The Royals have signed right-hander Kyle Zimmer to a one-year deal, the team announced (Twitter links). Zimmer’s deal is a Major League deal, and MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports (via Twitter) that it is a split contract. Zimmer will earn $124K in the minors and $555K (the MLB minimum salary) if he cracks the Royals’ big league roster. In a corresponding move, the Royals have designated third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert for assignment.
After being selected with the fifth overall pick of the 2012 draft, Zimmer has yet to reach the majors, as his development has been stalled by a series of injuries. Shoulder and elbow problems have been consistent issues, and Zimmer underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in July 2016. All in all, Zimmer has tossed just 259 minor league innings since making his pro debut in 2012, and he didn’t pitch at all last season.
In this context, it’s a little curious why K.C. felt the need to sign Zimmer to a Major League contract rather than another minor league agreement, though obviously the price is far from prohibitive and the split deal gives Zimmer a bit of extra guaranteed cash.
Despite all the injuries, Zimmer continued to be listed on multiple top-100 prospect rankings as recently as 2016, due to the potential he flashed when he was able to take the mound. Zimmer has a 3.54 ERA, 10.8 K/9, and a 3.44 K/BB rate in the minors, though he did have a 5.79 ERA over his only Triple-A exposure, a 32 2/3-inning stint in 2017. Zimmer worked mostly as a reliever in 2017 and that would seem like his clearest path to the majors, though just making the Show would be an achievement for Zimmer at this point given his plethora of health issues.
Cuthbert has also been plagued with injuries over the last two seasons, playing in just 88 total games for the Royals with only a .215/.278/.313 slash line over 270 plate appearances. Cuthbert looked to breaking in as a regular in the Kansas City lineup in 2016, though his diminished play over the last two years has made him an expendable part of the Royals’ rebuild.
The Royals avoided arbitration with Cuthbert by agreeing to a $850K contract for the 2019 season, though like all arb deals, this contract isn’t guaranteed until the season actually begins. If the Royals were to part ways with Cuthbert before the 16th day of Spring Training, they would only owe him 30 days of prorated termination pay based on his contract value (so in this case, roughly $143K). Cuthbert is also out of options, so even if Kansas City wanted to keep him in the organization, he’d have to clear this waiver process.