is in high demand since there is no draft pick compensation attached to him, with the Astros, Orioles, and Nationals among the most serious suitors for him. Kazmir is represented by the Legacy Agency.

Yovani Gallardo

Gallardo should be familiar to the Royals coaching staff having come up as a rookie under Ned Yost and Dale Sveum in Milwaukee. The Mexican-born right-hander who grew up in Texas has spent most of his nine years in the big leagues with the Brewers, getting traded last year to the Rangers. At age 29, he has already won 102 games with a 3.66 career ERA and one All-Star appearance. Last year for the Rangers, he had a 3.42 ERA, although just a 4.00 FIP. Gallardo has been very consistent, putting up a 2 fWAR season in each of the last seven seasons. He is also durable, going 30 starts or more in each of those seasons, his last stint on the disabled list coming in 2008 due to a knee injury.

Gallardo relies on movement and has transitioned into more of a ground ball pitcher, inducing a groundball rate around 50% the last three seasons. His fastball has good sink to it, although it has come at the expense of some velocity. His strikeout rate has fallen in each of the last four seasons from 9.00 per-nine-innings in 2012 to 5.91 last season. Despite being durable, Gallardo was not much of an innings-eater, averaging just 5.58 innings per start.

Teams will be attracted to Gallardo because of his relatively young age and health history, and his plummeting strikeout rate should not be cause for alarm due to what seems to be a changed approach. Gallardo does come with draft pick compensation, and should be pricier with a four- or five-year contract worth $12-15 million per season. The Astros and Orioles are reportedly two of the top suitors for his services. Gallardo's agent is former big league pitcher Bobby Witt.

Wei-Yin Chen

Chen is likely the best free agent starting pitcher left on the market, although he is a significant step down from the David Price and Zack Greinke tier. The Taiwanese left-hander is seeking a five year, $100 million contract, but most likely will have to settle for a four-year contract worth around $50-75 million, which still could prove to be too pricey for the Royals. Chen has been a consistent pitcher in his four seasons in the big leagues, putting up 2 fWAR each year. He had a career best 2.8 fWAR with a career-low 3.34 ERA with the best strikeout rate of his career at 7.2 hitters per-nine-innings.

The 30-year old Chen has been terrific at inducing soft-contact, ranking sixth in all of baseball. Much of Chen's success can be attributed to his ability to change speeds, throwing a fastball in the low-90s that is eighteen miles per hour faster than his off-speed stuff.  Chen can be home run prone, with the ninth-highest home run rate among starting pitchers last season. However, he gave up 18 of his 28 home runs at Camden Yards, a home run haven.

The Orioles have likely moved on due to Chen's high price tag, and the Cardinals and Giants, previously said to be interested, have likely moved on after signing other pitchers. The Nationals continue to show interest and some feel the Dodgers could be lurking as a suitor. Any team that signs him would have to give up a draft pick. Chen is a Scott Boras client.