Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in just over a week, but questions still remain as to who exactly will be part of that Royals pitching staff. As of right now, the bullpen will likely feature Wily Peralta, Kevin McCarthy, uh, Tim Hill, Richard Lovelady at some point.....maybe Kyle Zimmer if he’s healthy....uh....Kyle Farnsworth I think....and uh..the winner of Celebrity Big Brother. Hey, do you mind loosening up your arm?
The point is, there are still plenty of audition openings for the Royals to find more relievers. Craig Kimbel still lurks out there as an elite free agent the Royals likely won’t get, and there are still some decent free agents out there like Sergio Romo, Bud Norris, Nick Vincent, and Alex Wilson who are all coming off solid seasons and should expect decent deals. Dayton Moore has talked about waiting out the market and looking for pitchers “on the rebound” the way he found Ryan Madson. Some intriguing bounceback candidates like Trevor Rosenthal (Nationals), Shelby Miller (Rangers) and Greg Holland (Diamondbacks) have already been signed. What are some names still out there that the Royals can gamble on? Let’s take a look.
Brett Anderson has been a starting pitcher, but there is talk every year of moving him to the bullpen because he keeps getting hurt. It is crazy that he is still just 31 years old, but his 80 innings last year were the most he has pitched since 2015. When healthy, Anderson throws in the low-90s with a below-average swinging strike rate, but perhaps a move to the pen can increase his strikeouts. Anderson may be holding out for a chance to start, and with an already lefty-heavy pen he may not be a good fit for the Royals, but he’s the kind of pitcher that would make sense to gamble on.
Brad Boxberger is a former All-Star and was the closer for the Diamondbacks to begin last season. However he struggled with a 4.39 ERA with a high walk-rate of 5.4 per-nine innings and was non-tendered last fall. Boxberger can still miss bats with his low-90s fastball, whiffing 71 in 53 1⁄3 innings last year. He is still just 30 years old and while he may not be super cheap, the Royals can offer him a chance to close and resurrect his career.
Tim Collins is an old friend who pitched with the Royals from 2011 to 2014. He required Tommy John surgery in 2015, then re-injured himself the following spring, requiring a second Tommy John surgery. The Royals let him go after that year and Collins didn’t resurface in the big leagues until last year, when he pitched in 22 2⁄3 innings for the Nationals. Collins had a 5.76 FIP and a high walk rate in a small sample in Washington, but his 11% swinging strike rate shows he can still miss some bats. Collins is just 29, and a reunion could be what he needs to get his career back on track.
Daniel Hudson was once a promising starting pitcher whose career was derailed by two Tommy John surgeries. But he returned and has turned into an okay reliever the last few years, posting a 4.11 ERA in 46 innings with the Dodgers in 2018. Hudson can have some command issues, but has a mid-90s fastball and struck out over a hitter-per-inning the last four seasons and had a 12.8% swinging strike rate last year. He missed the final six weeks of the season with forearm soreness, which could raise injury concerns for the 31-year old right-hander.
Drew Storen missed the entire 2018 season following Tommy John surgery. The 31-year old right-hander saved 29 games for the Nationals as recently as 2015, but has had injury problems since then, posting a 4.45 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 54 1⁄3 innings with the Reds in 2017. He threw in the low-90s before his injury, but teams will have to get a look at how he’s throwing now. The Chicago Cubs are among several teams that have looked into signing Storen.
Chris Tillman was an All-Star starting pitcher with the Orioles who has been a disaster on the mound the last two seasons. His velocity has declined the last few years, and he averaged just 89 mph on his heater last year, but a move to the pen could help his velocity. An improved fastball could also help what was once a pretty good change up. Tillman is still just 30 years old and has only made five appearances out of the pen in his career.
Others: Johnny Barbato hasn’t impressed in 48 career Major League innings but the 26-year old features a mid-90s fastball and had a 1.45 ERA with a strikeout-per-inning in AAA last year. Francisco Liriano has struggled with command as a starter, but perhaps a move to the bullpen can extend the career of the 35-year old left-hander. A.J. Ramos will likely miss the first half of the season after labrum surgrery, which may not make him a fit as a tradeable asset.