Aug. 17: Wittgren has now formally elected free agency, the Royals announced.
Aug. 16: Royals reliever Nick Wittgren is expected to elect free agency, reports Anne Rogers of MLB.com (Twitter link). He was optioned to Triple-A Omaha this afternoon when Kansas City selected John McMillon onto the big league club.
An optional assignment doesn’t typically allow a player to become a free agent. Players with over five years of major league service, however, have to consent to being optioned. Wittgren has between five and six years of service time, so he’ll have the ability to look elsewhere rather than head back to Omaha. Assuming he indeed chooses free agency, the Royals’ 40-man roster count will drop to 39.
Wittgren signed a non-roster pact with K.C. last December. He worked to a 1.25 ERA over 21 2/3 frames with Omaha, leading the Royals to select his contract at the end of May. The right-hander has since made 27 appearances, working 29 innings in generally low-leverage situations. He owns a 4.97 ERA in that stretch.
That’s marginally better than Witttgren’s run prevention marks of the past two seasons, though it’s quite a bit worse than the combined 2.97 ERA he posted in 112 appearances from 2018-20. Wittgren posted solid strikeout numbers during that peak but has seen the whiffs drop off significantly of late. He fanned a below-average 14.1% of opposing hitters with Kansas City on the heels of a 12.7% strikeout rate with the Cardinals a season ago.
Still, Wittgren should at least find minor league interest elsewhere on the strength of his early-season Triple-A production. He fanned over 24% of batters faced in Omaha, where he kept his walks to a modest 7.6% clip. Wittgren has been a solid strike-thrower throughout his career, walking 7% of opponents through 329 1/3 MLB innings.
Should he sign elsewhere by September 1, Wittgren would be eligible for postseason play. He’d have reached free agency at season’s end if the Royals had kept him on the major league roster. With the club clearly in evaluation mode, it’s sensible they’d prefer to give some innings to the hard-throwing McMillon down the stretch.