The Royals announced today that they have avoided arbitration with left-hander Kris Bubic. The southpaw will make $2.35MM next year, per Anne Rogers of MLB.com. That’s just a bit below the $2.4MM projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
Bubic, 26, was selected 40th overall in the 2018 draft, which was a notable pivot point for the franchise. The club had five picks in the first 58 selections of that draft and used all of those on pitchers: Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch IV, Bubic and Jonathan Bowlan. The fact that none of those picks has worked out exactly as hoped is a significant part of the club struggling to emerge from a lengthy rebuild.
In the case of Bubic, he had a 4.89 earned run average at the end of the 2022 season, having logged 309 innings at the major league level to that point. He came into 2023 looking to have made some improvements but required Tommy John surgery in April. He’ll surely begin the 2024 campaign on the injured list but could perhaps rejoin the club’s rotation by midseason.
How much stock to put into his strong start in 2023 is a matter of debate. On the one hand, it was just three starts and 16 innings, so small sample size caveats obviously apply. But if one wanted to put an optimistic spin on it, that wouldn’t be totally unjustified. A 3.94 ERA in three starts isn’t mind-blowing, but he had a .375 batting average on balls in play in that time. His 2.63 FIP and 3.55 SIERA suggest he may have deserved better. His 23.5% strikeout rate was solid but his 2.9% walk rate and 52.1% ground ball rate were both very strong.
For those looking for a deeper dive, both Eno Sarris of The Athletic and Jake Mailhot of FanGraphs took a look at Bubic last year and found things to like. The lefty was featuring increased velocity, a different release point and a new slider. Perhaps the changed arsenal provides an explanation for the better results, but it is still a very small sample.
The Royals have signed a couple of free agents to bolster their rotation, inking both Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha. Those two should join Cole Ragans, Singer, Jordan Lyles and Daniel Lynch IV in the rotation mix. Bubic will hopefully force his way into the picture at some point, depending on how his rehab progresses in the coming months.
Bubic qualified for arbitration last year as a Super Two player, earning $2.2MM in 2023. He will be limited to a fairly similar salary in 2024, a reflection of his mostly lost season. He’ll be eligible for two more arbitration passes before he’s slated for free agency after 2026.