Kansas City Royals Finalize Ian Kennedy’s Contract

Sep 18, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Ian Kennedy (22) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Ian Kennedy (22) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Kansas City Royals and starting pitcher Ian Kennedy reportedly agreed to a five-year, $70 million deal earlier this month.

Yesterday morning, MLB insider Jon Heyman updated the situation with this tweet:

With the Royals still having not confirmed the signing, this breakdown gives Royals fans a better idea of what Dayton Moore and Company are getting into.

The first and most obvious thing that jumps out from this tweet is how back-loaded the contract is.

With only Yordano Ventura being under contract past 2017 pre-free agency (not including player and mutual options), back-loading contracts was Dayton Moore’s best option at winning now, without obliterating David Glass’ wallet in 2016.

All three of Moore’s key 2016 free agent signees (Alex Gordon, Joakim Soria, and Kennedy) have back-loaded contracts, whether it be progressively (Soria) or more drastically (Gordon and Kennedy).

Kennedy’s is the most drastic, seeing a $8.5 million jump from his 2016 salary to his 2018-2019 salary.

The drastic nature no doubt corresponds with the opt-out after two years, which is really the cornerstone of the contract and the main focus of this article.

From Kennedy’s perspective, the opt-out will be nothing but beneficial.

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Given two seasons in front of Kansas City’s defense and with the wizard Dave Eiland on top of Kennedy’s existing ability to miss bats and eat innings, it’s easy to envision Kennedy having a nice few seasons in Kansas City, building his market, and getting a bigger contract after 2017.

If Kennedy continues to struggle to keep the ball in the ball park, negating the elite defense behind him, he could decide not to opt-out and make more money than he did in his first two seasons. He could even be just an average pitcher and without the opt-out, upgrade financially, despite three aging seasons ahead of him. Like I said, there isn’t a whole lot not to like about this deal from Kennedy’s camp.

As much as having an average to above-average pitcher for five years wouldn’t be a bad thing, it is the humble opinion of this Royals fan that Dayton Moore wouldn’t be disappointed if the first circumstance played out and Kennedy bolted after two seasons. In fact, I think it would be very beneficial to the Kansas City Royals future.

Any hesitation to re-sign Gordon or open up the checkbook for guys like Soria and Kennedy stemmed on the Royals front office wanting enough financial flexibility to retain Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain when they hit free agency.

Twitter jumped all over this idea of essentially closing an open window in favor of a 2018 window, starting with this tweet:

However, a Kennedy opt-out would help with that flexibility, freeing up $16+ million annually from 2018-20. And if you are following the logic, an opt out would likely mean that Kennedy was good enough in 2017-18 to garner a bigger contract. Win-win for the Royals

There is still risk in it, however.

The biggest being just how back-loaded the contract is. It’s hard to imagine Kennedy being good enough over these next two seasons to warrant more than $16 million annually in 2018, his age-33 season.

If Kennedy doesn’t perform well enough to opt-out for a bigger deal, the idea of him being worth $16+ annually from 2018-20 (age 33-35 seasons) is even less likely.

The contract has its risks, but given the inflated free agent climate, the possibility of a lame duck pitcher making $16 million in five years is much easier to swallow given what the Royals will get in 2016-17.

Worst case scenario, the Royals get an average to above-average upside starting pitcher with a history of missing bats and eating innings for $10.5 million annually, over two-seasons where their window is still open.

By the time we are even thinking about having to overpay Kennedy in 2018, he’ll either be gone or the Royals window will be shifting.

When push comes to shove, if Kennedy can help the Kansas City Royals compete for another championship over these next two seasons, the contract will be well worth it.