The Royals aren’t expected to pursue big name free agents this winter, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look to add some depth to the organization. The Royals are more interested in younger players with some upside who have several controllable years left. Unfortunately, teams tend to hang onto those guys, but in some cases, a promising player finally wears out his welcome.
Last week, all 30 teams scrambled to add players to protect them from the 40-man roster, which meant they had to purge the roster of players. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so let’s take a look to see if there is some freely available talent that could be of use to the Royals.
The best of what’s around
Greg Bird looked really impressive as a Yankees rookie in a 46-game stint in 2015, hitting .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs. But he missed the entire 2016 season with a torn labrum and has been unable to get his career back on track since then. He struggled to reach the Mendoza Line with the Yankees in 2018 and missed most of this year with plantar fasciitis. Bird is a left-handed bat that has showed good power and a terrific ability to draw walks, with a healthy 10.6 percent walk rate as a big leaguer. The Royals already have a left-handed bat at first base in Ryan O’Hearn, so perhaps Bird would not be a good fit, but it may help to have some depth and there have been a few late blooming first basemen who have figured the league out at this age like Luke Voit, Garrett Cooper, and Ji-Man Choi.
Matt Duffy can bring two qualities the Royals have long coveted, solid defense and an ability to put the ball in play. Duffy has been an above-average defender at third and has a 16 percent strikeout rate in his career, below the league average over that time. Duffy faced the Royals as a bench player in the 2014 World Series, then finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, hitting .295/.334/.428 with 12 home runs and 12 steals in 149 games. He was traded to the Rays in 2016, but has struggled to stay on the field with a recurring Achille’s heel issue that kept him out the entire 2017 season. The 28-year old appeared in just 46 games this year, missing time due to back and hamstring injuries and hitting .252/.343/.327 in limited action. Duffy is an injury risk and does not provide the kind of power traditionally found in a third baseman, but if the Royals are concerned with Hunter Dozier’s defense, they could move him to first base or the outfield, and upgrade their defense with Duffy.
Nick Goody was a legimately solid reliever who lost out in a numbers game in Cleveland. The 28-year old right-hander had a 3.54 ERA in 40 2/3 innings with 50 strikeouts, although a high walk-rate. Goody suffered an elbow injury in 2018, but has been a good reliever when healthy, and should find a decent market for his services.
Take a chance on me
Dario Agrazal is a strike-thrower who only walked 1.3 batters-per-nine innings in the minors, and held his own with a 4.91 ERA in 73 1⁄3 innings as a starter for the Pirates this year. But he has a very low strikeout rate and gave up 27 runs in his last 36 1⁄3 innings. Still, the 24-year old right-hander may be a useful swingman who can make a start now and then.
Nestor Cortes, Jr. doesn’t have much velocity with a fastball that hovers near 90 mph, but he has a deceptive delivery and has still struck out over a hitter per inning in his 71 1⁄3 big league innings. But when he gets hit, he gets hit hard, posting a 5.80 ERA with 18 home runs allowed in his career. The 24-year old left-hander can fill any role on a pitching staff and could be a versatile addition.
Luis Escobar was once considered a top ten prospect in the Pirates system, but has struggled to learn to throw strikes. Still just 23, the right-hander boasts a 95 mph fastball and could benefit from a move to the bullpen.
Dominic Leone was a 2 WAR reliever in 2017 with the Blue Jays, but he struggled in 2018 with the Cardinals, suffering nerve damage to his arm, and repeated his struggles in 2019. The 28-year old right-hander can still miss bats, with 72 whiffs in 64 1⁄3 innings over the last two years, but he had a 5.15 ERA over that time. Leone has put up some solid numbers in the past, and if the Royals think he is healthy, could be a useful depth addition for the pen.
Daniel Palka hit .107 in 93 plate appearances, the worst batting average by a non-pitcher with that many plate appearances since 2006. But the 28-year old right fielder hit 27 home runs for the White Sox the year before that, and has put up some big home run totals in the minors. Palka is defensively limited and whiffs a ton, so he’s probably not what the Royals are looking for, but if they want to stash some more power in the system, they could take a flyer on Palka.
Touch of grey
Wei-Yin Chen is an underrated all-time free agent bust. He signed a five-year $80 million deal with the Marlins back before the 2016 season, and in four years has made just 53 starts with a 5.10 ERA for -1.3 WAR. Chen was a solid mid-rotation pitcher in his prime, but he is 34 now, and he was unable to revive his career after a move to the bullpen last year.
Jacoby Ellsbury has led the league in steals three times and finished second in MVP voting way back in 2011. But he has not lived up to the seven-year, $153 million deal he signed with the Yankees after the 2013 season. Ellsbury was a below-average hitter at the plate in each year from 2015-2017 and has not played a single game in the past two seasons. Ellsbury has indicated he wants to continue playing, but it is unclear how healthy he is or when he can get back on a field. He is owed $26 million by the Yankees, although they are disputing that, so any team that signs him would likely have to pay him only the league minimum.
Gone, baby gone
Jharel Cotton tossed seven shutout innings in the Royals home opener in 2017 and was once a Baseball America top 100 prospect. But he struggled the rest of that season and had Tommy John surgery, missing the entire 2018 season. He only pitched a few innings this year and struggled in the minors, but the 27-year old still has some potential. The A’s traded him to the Cubs for cash considerations and could bounce back in their bullpen.
Jose de Leon was also once a top 100 prospect, ranking #29 by Baseball America before the 2017 season. But he also missed the entire 2018 season after Tommy John surgery. He bounced back and was effective in the minors, with a 3.51 ERA in 51 1⁄3 innings in Triple-A with 12.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings, and ended up tossing four innings for the Rays. Tampa Bay shipped him to Cincinnati for cash considerations and a player to be named later, and if healthy, he could be a great bounce-back candidate at age 27. It is possible the A’s and Rays were unwilling to deal these pitchers to fellow American League clubs, but considering the acquisition cost and upside, you hope the Royals at least made an inquiry.