Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in about two weeks, and the Royals still seem shockingly thin in the bullpen that once brought terror to opposing hitters. Just three Royals pitchers on the roster - Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, and Brian Flynn - made at least 30 relief appearances last year.
Matt Strahm was impressive in a short stint, but may be called upon for the rotation after the loss of Yordano Ventura. Chris Young is likely only good for long relief work. Kevin McCarthy, Scott Alexander, Andrew Edwards, and Alec Mills could all be options but have precious little big league experience. Al Alburquerque, Brandon League, Chris Withrow, and Jonathan Sanchez provide some veteran options, but none have been all that good recently.
Peter Moylan and Luke Hochevar could be brought back. But the Royals likely have very little to spend on free agency, and with an additional opening in the rotation now, they may have to re-direct resources to starting pitching. So let’s take a look at some cheap bullpen options the Royals could take a look at.
The 32-year old sidearmer could be in some demand as teams look to fill out their bullpen depth. The right-hander put up a 3.46 ERA between the Angels and Cubs last year in 52 innings, although with a 4.99 FIP. Smith is an extreme groundball pitcher, with a rate over 56% for his career, although he did see a big spike in his home run rate last year.
Smith was fantastic in 2014 with the Angels, posting a 1.81 ERA, but he has been merely serviceable since then. He spent two stints on the disabled last year with hamstring injuries.
Salas is a 31-year old right-hander who has been a bit above replacement-level in his career, but could be a decent middle reliever. In 73 2⁄3 innings last year with the Angels and Mets he had a 3.91 ERA/4.30 FIP and 7.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings. His numbers were much better in 2015, when he in the top 20 in strikeouts-per-nine innings and 11th in strikeout-to-walk ratio among relievers with 60 innings pitched.
Despite velocity in the low 90s, his fastball has been one of the most effective heaters among relievers in the past four seasons.
The 31-year old Hernandez struck out 80 in 72 2⁄3 innings of work for the Phillies last year, but his 3.84 ERA and 4.32 FIP were underwhelming. Some of that may be due to his home ballpark, as he gave up 10 of his 11 home runs in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park. On the road, opponents slugged just .348, compared to .520 at home.
The right-hander throws in the mid-90s with a decent curveball. He is a bit of an injury risk, having undergone Tommy John surgery in 2014. His walk numbers have been quite high in his career - 3.83 per-nine-innings - but he can miss bats and could be a useful middle reliever.
Wilhelmsen was a bartender and out of baseball back in 2010 when he decided to stage a comeback, finally reaching the big leagues in 2011. He collected 68 saves over four seasons with the Mariners, but was disastrous in 2016 after being traded to the Rangers, giving up 25 runs in 21 1⁄3 innings. He pitched much better after he was let go and signed by the Mariners, posting a 3.60 ERA in 25 innings, although his strikeout numbers weren’t great.
In his prime, Wilhelmsen struck out a hitter-per-inning with his mid-90s fastball and power curve. He suffered some back issues last year, which may have contributed to his poor season. He is a groundball pitcher and was pretty good as recently as 2015, so the 33-year old could be worth a flyer to see if he has anything left in the tank.
Maness is a sinkerballer who posted a 3.19 ERA in four seasons with the Cardinals, but suffered an elbow injury last summer and was non-tendered at the end of the season. Ordinarily, Maness would have to get Tommy John surgery that would cause him to miss the entire season. However Maness has elected for an experimental procedure called “primary repair” that could have him ready to go by Opening Day.
When healthy, the 28-year old Maness is still not much of a strikeout pitcher, but he shows great command, and a groundball rate close to 60%. He will have a showcase for teams next week, and depending on that could find some offers.
Others: Tommy Hunter, Kevin Jepsen, Yusmeiro Petit