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Free agent starting pitchers to target this winter

The Royals need starting pitching help, and these guys will be free agents come this winter.

MLB: All Star-Media Day Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals seem to have a good grip on their offense. The young guys who are expected to produce are either already in the majors or are on the cusp of being called up for good.

Next season, the team will have Bobby Witt Jr., M.J. Melendez, and Vinnie Pasquantino as starters from Game 1. Michael Massey and Nick Pratto may be regulars then or soon thereafter. If all continues going well, Salvador Perez will be back behind the plate. If they don’t trade him before August 2nd or this offseason, Michael A. Taylor will be back patrolling center field. Edward Olivares should keep getting playing time. Same for Nicky Lopez. Adalberto Mondesi will also return. Plus there are keeps to keep an eye on like Nate Eaton and Brewer Hicklin. Whit Merrifield is also under contract next season.

That’s a really solid group of players.

Pitching, however, is another, bleaker story.

The team has potential starters under contract like Brad Keller, Daniel Lynch, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar, and Jonathan Heasley. Zack Greinke is on a one-year deal but could certainly return on another similar contract.

Among that group, though, there’s nobody better than a No. 3 starter. Greinke’s clearly the the No. 1 starter on this team, but he’d be no better than a No. 4 starter on a competitor. Singer’s looked strong since returning from Omaha earlier this year, but, again, on a team fighting for a playoff spot, he should be at least a No. 3 starter, nothing more. Same with Keller, who’s only under club control through the end of 2023.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The rest of the bunch look like Nos. 4 and 5 starters. That’s not going to get it done. That’s not going to get the Royals back to the playoffs.

Sure, there should probably be an organizational change in pitching, like there was in hitting when the team brought aboard Alec Zumwalt.

Absent that, the Royals will target young, controllable pitchers via trade. It will be interesting to see what trades for guys like Andrew Benintendi bring back this deadline.

This coming winter potentially sees a glut of starting pitchers hit the open market. The Royals would be wise to spend some cash to acquire one or two of them. Let’s take a look at some who will hit free agency:

Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright, if they play in 2023, will probably remain with their current teams.

Charlie Morton, Aaron Nola, and Luis Severino all have team options that should be picked up, but if one of them gets declined, it will be Morton’s, as it’s worth the most ($20 million) and he turns 39 this November.

Last night, the Giants’ Carlos Rodon hit 110 innings pitched, which will allow him to opt out of his deal this offseason. But he’ll be expensive as he’s pitched incredibly well the past two seasons, and he’ll be looking to bag more than $22 million.

Here are five starting pitchers the Royals should target:

  • Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Los Angeles Angels. After making just two starts the previous two years, Syndergaard is rebounding nicely this year. His numbers aren’t what they once were (4.00 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.197 WHIP), yet they’re promising for a guy regularly taking the mound for the first time since 2019.
  • Mike Clevinger, RHP, San Diego Padres. Clevinger appeared in eight games in 2020 before missing all of last season. This year, he’s pitched in 10 games, starting nine of them. He’s proven he’s still got it: 3.50 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings versus 2.9 walks. He’s an injury risk, sure, and slightly older than Syndergaard, but he’d upgrade the Royals’ rotation.
  • Michael Wacha, RHP, Boston Red Sox. After two down years with the Mets and Rays, Wacha’s pitching incredibly well for Boston—he’s 6-1 with a 2.69 ERA and 1.109 WHIP. His strikeout numbers are down but his walk numbers have evened out. He’s more of a flier than Clevinger and Syndergaard.
  • Joe Musgrove, RHP, San Diego Padres. An All-Star this season, Musgrove is 8-2 with a 2.42 ERA, 3.08 FIP, and 0.971 WHIP for the Friars. Musgrove has enjoyed success since escaping Pittsburgh. After pitching over 181 innings last year, the 29-year-old is already at 104 innings pitched in 2022. The Royals could use that type of production to take the stress off the bullpen.
  • Chris Bassitt, RHP, New York Mets. Acquired from Oakland in the offseason, Bassitt’s performing well for the Mets, going 7-6 with a 3.79 ERA. He’ll be 34 when next season starts but doesn’t have a ton of mileage on his arm after pitching sparingly/in the minors between 2014—2017. Things clicked last year, and this season with the Mets, some numbers have leveled up while his strikeout numbers have risen.

Other free agent starting pitchers this offseason: LHP Sean Manaea, LHP Andrew Heaney, LHP David Price, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, RHP Kyle Gibson, RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Chris Archer, RHP Joe Ross.