The Kansas City Royals made history in 2021 by becoming the first team ever to have five pitchers from the same draft class - Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Jonathan Heasley - start a game in the same season. All of them showed flashes throughout their young seasons, although some much more than others. Aside from these five starters, the Royals also had 45 games started this past season by other pitchers aged 28 and under. This doesn’t account for Mike Minor either, who started 28 games for the team in 2021.
The Royals have a surplus of quality starters with only flashes of greatness shown thus far. With at least nine potential starting pitching options for next year, should the Royals let them battle it out until they find what works, or should they stick with the starters that showed the most promise and sign some experienced starting pitchers in the offseason?
This answer, like most others related to this team, is dependent on how the Royals view themselves in this upcoming season. The three options that I believe are possible to happen this winter are as follows:
Option One: Management sees the team as being another year away from being competitive and signs no starting pitchers from free agency. They instead decide to ride out the young arms again to find their best options for the future through trial and error.
Option Two: The Royals believe that they are on the rise in the American League and decide to go after at least one, possibly two experienced starting pitchers in this offseason.
Option Three: The team isn’t sure what we have in store for next season and decides to bring in one starting pitcher through free agency (basically another Mike Minor) to mentor the young guys and eat innings.
Let’s break down all three options.
In 2021, option one is basically what ended up happening and it went just like you would expect. The starters were very inconsistent early on, followed by some unwatchable baseball in midsummer, and then finished strong to end off the year. There were several stretches of games that looked over after each first inning and other stretches where it looked like the Royals had a team full of potential aces. This is what happens when most of your team’s starts come from inexperienced pitchers trying to find their footing in the show.
Option two could happen if the Royals sign one or two quality, experienced starters and then sell the dream to the fans that this is the year, the official start of the next chapter. It all sounds amazing, but it can quickly crash everyone’s dreams back to reality if the Royals end up overpaying for an aging starter who no longer produces to our expectations. Although, if this option does happen, and whoever they sign performs and can mentor the young starters, then this could be the best-case scenario for the team overall.
The final option is something that seems to happen way too often as a fan of this franchise. Not necessarily through starting pitchers in the past, but even this last season can be an example of this. The Royals weren’t sure how this team would perform so they dished out some money, took some risks on guys to return to form, and sold to the fans that we would compete. The season started off great in first place in the league, followed by us quickly falling off the face of the planet, and then continued with us spending the year crawling back to mediocrity. This option can stick you in limbo for a season, just like in 2021, and have you floating just below being competitive but just above tanking. It is a true no man’s land that Royals fans know all too well.
Knowing this team, the option with the highest odds for next year is the third option. The team still thinks they could be a year away, but also want to look like they are trying to be competitive, so they make a signing to the rotation that doesn’t exactly make sense.
In my mind, the team currently has four starting pitchers that should be locks for opening day. These pitchers are Daniel Lynch, Carlos Hernández, Kris Bubic, and Brady Singer. There are not many reasons for these guys to not be starting for us in 2022. This leaves one or two spots in the rotation up for grabs to start off the new year. The following options for the fifth and possibly sixth spots in order would likely be Brad Keller, Mike Minor, Jackson Kowar, Jonathan Heasley, and Angel Zerpa. In a rotation with plenty of depth, a potential signing would most definitely kick a few of these pitchers deep out of the mix.
Out of the 2022 free agency class, there are a handful of options that could benefit this team if they choose to go that way. For example, the Royals could realistically look to go after pitchers such as Zack Greinke, Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray, Michael Pineda, Danny Duffy, and Johnny Cueto to name a few. These could all be productive options that may also mentor the young arms. The four locks previously mentioned, along with one or two of these players thrown in there could have our starters looking much improved by next year.
This team needs to set a specific timeline for themselves and stick to it this offseason and heading into 2022. The Royals need to now decide when they think their window will be opening and act accordingly. If they follow their past ways and play both sides, we will likely see this team winning around 70 games again and again while we watch the same results year after year. They need to be decisive until something finally switches, and we break out of the cycle just like we did in 2013.