This winter, the Royals will be looking to improve a pitching staff that led the league in ERA. If that sounds like a challenging task, well, it is. They will likely be losing Ervin Santana, who should be able to land a very rich paycheck in free agency, and along with him, his 211 innings and 3.24 ERA. There are plenty of options available for General Manager Dayton Moore to pursue, and with the free agent signing period upon us, prognosticators have already begun reading their own crystal balls.
Writers at the MLB Trade Rumors website recently released their predictions on where each of the top 50 free agents will sign, and they think the Royals will land Josh Johnson and South Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon. Obviously these are nothing more than somewhat-educated guesses, but they’re fun to look at nonetheless. The full list of predictions can be found here.
Johnson is a big, strong pitcher who’s dealt with a long injury history, including triceps and elbow issues that resulted in requiring surgery last month. When healthy, however, Johnson has been impressive. In nearly 1000 career innings, he has an ERA of 3.40, a FIP of 3.22, and K/9 of 8.25. Johnson’s career GB% of 47.1 would be a good fit with the Royals defense behind him. Also, Johnson has usually been able to limit home runs, posting HR/FB% below the league average in each of his big league seasons, except for 2013, in which he pitched in hitter-friendly Toronto. His 2013 results weren’t pretty (6.20 ERA, 4.62 FIP), but Johnson still struck out over 9 batters per 9 innings, and his xFIP – after normalizing his flukishly-high home run rate (18.5) – was a very respectable 3.58. The major risk with Johnson is obviously his health, having only pitched more than 90 innings in 3 of the last 6 seasons, so I would expect any deal he signs to be heavily laden with incentives. The Royals will likely attempt to re-sign Santana before moving on to secondary options, but Johnson seems to meet several of the team’s criteria on their wish list to bolster their rotation in 2014.
Yoon, a 27 year-old righty, missed some time in 2013 due to a shoulder injury, but did pitch very well in 2011 and 2012, posting ERAs of 2.45 and 3.12, respectively. Some reports profile Yoon as a reliever, although if the Royals do sign him, one would assume he’d be inserted into the rotation since the team has so much depth in the pen. He doesn’t throw terribly hard, with a fastball sitting around 91 or 92 MPH, but Yoon still was able to strike out roughly 8.5 batters per 9 innings in 2011 and 2012 combined. While his fellow countryman, Hyun-jin Ryu, impressed many in his MLB debut season, it doesn’t appear as though Yoon will be able to duplicate that kind of success. Because of the lower expectations, there likely wouldn’t be as much risk involved in a moderate 1-2 year contract. Yoon’s full free agent profile on MLBTR can be seen here.
Again, these predictions are more for entertainment purposes than anything else. I’m just incredibly excited for this free agency period to begin, and to jump start possibly the most exciting offseason in Royals’ history.