The Royals have had a fairly active off-season, bolstering the starting pitching staff and adding depth to the infield and outfield. They have also upgraded a bullpen that ranked second-worst in ERA last year by adding veterans Nick Anderson, Will Smith, and Chris Stratton. Other young candidates for bullpen spots include James McArthur, Carlos Hernández, Josh Taylor, Jake Brentz, John McMillon, Steven Cruz, Will Klein, and Matt Sauer.
But there is still room for improvement, and with J.J. Picollo saying that “we’re not going to wait any longer” for players to develop, he could be looking to add another veteran or two. In fact, there have been rumors they are looking to trade for a closer, but a free agent won’t cost them a prospect. As spring training begins this week, there are still several free agents remaining. Who could help the Royals?
Worth a look?
Anthony Bass had a 1.54 ERA in 73 appearances in 2022 with a terrific strikeout-to-walk ratio, but struggled last year in 22 games with a 4.95 ERA. He was let go in June after sharing a video on social media calling for a boycott of Target and Bud Light for supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. Bass did apologize and met with Pride Toronto, but also said he stood by his personal beliefs. The 35-year-old is a sinker/slider pitcher whose sinker was hit hard last year, but he could be a bounce-back candidate.
Dominic Leone had a 1.51 ERA in 2021 with the Giants, but has seen his ERA spike the last two years, with a 4.67 ERA in 2023. He still had a very good whiff rate last year of 34.1 percent, but had trouble throwing strikes at times, particularly over the last two months. The 32-year-old right-hander still has a healthy 95 mph fastball, but his cutter has become very hittable in the last two years.
Ryne Stanek is a Kansas City kid, who is one of the hardest-throwing relievers in the league. He had a minuscule 1.15 ERA with the Astros in 2022, but regressed last year with a 4.09 ERA and 4.60 FIP. He has drawn interest from the Mets, Cubs, and Red Sox, so there could be a bit of a bidding war for the 32-year-old.
Matt Wisler has a 2.59 ERA in the big leagues since 2020, but can’t seem to stick, spending all of last year in Triple-A with the Tigers. He wasn’t very good there, but the 31-year-old has a better track record than most available pitchers. He throws almost exclusively sliders, with a fastball that barely hits 90 mph, yet has exhibited some solid strikeout rates in the past and seems to induce a lot of poor contact.
Matt Barnes was an All-Star in 2021 with the Red Sox, but has been pretty lousy since then. He appeared in just 24 games with the Marlins, posting an ugly 5.48 ERA before his season ended in July with hip surgery. The 33-year-old throws an effective knuckle-curve about half the time, but his fastball was pounded last year.
Mychal Givens had a 3.38 ERA in 2021, but pitched in just six games last year, missing most of the season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Givens throws from a low arm angle and gets a lot of ground balls, but his velocity has been steadily dropping. The 33-year-old has been a pretty solid reliever in his nine-year career, but it is a question how much more he has left in the tank.
Liam Hendriks spent six games with the Royals in 2014 before becoming a three-time All-Star closer. he battled back from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but required Tommy John surgery and will likely miss most or all of this season. That might make him a bargain if the Royals want to sign him to a two-year deal, but he just turned 35 and pitched in just five games last year.
Lou Trivino will not be ready for the start of the start of the season following Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2023. His 4.53 ERA in 2022 was unimpressive, but he had a 3.63 FIP and was lights out the final two months once he was traded to the Yankees. He has some experience closing and has struck out over a hitter-per-inning in his career with high groundball rates, but he has struggled with walks.
Starters who could convert
Matthew Boyd pitched in ten games in relief in 2022 with the Mariners and looked pretty impressive, but returned to starting last year and posted a 5.45 ERA. He threw his fastball less often and with more velocity in his short relief experience, so perhaps some tweaks can produce better outcomes for the 33-year-old left-hander, but it will have to wait until at least the second half as he returns from Tommy John surgery.
Madison Bumgarner is most hated in Kansas City for his relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, so perhaps a move to the bullpen can revive his career? The four-time All-Star has been pretty lousy the last four seasons with a laughably bad fastball. A move to the pen could give the 34-year-old a velocity bump, but this may be the end of his big league career.
Vince Velasquez has long been a “great stuff, poor results” guy. He seemed to turn a corner with the Pirates, but was sidelined with injury after just eight starts. He has the ability to miss bats with a terrific slider, which could be better utilized in short stints. He had elbow surgery in June, so he may not be ready to start this season.