The Royals desperately need to improve and while J.J. Picollo says they have around $30 million coming off the books, a 106-loss team isn’t the most attractive free agent destination. The Royals could still spend, however, by taking on contracts other teams may be looking to dump. It may sound unappealing to take on another team’s trash, but sometimes a change of scenery is just what a veteran needs to jumpstart their career. In 2013, the Royals sought to improve their pitching staff, and acquired an expensive veteran pitcher from the Angels coming off a poor season with a 5.16 ERA named Ervin Santana. He bounced back to give the Royals a 3.2 rWAR season, helping them flirt with a Wild Card spot. The Royals could also receive a prospect for the trouble of taking on someone else’s bad contract.
Here are some players that teams may be looking to move for not much more than salary relief in the right situation.
Tyler Anderson, Angels
The lefty had a mixed track record over his career until he joined the Dodgers in 2022 and won 15 games with a 2.57 ERA. That led the Angels to sign him to a three-year, $39 million deal, but he regressed in his first season in Anaheim with a 5.43 ERA in 141 innings. He has never been a big strikeout guy, but he found success with the Dodgers by having a very low walk rate, something he wasn’t able to do with the Angels. He didn’t give up a ton of hard-hit balls though, and his change and cutter are still effective pitches. But the former first-round pick will turn 34 this off-season and may not be worth the final two years and $26 million left on his deal.
Jake Cronenworth, Padres
San Diego just signed the two-time All-Star infielder to a seven-year, $80 million deal in April, but are now in cost-cutting mode and are reportedly looking to move him. On a per-season basis, his salary should be affordable - he won’t make more than $13 million in any year of his contract. But he’ll be making nearly $13 million in 2030, at age 36, which will give any team pause to make that kind of commitment. Cronenworth has tremendous positional flexibility and could slot in at second or third with the Royals. He had a down year, hitting .229/.312/.378, but has put up decent power numbers while drawing walks and avoiding strikeouts throughout his career. It may take an actual decent prospect to acquire him, but that long-term commitment may scare teams away.
Anthony Desclafani, Giants
The Giants have been pretty bad in picking free agents the lately, with over $100 million of their payroll going to nine free agents that produced 5.3 WAR this year. They expect to be big spenders this off-season, but that could be made easier if they could move some bad contracts.
Desclafani had a terrific 2021 with a 3.17 ERA in 31 starts, but has struggled with injuries the last two seasons. His 4.88 ERA and 18.9 percent strikeout rate in 99 2⁄3 innings this year is underwhelming, but his 4.35 FIP suggests he was better than his ERA indicated, and he is a strike-thrower with one of the lowest walk rates in baseball. The 33-year-old missed most of 2022 with an ankle injury and was shut down the final two months of this season with an elbow injury, so he is a risk. He is under contract for one more season with a salary of $12 million.
Avisaíl García, Marlins
García smacked 29 home runs with the Brewers in 2021, but has been awful ever since signing a four-year, $53 million deal with the Marlins. He has played in just 135 games over the last two years, hitting an anemic .215/.260/.316 and just 11 home runs. A myriad of injuries - wrist, back, and hamstring - kept him out of much of this season. His exit velocity still looks good, he just has trouble making contact at all, with his strikeout rate spiking while his walk rate has cratered in Miami. He’s only 32 and still a decent defender, so there is a chance for a rebound, but with $29 million owed to him over the next two years, the Marlins will have to eat money to move him.
Marco Gonzales, Mariners
The Mariners have already engineered one salary dump trade, sending third baseman Eugenio Suarez to the Diamondbacks. They could look to clear even more room by dealing pitcher Marco Gonzales with $12 million owed to him in the last year of his deal. Gonzales was a decent mid-rotation starter for years, but has a 5.03 FIP over the last three seasons with a very low strikeout rate. He was held to just ten starts last year with a 4.28 ERA, missing the final three months with an elbow injury that required surgery. The 31-year-old is expected to be ready for the start of the season, although his inability to miss bats could be an issue.
Mitch Haniger, Giants
Haniger hit 39 home runs in 2021 with Seattle, but he may be washed up after hitting .228/.288/.398 in 118 games over the last two seasons combined. Still, he puts up some good underlying metrics like exit velocity and hard-hit rate, and he’s not a defensive liability in a corner outfield spot yet. He did battle numerous injuries last year - an oblique injury, back strains, and forearm surgery that kept him out much of the summer, and he’ll turn 33 before the end of the calendar year. He’s been a bit better against lefties, so he could perhaps thrive in more of a platoon role. He is owed $20 million next year with a $15.5 million player option after that, so the Giants would probably have to eat a lot of money to move the right-handed bat.
Starling Marte, Mets
Marte was an All-Star who received MVP votes in 2022, but he had core muscle surgery in the off-season and never looked right this year. He put up a .625 OPS, the worst of his career, and his sprint speed declined. He was held to 86 games, but still stole 24 bases in 28 attempts. But his modest power disappeared and he had the fifth-worst ISO in baseball. Marte is a right-fielder, and a poor one at that this year, although he was a Gold Glover earlier in his career. The 35-year-old is probably in his twilight, and the Mets would have to eat a lot of the final $41.5 million over two years left on his deal.
Steven Matz, Cardinals
St. Louis is overhauling their rotation this off-season, and there are already reports they are shopping Matz. The lefty has actually been decent with the Cardinals, so even though there is $25 million owed to him over the next two seasons, he would likely require a decent return of players in a trade. He struggled at the beginning of the season and spent some time in the pen and on the Injured List with a lat strain, but the 32-year-old finished strong and ended with a 3.86 ERA with pretty good peripherals.
Drew Smyly, Cubs
Smyly exercised his $8.5 million player option for next year, and he has a $10 million mutual option after that with a $2.5 million buyout. He was a swingman with the Cubs this year, making 23 starts and 18 relief appearances and winning 11 games, although with a 5.00 ERA. The 34-year-old crafty lefty did miss a fair amount of bats last year by throwing his curveball half the time, although he also saw his walk rate spike. Smyly can be a bit home-run prone, although just 18 of his 26 home runs allowed last year would have left Kauffman Stadium. The former Razorback is probably ticketed to begin next year in Wrigley bullpen, and with the Cubs looking to add pieces, they may want to free up some salary.
Ross Stripling, Giants
Stripling had a terrific 2022 season with Toronto, with a 3.01 ERA in 134 1⁄3 innings that netted him a multi-year deal with the Giants. He battled back injuries this year that limited him to 89 innings and shuffled between the rotation and bullpen with a 5.36 ERA. The 34-year-old right-hander has one of the best walk rates in baseball over the last two seasons and succeeds by keeping the ball on the ground. He will earn $12.5 million this year, the final year of his deal.
Robert Suarez, Padres
Suarez spent time in leagues in Mexico and Japan before signing a multi-million dollar deal with the Padres for the 2022 season. He was pretty terrific in his rookie campaign that year with a 2.27 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings, but he was held to just 26 games this yaer with a 4.23 ERA. He missed the first three months of the season with an elbow injury and later served a 10-game suspension for using foreign substances. He has a big fastball in the upper-90s and can definitely miss bats, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30 and is owed $30 million over the next three seasons with two $8 million player options after that.