During the press conference for Kendrys Morales, Dayton Moore said the Royals weren’t done with their offseason moves. He wasn’t kidding. After reportedly inking Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $20 million contract yesterday, the Royals announced that they’ve signed Kris Medlen to a two-year deal with an option for 2017. Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the contract guarantees Medlen $8.5 million, with up to $10 million in incentives.
Medlen was recently non-tendered by the Braves after he missed all of 2014 due to his second Tommy John surgery. The first came in 2010, though since returning, he’s been an outstanding pitcher. The 29-year old righty threw 337.1 innings between 2011 and 2013, to the tune of a 2.45 ERA, 7.4 strikeouts per 9 innings, and 1.9 walks per 9. Among pitchers with at least 300 innings in that timeframe, his 65 ERA- is the second-best in all of baseball, trailing only some guy named Clayton Kershaw. You might have heard of him.
In his career, Medlen’s split time between the bullpen and the rotation, with nearly identical success. His 2.96 ERA as a starter is only slightly higher than the 2.92 he posted as a reliever, and his strikeout rates aren’t far apart, either (20.8% to 21.2%, respectively).
As for his repertoire, Medlen mostly relies on a sinker that sits a touch above 90 MPH, an outstanding changeup, and a curveball that also tends to miss some bats. About that changeup though: he had a whiff rate of 30.2% in 2013 with that pitch, which is among the best in baseball. That’ll play.
There’s no word yet on when exactly Medlen will begin throwing, so the Royals are reportedly paying him $2 million next season before bumping that up to $5.5 million in 2016. That mutual option has a $1 million buyout as well.
This signing may not have a huge impact in 2015, since Medlen probably won’t see game action for several months, but it gives them even more rotation depth, which is of such critical importance. The Royals have been able to keep their pitchers healthy recently, but that may not always be the case. A few days ago, the Royals had 4 starting pitchers. They now have 6; 7 if you count Yohan Pino. If one of them is underperforming or injured when Medlen is ready, he can slide into that rotation. If the starters are doing great, they can ease him back using him out of the bullpen.
And if Medlen returns to full health, he can be another frontline starter to join Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. Anytime you can have that much talent in the rotation, it’s a good thing. Bringing Medlen into the fold could pay off in a huge way in 2016.
Bottom line, this signing is a great deal for the Royals. Obviously coming back from two Tommy John surgeries is no small task, but it’s still a low-risk move, since only $8.5 million is guaranteed, and Medlen obviously has tons of upside when healthy. He offers front-of-the-rotation stuff, and won’t turn 30 until next October. It’s not often you can acquire a pitcher like that with such a small financial commitment. Oh, and speaking of financial commitments: the Royals’ payroll now sits north of $115 million. A trade of an expensive reliever is still possible, but it certainly looks like the organization is making good use of the new revenue following last season’s playoff run.
To make room for Medlen, Johnny Giavotella has been designated for assignment. Gio was out of options and behind Omar Infante and Christian Colon in the depth chart, so it was only a matter of time before the two sides parted ways. Even with that move, two more players will need to be cleared in the coming days to make room for Alex Rios and Volquez.