An additional 39 players joined the ranks of free agency on Friday, as clubs met the deadline to tender or non-tender players a contract. The number of players non-tendered is up from the 26 that were let go last December, either an indication of how teams are better valuing talent or being more frugal, depending on your point of view. While non-tenders are players that teams deemed expendable, they are generally younger and cheaper than six-year free agents, which can make them atractive for rebuilding clubs like the Royals.
You can read a full list of players who were non-tendered here, but I wanted to highlight a few players that could help the Royals in 2019.
Shelby Miller was once a first-round pick and one of the game’s most heralded prospects, ranked #6 by Baseball America before the 2013 season. He was a 2 WAR pitcher in his rookie campaign and his potential seemed so bright that the Braves dealt him to the Diamondbacks for a huge package that included outfielder Ender Inciarte and former first overall pick Dansby Swanson.
Miller was a disaster in Arizona, making just 28 starts over three years with an ugly 6.35 ERA. He had Tommy John surgery in 2017, and suffered right elbow inflammation this year. Still, he had pretty good swing-and-miss stuff early in his career and still threw in the mid-90s when he was on the mound this year. At age 28, he is the very definition of “reclamation project.”
Brad Boxberger was actually drafted by the Royals back in 2006 out of high school, but turned them down to head to USC. He was later a first-round pick by the Reds, and while he has bounced around the league he has been a solid late-inning reliever. He led the American League in saves with the Rays in 2015, and has 76 saves and a 3.42 ERA with 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings over his career.
Boxberger lost his closing job in Arizona this year, and struggled with a 4.39 ERA and an alarming 5.4 walks-per-nine innings. Despite throwing in the low-90s he has had one of the more effective fastballs among relievers, and he still struck out 71 in 53 1⁄3 innings this year. The Royals could use an established closer and possibly flip the 30-year old right-hander at the trade deadline if he can get his career back on track.
Blake Parker was a bit of a surprise to be cut, since he was pretty solid this year. The 33-year old closer had a 3.26 ERA and 14 saves in 66 innings with 70 strikeouts. The Angels were only due to give him some $3-4 million, so perhaps there is more here than meets the eye. He did have some command issues, a high FIP at 4.40, and lost a little bit of velocity this year. Parker should have a lot of teams interested in him, but if he is looking for a closer role, Kansas City could give him that opportunity.
Hunter Strickland was another surprise non-tender, after starting the year as the Giants closer. The 30-year old right-hander has a career 2.91 ERA in 226 innings, but posted a 3.97 ERA with a 4.42 FIP last year. His strikeout numbers dropped to a mediocre 7.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings, and his fastball velocity fell to the mid-90s, while his command suffered. He suffered a fractured hand and gave up 13 runs in 13 2⁄3 innings after coming off the disabled list, so perhaps a season reset can produce better numbers. He has a bit of a history with the Royals, jawing with Salvador Perez during the 2014 World Series, allegedly calling him “boy”, so the Royals would have to make sure he can mesh with their clubhouse.
Ricardo Rodriguez has only made 20 Major League appearances, with an unimpressive 5.49 career ERA. But he has a mid-90s fastball and has become a strike-thrower in the upper minors, walking just 1.7 hitters-per-nine innings over the past two seasons. He was rushed to the big leagues from High-A ball in 2017, his first season back from Tommy John surgery. The 26-year old may be able to contribute while also being young enough to have some untapped upside left, particularly if he can develop his slider.
Billy Hamilton isn’t necessarily a good fit in Kansas City with Brett Phillips and Brian Goodwin likely to get playing time in centerfield. But man, oh, man it would be fun to see him, Whit Merrifield, and Adalberto Mondesi all in the same lineup. Hamilton can’t get on base at all - his career on-base percentage is .298 - and he is probably the weakest hitter in baseball, but he sure can fly around the bases. He has stolen 264 bases over the past five seasons, with four 50+ stolen base seasons.
The Royals might be able to find time with him, perhaps in a limited-use role. Dayton Moore has long valued defense up the middle, and Hamilton has tremendous range in center. Jayson Stark reports that the Royals have had interest in Hamilton in the past, so you never know.
Others: Ronald Torreyes could be a useful utility infielder that can back up shortstop. Justin Hancock had a 96 mph fastball and a 1.46 ERA in 12 1⁄3 innings with the Cubs last year, but is 28 years old and had high walk totals in the minors. If the Royals want to hedge their bets at third base, Yangervis Solarte or Wilmer Flores could give them more options, while also providing depth around the infield. Alex Wilson has been a useful reliever for the Tigers, despite unimpressive strikeout rates. Matt Bush is expected to miss the first half of the season, but could be an intriguing late-inning option if you can overlook his troubled history.