clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Will the Royals regret signing Ian Kennedy?

New, 2 comments

When signing low-upside starters to fill out the rotation, there's an opportunity cost that some clubs have to pay.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

There's nothing wrong with Ian Kennedy. I don't mean that in a physical sense; I mean, I assume he's healthy, but I've got no insight whatsoever about that. I just mean in a conceptual sense. There's nothing wrong with having Ian Kennedy on your baseball team.

He's a perfectly decent right handed pitcher, providing roughly the same value over the last four years as Mike Leake, but with a lot more volatility. That the Royals were able to sign Kennedy for $10 million less is a function of him being three years older, but still has the potential to be a comparative bargain to the deal Leake signed with the Cardinals. Still, neither of these signings are likely to hurt the Royals or the Cardinals in 2016.

That said, this pair of five-year deals has me thinking about the additional costs of signing what are essentially no better than league-average starters for relatively long and expensive deals. Those costs aren't measured solely in money, but also in opportunity.

Consider the Minnesota Twins. After a dismal 2013, the Twins set out to improve their dismal starting pitching. They chose not to spend heavily in the deep end of the free agent pool, and instead signed two pitchers who they felt could be good mid-rotation guys: Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. While Nolasco got hurt and has flopped, Hughes put up a great 2014 and earned himself a contract extension at what was the going rate. Before 2015, the Twins again picked up a decent mid-rotation guy, Ervin Santana for a similar long-term deal. Those three pitchers, then, have been essentially locked on the roster and into rotation spots. The Twins tried and failed to dump Nolasco's remaining two years and $24 million this offseason. With no takers, all three will be on the staff in 2016, taking potential starts away from promising young starters like Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Jose Berrios who have more upside and who cost far less.

Do the Royals and Cardinals have the same problem the Twins have run into? The financial commitment to the current starters the Royals may throw out in 2016 looks like this:

Name

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Yordano Ventura

$1.2

$3.45

$6.45

$9.95

$1 buyout,         $12 option

Ian Kennedy

$14

$14

$14

$14

$14

Edinson Volquez

$9.5

$3 buyout,         $10 option

Jason Vargas

$8.5

$8

Danny Duffy

$4.22

Arb

Chris Young

$4.25

$5.75

$1.5 buyout, $8.5 option

That's certainly not bad. With Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer knocking on the door and potentially ready to contribute, deals given to Vargas, Young, and whatever Duffy earns in arbitration should be movable. So what about the Cardinals?

Name

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Adam Wainwright

$19.5

$19.5

$19.5

Carlos Martinez

$.5

Arb

Arb

Arb

Mike Leake

$12

$15

$17

$16

$15

$5 buyout, $18 option

Jaime Garcia

$11.5

$.5 buyout,   $12 option

Lance Lynn

$7.5

$7.5

Again, it's not terrible looking. If the Cardinals see significant growth from Alexander Reyes or Marco Gonzalez, they could easily move Garcia or Lynn next offseason to give themselves space. Given the steep rise of salaries around the game, both are relative bargains.

So, I guess the answer to my question is that neither the Kennedy nor the Leake signings are likely to be problems for their new clubs for the next 2-3 years. The trouble with signing these low upside arms is when you buy them in bulk, exclusively using free agency to fill out your rotation with long and expensive commitments. It reduces the flexibility that any club needs to adapt when prospects develop or retreads break out. Every organization can use an Ian Kennedy or a Mike Leake. They just can't really use more than one.