The Royals and free-agent right-hander Ian Kennedy are “said to be making progress” on a contract, reports Jon Heyman (Twitter link). Talks between the Scott Boras client and the Kansas City front office are ongoing, per Heyman.
Kennedy, who turned 31 in December, would give the Royals some much-needed stability in the rotation. While Kansas City can currently trot out a combination of Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy, Chris Young and Kris Medlen in 2016 (with Jason Vargas on the mend from Tommy John surgery), that collective group comes with some question marks. Ventura has never topped 183 innings in a season and threw just 172 2/3 between Triple-A and the Majors last season. Likewise, Duffy’s career-high is 155 1/3 innings, and Young hasn’t tossed more than 165 innings in a season since 2007. Medlen totaled just 88 2/3 innings last year in his first season back from his second Tommy John surgery.
The Royals have been said to be on the lookout for additional starting rotation depth, although a deal with Kennedy would certainly qualify as more than merely “adding depth.” The right-hander turned down a qualifying offer from the Padres this past November, meaning the Royals would need to part with what currently lines up as the No. 24 overall pick in the draft in order to sign him. That’s a steep price to pay for any free agent, especially considering the fact that Kennedy is coming off a down season overall with San Diego, although it’s worth noting that he pitched quite well over the season’s final four months after a brutal start to the year.
Kennedy recorded a ghastly 7.15 ERA over his first eight starts, yielding a jarring 12 home runs in 39 innings in that stretch. But, from June 1 through season’s end, he righted the ship, working to a tidy 3.41 ERA with a 137-to-38 K/BB ratio and a more reasonable (but still lofty) 19 home runs allowed in 129 1/3 innings. His 2015 struggles notwithstanding, Kennedy has been a durable arm throughout the course of his career and showed no problems with the long ball as recently as 2014 with the Padres, when he posted a 3.63 ERA across 201 frames in one of his stronger overall campaigns in the Majors. While he’s never matched a dominant 2011 season in which he pitched to a 2.88 ERA with 8.0 K/9 against 2.2 BB/9 in 222 innings for the D-backs in their hitter-friendly home park (earning him a fourth-place vote in the NL Cy Young race), Kennedy has a track record of durability and strikeouts.
As a fly-ball pitcher who has, at times (specifically in 2013 and 2015) struggled with the long ball, the Royals seem, on paper, to be an excellent fit for Kennedy due to their expansive park and elite outfield defense, which features Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson (left to right). Additionally, the Royals have a very strong relationship with Scott Boras, having recently negotiate free-agent deals with Boras clients Kendrys Morales (though he has since switched agents), Alex Rios and Franklin Morales, to say nothing of homegrown talents like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Luke Hochevar and Christian Colon — all of whom are Boras clients as well.