The Royals have been pretty quiet this off-season, with their biggest move being the signing of free agent pitcher Jordan Lyles. The two-year, $17 million deal may not seem like a big deal, yet it is still one of the largest free agent deals in club history!
Let’s take a look back at the most the Royals have ever spent on free agents. This list will only include players that became free agents, not long-term deals for players that were already under club control like Salvador Perez’s four-year, $82 million extension in 2021 or Danny Duffy’s five-year, $65 million deal in 2017.
1. Alex Gordon - four years, $72 million (January 2016)
567 games, .237/.320/.366, 84 OPS+, 52 home runs, 3.4 rWAR
We were all excited when the Royals brought back to the popular Gold Glove left fielder following their championship season. Gordo was hitting his 30s, but his work ethic in the gym was legendary, and he figured to be someone who could age well given his plate discipline and strong defense. The defense didn’t decline, but the bat fell off a cliff almost immediately, and he never posting an OPS+ of 100 in any season after that. He would stay for one more year after his deal before retiring, but will still be remembered fondly for his heroics in the 2015 World Series.
2. Ian Kennedy - five years, $70 million (January 2016)
163 games, 86 starts, 546 2⁄3 innings, 4.48 ERA/4.83 FIP, 99 ERA+, 6.7 rWAR
The Royals were reported to have had interest in Kennedy at the 2014 trade deadline, but they wouldn’t get their man until the off-season after they won a championship. The Fangraphs crowdsourced contract predictions had Kennedy getting a three-year, $36 million deal so the baseball world was stunned when the Royals signed him for nearly twice that. The Royals needed a durable starter, and Kennedy had the ability to miss bats. He was very solid his first year in Kansas City with a 3.68 ERA and 2.5 rWAR. But his ERA quickly ballooned and he was demoted to the bullpen for the final two years of the contract.
3. Gil Meche - five years, $55 million (December 2006)
111 games, 100 starts, 617 innings, 4.27 ERA/4.19 FIP, 103 ERA+, 10.2 rWAR
When Dayton Moore took over the Royals in 2006, he needed to legitimize a franchise that had turned into a laughingstock. Perhaps the biggest thing he was able to do at that time was convince owner David Glass to spend more on player payroll. Moore marked that first off-season by signing Meche to a deal that was the biggest in club history at the time, out-bidding the big market Cubs and Blue Jays. Meche was an All-Star his first season and was even better his second. But injury concerns that had caused concerns with other clubs came to bear. Meche pitched just 60 innings in the fourth year of his deal, and rather than try to rehab from shoulder surgery, he decided to retire, forgoing $12 million in salary in the final year of his deal.
4. Jose Guillen - three years, $36 million (December 2007)
340 games, .256/.308/.420, 94 OPS+ 45 home runs, -2.3 rWAR
After Meche put up a successful 2007 season, Moore turned his attention to the moribund starting lineup. He hoped to add a slugger that could also serve as a mentor to the younger hitters. He heavily pursued Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones, but failing to land either of them, he had to turn to slugger Jose Guillen, who could be explosive in more ways than one. Guillen had power and a rifle for an arm, but had worn out his welcome quickly in a few stops. Just a few months into his tenure with the Royals, he ripped his teammates for being soft, which seemed fine as long as he was hitting. But after one decent 20-home run season, his bat quickly declined and he was a statue in right field. The Royals dumped him on the Giants with two months left to go on the deal.
5. Jason Vargas - four years, $32 million (November 2013)
74 games, 74 starts, 421 2⁄3 innings pitched, 3.88 ERA/4.22 FIP, 108 ERA+, 7.8 rWAR
Shortly after the 2013 World Series, the Royals called for a press conference for a major announcement. Speculation was rampant over what that could mean - a big trade? Someone getting fired? A relocation to Las Vegas? So it was a bit underwhelming when they announced they had signed left-handed starting pitcher Jason Vargas to a multi-year deal. Vargy turned out to be a pretty shrewd signing however. He had a 3.52 ERA for them in three starts that post-season, and he led the league in wins with 18 in 2017, his only All-Star season. He ended up producing 7.8 WAR despite missing virtually two full seasons due to injury.
6. Omar Infante - four years, $30.25 million (December 2013)
298 games, .238/.269/.328, 63 OPS+, 8 home runs, -0.6 rWAR
The Infante signing seemed like such a good idea at the time. After years of non-production from Chris Getz, the Royals signed one of the top contact-hitting second basemen in baseball, coming off a season where he hit .318 for the Tigers. Just a week into his Royals career, Infante was hit in the jaw with a pitch. Whether that affected his hitting, or age caught up to him, he was never able to hit much after that. He helped the Royals win the pennant that year and was fantastic in the Fall Classic against the Giants, hitting .318 with a home run. But he was one of the worst hitters in baseball the next season, and the Royals released him with a year and a half remaining on his deal.
7. (tie) Jeremy Guthrie - three years, $25 million (November 2012)
95 games, 89 starts, 562 2/3 innings, 4.57 ERA/4.84 FIP, 89 ERA+, 1.3 rWAR
The Royals acquired Guthrie in a mid-season swap of deals gone bad with Colorado in the summer of 2012. Kansas City dumped malcontent lefty Jonathan Sanchez while the Rockies were more than willing to part ways with Guthrie, whose flyball tendencies did not play in Coors Field. Guthrie pitched well down the stretch at sea level with the Royals, and the team re-upped him on a three-year deal once he hit free agency. Guthrie was serviceable, winning 15 games in 2013, and he pitched Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, although the last year of his deal was a dud.
7. (tie) Joakim Soria - three years, $25 million (December 2015)
129 games, 2 saves, 122 2/3 innings pitched, 3.89 ERA/3.39 FIP, 113 ERA+, 1.6 rWAR
Soria began his MLB career with the Royals, and after a sojourn to Texas, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, the former All-Star reliever returned to find his old team were defending World Champs. Soria got off to a rough start in April, and I think that probably soured a lot of fans on him. He was a pretty serviceable pitcher after that, but by the last year the Royals were looking to rebuild and offered reliever Scott Alexander to accompany Soria in a three-team trade just to be rid of his contract.
9. Edinson Volquez - two years, $20 million (December 2014)
68 games, 67 starts, 389 2/3 innings, 4.43 ERA/4.19 FIP, 96 ERA+, 2.2 rWAR
Volquez had been a hot prospect at one time, plagued with inconsistency. Just a bit over a year before he signed his multi-year deal with the Royals, Volquez was flat out released by the Padres. But after a solid 2014 season with Pittsburgh, the Royals signed him hoping he could help get them over the hump. He turned out to be a big game pitcher in the World Series, particularly his start against the Mets just after learning his father died.
10. Mike Minor - two years, $18 million (December 2020)
28 games, 28 starts, 158 2⁄3 innings, 5.05 ERA/4.29 FIP, 90 ERA+, 1.1 rWAR
The Royals were coming off the shortened 2020 season in which they weren’t god awful, and felt they could make a few moves to get them close to contention. One of those moves included signing veteran pitcher Mike Minor, who had previously pitched for the team in 2017. Minor was coming off a terrible abbreviated season, but was very good in 2019. He was in-between in 2022, looking good for a few innings before blowing up. The Royals decided not to keep him for the second year of his deal, shipping him to Cincinnati for reliever Amir Garrett.
11. David Cone - three years, $18 million (December 1992)
57 games, 57 starts, 425 2/3 innings, 3.17 ERA/3.90 FIP, 150 ERA+, 14.1 rWAR
Near the end of his life, owner Ewing Kauffman went on a shopping spree in an attempt to bring one more championship to Kansas City. Part of that splurge included bringing back local boy and former Royals minor leaguer David Cone back to Kansas City. The Royals had traded Cone to the Mets in one of the most ill-fated deals in club history, only to see him become an All-Star. Still a productive pitcher, Cone wanted to return home and the Royals made him one of the highest-paid players in baseball.
Cone was very good his first year, but the wins didn’t come. His second year was outstanding - he won 16 games in the strike-shortened season with a 2.94 ERA and won the Cy Young Award. Unfortunately, Ewing Kauffman died in 1993, and his wife Muriel died in 1994, leaving the team to a board of directors. The team had to cut costs immediately after the work stoppage and traded Cone to Toronto for a package of three minor leaguers.
12. Kendrys Morales - two years, $17 million (December 2014)
312 games, .277/.344/.476, 119 OPS+, 52 home runs, 3.6 rWAR
Morales had been a pretty solid slugger for years at DH, but when he hit free agency, he had a Qualifying Offer weighing him down. No team wanted to sign him if it meant losing a draft pick, so Morales ended up not signing until after the draft, and he paid the price for missing time by having an awful season. The Royals were willing to take a risk on him the next season by inking him to a two-year deal to provide offense in their lineup as they looked to defend their pennant. Morales responded by hitting .290 and tying for team lead with 22 home runs. He also came through with a huge home run in Game 5 of the ALDS against the Astros, his third of the series. He got off to an awful start in the second year of his contract, only to go on a tear and end up with 30 home runs.