With the Royals talking about cutting back on payroll, they may not be major players in free agency. However, they still have holes to fill and depth to build if they want to contend in 2017. The Royals don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to add some useful players for next year. Here are some lower-cost free agents that the Royals should consider adding.
Pearce has already drawn interest from the Blue Jays and could warrant a multi-year deal. Still, he shouldn’t get much more than $5-6 million per season, which should be able to fit in the Royals’ budget if they keep it around where it is now. Pearce was a fantastic free agent bargain last year, hitting .288/.374/.492 with 13 HR 35 RBI in 85 games between the Rays and Orioles. He could serve primarily as a DH for the Royals, while still having enough positional versatility to fill in at first base, second base, and the outfield to give regulars a rest.
Pearce has a career walk rate of 9.5%, which would be one of the highest on the Royals. He particularly mashes lefties, which has been a vulnerability at times for the Royals. Pearce is 33 years old, so he is no youngster, and he is coming off forearm surgery that may sideline him at the beginning of next season. But he may provide a lower-cost option at DH without committing themselves long-term, as they would have had to do with Kendrys Morales.
Gutierrez missed the entire 2014 season due to some serious gastrointestinal health issues. Since returning, he has developed into a serious power threat, hitting .265/.339/.520 with 29 HR 74 RBI in 472 plate appearances over the last two seasons. Last year, among hitters with at least 200 plate appearances, he led all of baseball in percentage of hard-hit balls.
Gutierrez has been known as a plus defender his entire career, although he mysteriously put up very poor defensive metric last year. He had a massive platoon split last year, but didn’t have one at all in 2015. The right-hander will turn 34 in February, so a one- or two-year deal for around $5-6 million per season seems like a reasonable amount for his services.
Rosales is probably best-known for the waiver war between the Rangers and Athletics in 2013, but he actually put together a fine 1.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) season for the Padres last season, according to Baseball Reference, hitting .229/.319/.495 in 248 plate appearances. The right-handed-hitting second baseman has always been able to take a walk, with a career 8.3% rate. He has been a well above-average defender at second base in his career, and he was among the league-leaders in the “Speed” metric developed by Bill James.
Rosales developed a bit of power, although much of that may be due to Petco Park, as 9 of his 13 home runs came at home. While he only hit .214 on the road, he still managed a .322 on-base percentage and .408 slugging percentage, very respectable for a middle infielder. The 34-year-old Rosales would probably take a cheap one-year deal, and while he’s probably not a starter, he would be some nice depth and a hedge in case Whit Merrifield turns into a pumpkin.
Chris Young was a fantastic find for the Royals in 2015, perhaps Colby Lewis could be a similar find in 2016. Lewis is another older fly-ball pitcher who won 17 games as recently as 2015 and could benefit from a move to Kauffman Stadium. He posted one of the highest fly-ball rates in baseball last year, which caused him to give up 19 home runs in 19 starts.
He was a much better pitcher away from Arlington, with a 2.65 ERA and opponents hitting just .198/.247/.342 against him. He missed over two months with a lat strain, but returned to start in the American League Divisional Series. The starting pitching market is awful, which could inflate what Lewis gets in free agency, but he is 37 years old and his plummeting strikeout rate could scare teams away.
Chacin may not seem like much after putting up a middling 4.81 ERA last year with the Braves and Angels. But Chacin had some interesting results after making 12 relief appearances with the Angels. As a reliever, he had a 3.77 ERA with 11.0 strikeouts-per-nine innings and opponents hitting just .222/.294/.296 against him.
It is a small sample size, but Chacin does have a very effective “out” pitch in his slider, among the best in baseball last year. He certainly wouldn’t be the first mediocre started-turned-dominant reliever for the Royals if he could successfully make the transition.
The former closer was pretty dreadful last year for the Blue Jays and Mariners, although he did find a groove to end the season, with a 1.59 ERA with 15 strikeouts and 2 walks in his last 17 innings. Overall, Storen had a 5.23 ERA with a 4.21 FIP, and he struck out 8.4 per-nine-innings. The right-hander had a 3.44 ERA the year before with nearly 11 strikeouts-per-nine-innings, and he has 98 career saves in his seven year career. Storen did see his velocity drop a bit last year, but he still flashes a plus slider that induced a 48.7% ground-ball rate last year.
The 31-year old right-hander missed the entire 2014 season after Tommy John surgery, but last year he was an underrated reliever for the Phillies with a 3.83 ERA and nearly ten strikeouts-per-nine innings. Hernandez flashes a pretty good curveball along with a 94 mph fastball. Hernandez fared much better away from the bandbox in Philadelphia, where he gave up 10 of the 11 home runs he allowed last year. On the road, opponents hit just .259/.336/.348 against him. He does suffer from a poor FIP and he has trouble throwing strikes, walking 4.0 per-nine-innings last year.
Scott Feldman actually pitched better as a starter than a reliever last year, and while his strikeout rate plummets, he might still be an effective ground-ball artist for the back of a rotation. Henderson Alvarez is still just 27 years old and had a 2.65 ERA as an All-Star in 2014, but he just had his second shoulder surgery and did not throw a single pitch last year. Charlie Morton has been plagued with injuries, but when healthy he can be a decent back-of-the-rotation option. Former closers Neftali Feliz, Santiago Casilla, and Sergio Romo might be worth a gamble, although they have had significant velocity drops, and yet the market may still reward them in a mad scramble for relievers.