The KC Royals agreed with former Diamondbacks and Padres starter Ian Kennedy to a five-year, $70 million deal on Saturday. The contract involves an opt out clause after the 2017 season, and blows past most everyone’s preconceptions of the Kansas City Royals budget limits for the 2016 season.
Back in 2011 when the KC Royals were taking heat for having the lowest payroll in major-league baseball at $44 million, owner David Glass insisted that he wasn’t hoarding his competitive balance payments and instead only had a low payroll because the KC Royals were bringing up a wave of prospects that included Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez. Glass promised multiple times over the next few years that he was willing spend past the break even point in order to keep a winning group together.
David Glass is making good on his word after winning two straight American League pennants and the 2015 World Series. Having a payroll that figures to go past $130 million is quite a sea-change for a guy that limited general manager Allard Baird to a $1,000 bonus for college senior Mike Aviles in a take-it or leave-it offer.
I must confess, I am surprised by this deal. I did not believe that: 1) Kennedy was more than a mid-rotation pitcher and, 2) that Glass would pony up the cash to land the 31-year-old Kennedy. Hey, baseball will force humility on anyone even tangentially connected to it. I suppose that includes me.
One of the reasons I was skeptical about Jon Heyman’s reports about the Kansas City Royals interest in Ian Kennedy is that I thought players like Cliff Lee or Tim Lincecum had more upside. I saw Kennedy as a mid-rotation innings eater.
Clearly, the KC Royals think more highly of Kennedy than I do. And, Dayton Moore has good reasons to do so. Ian Kennedy has sported an excellent 9.3 K/9 the last two seasons, up from his career 8.3 K/9. His walk rate is a good 3.0 BB/9 for his career and 2.8 BB/9 last season.
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However, Kennedy scuffled through a tough 2015 campaign which saw him post a 9-15 record with a 4.28 ERA and an even worse Fielding Independent Pitching rate of 4.51. The major problem with Kennedy was giving up a career-high 31 home runs. As many have pointed out, Kennedy tightened up in the second half. He allowed only 11 bombs after the All-Star break.
The more stingy home run rate coincided with a strong second half that saw Ian Kennedy right the ship with a 5-6 record and 3.64 ERA, 1.262 WHiP and 3.77 SO/W ratio. All of those are solid numbers. The KC Royals apparently dismissed Kennedy’s bad first half as an anomaly given his second-half return to his career numbers.
Even so, Ian Kennedy only has a 97 ERA+ (3% worse than a league average pitcher) over his career. This fact makes me suspect that KC Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland has spotted something in Kennedy’s mechanics that might allow him to pitch like he did in 2011, when Kennedy went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and a 3.22 FIP.
Remember, Eiland was Kennedy’s pitching coach in New York when Kennedy broke into the big leagues. I presume that means the KC Royals front office has good reason to believe Kennedy will fit into their clubhouse.
Apparently,five-years and $70 million is the market rate for a mid-rotation arm after Mike Leake‘s five-year, $80 million deal with St. Louis. The opt out, however, makes the contract a worse deal for Kansas City since it shifts the risk of poor performance to KC.
If Kennedy outperforms his deal, he can re-enter the market at age 33. If he under-performs, he collects the guaranteed money from the Royals.
Let’s just hope Ian Kennedy can re-capture a bit of 2011 magic the next two seasons.