The Royals are exploring the market for relief help, manager Matt Quatraro said at this week’s Winter Meetings (relayed by Anne Rogers of MLB.com). General manager J.J. Picollo took a broader approach in an appearance on the MLB Network with Matt Vasgersian and Harold Reynolds, saying they’re evaluating both the rotation and bullpen markets.
Picollo expressed a similar desire to upgrade the starting five a couple weeks ago. Kansas City subsequently brought in Kyle Wright in a trade with the Braves, but he’ll miss all of next season recovering from shoulder surgery. It’s natural they’re still searching for pitching help in any area, although Picollo noted today they’ll need to “rebuild (the) bullpen.”
That could point to multiple additions to the relief unit. The Royals acquired Nick Anderson in a cash transaction with Atlanta in the middle of November. He’s one fairly experienced addition to a bullpen still consisting of mostly young pitchers. Among returning hurlers with 20+ innings pitched, only James McArthur and swingman Alec Marsh turned in a sub-4.00 ERA when working out of the bullpen. Carlos Hernández and Taylor Clarke joined that group in narrowly posting a strikeout rate better than league average.
Only the Rockies — who play in a much more difficult home park for pitchers — had a worse bullpen ERA overall. K.C. relievers finished 23rd in strikeout rate and 28th in walk percentage. Given that lack of depth, it’s unsurprising that the Royals are looking to add beyond Anderson. Quatraro noted the roster as currently constructed doesn’t have a closer, so they project to have a committee approach to the late innings for now.
If the front office wants to add some stability, they could pursue someone with experience handling the ninth inning. Kansas City’s $3.75MM free agent deal with Aroldis Chapman last offseason was one of the winter’s best rebound fliers, as the Royals flipped him for breakout lefty Cole Ragans after Chapman turned in a stellar first half. While Chapman is presumably out of Kansas City’s price range this time around, the likes of David Robertson and Dylan Floro are speculative bounceback candidates who have worked as closers in the past.
Picollo also confirmed reports that the Royals have had some extension talks with franchise shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. The GM predictably didn’t tip his hand about the status of negotiations or handicap the odds of getting a deal done but noted the team “(loves) having him” and called Witt the “face of our future.” The righty-hitting shortstop connected on 30 home runs with a .276/.319/.495 batting line while playing 158 games this year. He’s under club control for four more seasons and will reach arbitration for the first time next winter if the sides don’t agree to a long-term deal in the interim.