The Royals have added a pair of free agent starting pitchers in Jordan Lyles and Ryan Yarbrough, but most of the additions to the bullpen have been relievers signed to minor league contracts. Cody Poteet, Mike Mayers and Nick Wittgren have had a bit of Major League success, but the Royals may look to more proven free agents to fill out their bullpen.
With a projected payroll of about $81 million, the Royals should have some flexibility to add a few more relief arms. Here are some intriguing candidates.
The Royals passed on Bradley to draft Bubba Starling back in the first round of the 2011 draft, and the Oklahoma native went on to be a very effective reliever for the Diamondbacks for several seasons. He has been more of a journeyman the last few seasons and injuries limited him to just 18 2⁄3 innings with the Angels last year. His 4.82 ERA was unimpressive, but his FIP was just 3.33. Bradley doesn’t miss many bats, but racks up a ton of ground balls by inducing poor contact. He is just 30 years old and shouldn’t require more than a one-year deal.
Duffey was a crummy starter to the Twins, but became an effective reliever with a 2.69 ERA and 3.16 FIP with 10.9 striekouts-per-nine innings from 2019 to 2021. Last year he lost his mojo with his ERA skyrocketing to 4.91, leading to the Twins to release him in August. He didn’t last last long with the Rangers or Yankees at the end of the year, so there could be something wrong with him at this point. His groundball rates were about the same, his velocity looks the same, but he was a bit unlucky with flyballs turning into home runs. He just turned 32 yesterday so he could still recover and put together a solid season.
I’m generally tired of the reunion tours, but Duffy actually seems genuine in his love for the organization, although the recently departed Dayton Moore was a big part of that. Duffy didn’t pitch at all this year, but if the 34-year-old can get healthy perhaps he can find a second career as a reliever. It seems like forever ago, but before he got hurt, he was very good with the Royals in 2021, posting a 2.51 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 61 innings.
Carl Edwards Jr.
Edwards was a solid reliever for the Cubs before injuries hit him in 2019. He bounced around for a bit but found his footing again last year with the Nationals, posting a 2.76 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 62 innings. His velocity is back up to his Cubs days, with a fastball sitting at 94-95 with some of the best spin rate in the league. The 31-year-old right-hander added a change up last year that was very effective.
Fulmer was Rookie of the Year in 2016 as a starter and had a few solid seasons with the Tigers before an injury requiring Tommy John surgery sidetracked his career. The last two seasons he has served as a very effective reliever with a 3.17 ERA and a strikeout-per-inning in 119 relief appearances over that time. He is probably the best reliever left on the market, and would command a multi-year deal, but he’s only 29 years old and could be worth the investment. If he is interested in starting again, the Royals could definitely offer him the opportunity, and as a Midwestern kid from Oklahoma he may be more willing to play in Kansas City.
Giles has 115 career saves, and back in 2019 posted 1.87 ERA while striking out 40 percent of the batters he faced due to a triple digit fastball and devastating slider. In the three seasons since he has pitched a total of nine big league games due to injuries. Giles had Tommy John surgery in 2020 and has struggled to get back on the mound since. The Mariners and Giants both released him last year, but perhaps the Royals can give the 32-year-old one more shot to get his career back on track.
Jackson had a breakout season in 2021 with a 1.98 ERA in 63 2⁄3 innings coming out of Atlanta’s bullpen. But he missed the entire 2022 championship-winning season after Tommy John surgery, leaving an uncertain future as he embarked upon free agency. When healthy, Jackson throws a 96 mph fastball and a “gyroscopic slider” that was one of the best in baseball in 2021 and yields a groundball rate north of 50 percent. His walk rates are a bit high, and he is a question mark to begin the year, but perhaps a two-year commitment can lure the 31-year-old away from Atlanta.
Reyes was an All-Star with the Cardinals as recently as 2021 with 29 saves and a 3.24 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 72 1⁄3 innings. But a shoulder injury cost him the entire 2022 season, leading to the Cardinals to non-tender him this fall. He throws in the high-90s when healthy, but has had very high walk rates in the past, which may make him a poor fit for an organization trying to emphasize throwing strikes. He has some electric upside, however, and although he has drawn interest from several teams, contenders may not have the roster spots to take a gamble on him.
The Royals seem to be emphasizing strike-throwing in their acquisitions this off-season, and the former Twins right-hander would fit that model. Injuries limited him to just 72 innings total over the last four seasons with Minnesota, but he issued just 14 free passes, one of the best walk rates among relievers over that time. The ZIPS projection system is high on the 28-year-old, but injuries remain a concern, especially since his 2022 season was cut short by shoulder surgery.
Wisler was once a disappointing starting prospect who has been on waivers a few times but has seemed to find his footing in the bullpen the last three years. Since 2020, he has a 2.59 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 118 innings, mostly in relief. The 30-year-old right-hander boasts one of the best sliders in baseball over that time. His numbers may be a bit of fool’s gold however, as he has had some good BABIP luck, a high strand rate, and a low flyball-to-home run rate.