The Kansas City Royals fans expect a mass exodus of players after the 2017 season. One name that most fans don’t include is starting pitcher Ian Kennedy, who has an opt out clause following the second year of his current deal.
Ian Kennedy signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Kansas City Royals before the 2016 season. Not only did most analysts consider Kennedy’s deal an overpay by the KC Royals, he also got an opt out after two years. Few people believed that Kennedy would ever exercise this clause, due to the the back-loaded nature of the deal.
The KC Royals got Kennedy for $21 million in the first two years of the contract. The final three years cost $16 million apiece. Fangraphs.com writer August Fagerstrom estimated that Kennedy would only be worth $19 million over the last three years of his deal. Since he was guaranteed $48 million, it didn’t seem likely that Kennedy would choose to exercise the opt out clause.
However, Kennedy went 10-11 with a 3.68 ERA and a 8.5 K/9 in 2016. According to Baseball-Reference, who uses actual performance to estimate player value, Kennedy was worth a robust 4.1 bWAR (Wins Above Replacement). Fangraphs.com, who uses peripherals to estimate how many runs a pitcher SHOULD have surrendered, only considered Kennedy worth $1.7 fWAR.
That’s a considerable difference. At 4.1 WAR, Kennedy has already provided $32.8 million in value on his contract. At $1.7 WAR, Kennedy’s open market value falls to a mere $11.9 million. Note that his 1.7 fWAR season in 2016 was 0.5 fWAR less than Fagerstrom’s projection, which saw Kennedy’s contract as a nearly $20 million overpay.
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If Kennedy can come close to his 2016 performance in 2017, you’d have to expect he’d re-enter the free-agent market. After all, someone is going to ignore Fangraphs.com’s estimate based upon peripherals in favor of actual results. If Kennedy continues to pitch like a solid no. 2 starter, he’s going to get paid.
However, next winter figures to be a strong market for starting pitching. Johnny Cueto, Masashiro Tanaka, Wei-Yin Chen , and Kennedy can opt out of their contracts. Plus, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Michael Pineda, and Danny Duffy could hit the open market, presuming they don’t sign extensions. The competition could deter Kennedy from risking $48 million in guaranteed money.
While Kansas City Royals fans all want Ian Kennedy to have a big year, keep in mind that a strong performance could hasten his free-agency.