As much as we would love to see the Royals sign one of the top free agent pitchers left, chances are that any free agents signed for the rotation will be lottery tickets. Johan Santana and Jason Hammel have been bandied about as a potential fit for the Royals, yet both pitchers are expected to have other suitors as well. If the Royals are going to look for a potential reclamation project, they may not want to engage in a bidding war just to see if that lottery ticket pays off.
One potential target that has been flying under the radar is former Pirates and Dodgers pitcher James McDonald. McDonald was once a solid prospect, ranking 56th according to Baseball America prior to the 2009 season. However, he has never quite lived up to his prospect status, producing a 32-30 record with a 4.20 ERA and a 1.401 WHiP in parts of six seasons. While he did show signs of promise, McDonald suffered through injuries and a disastrous 2013 season, being released by the Pirates on September 13th.
McDonald has mainly been plagued by a lack of control. He has given up less than a hit per inning in his major league career, yet has walked 4.1 batters per nine innings. Those control issues have been a problem even throughout his minor league career, and may be indicative of a flaw in his delivery. Should McDonald be able to improve his control, then he could become a solid starting option.
Although his fastball is only in the low 90’s, James McDonald has been able to strike out just under eight batters per nine innings. His slider, when not overused, can be devastating. McDonald has a decent difference in velocity between his fastball and occasional changeup, while throwing a curveball in the low 70’s. His arsenal appears to be solid enough where he could, with a bit of work, end up successful.
Kauffman Stadium could also be a welcoming place for McDonald as yet another flyball pitcher. Over his career, McDonald has a groundball to flyball rate of 0.62. With the spacious outfield and excellent defense in Kansas City, McDonald may have a chance to finally tap into the potential that he has occasionally flashed.
At only 29 years old heading into the 2014 season, McDonald may be worth a look as a potential option. He is still in the theoretical prime of his career, and could still have enough left to be an option in the rotation. McDonald could even potentially be converted to a reliever, where his fastball/slider combination could be lethal.
James McDonald may not be someone that a lot of people are paying attention to in free agency, but he may be worth a look. If nothing else, he would be a low risk/potential high reward signing for the Royals.