Kansas City Royals: Ian Kennedy Decides Against Opt Out

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 19: Ian Kennedy /

Ian Kennedy made the simple decision to remain with the Kansas City Royals for the foreseeable future, as he decided against opting out of his contract. Here’s what it means for the organization.

The Kansas City Royals could have been handed a lifeline, as a team approaching a difficult winter they would’ve had a lot more wiggle room. But alas, Ian Kennedy decided not to become a free agent and opted to remain with the franchise, per MLB.com’s Manny Randhawa.

It a decision that proves Kennedy isn’t stupid. Nobody should blame him for sticking around for the next three years to earn almost $50 million. He had no reason to turn down that kind of guaranteed money for the unknown of free agency. If you want to be mad at anybody, choose those in the front office who thought this contract made sense to offer Kennedy entering 2016.

Now that’s out-of-the-way, we can turn our focus to the repercussions of this decision. It won’t come as a shock to anyone, especially the organization. They should have accepted this reality a long time ago. Between Kennedy’s contract and Alex Gordon‘s deal, which both will end after the 2020 season, the Kansas City Royals have $36 million committed in 2018 to a pair of rapidly aging players. It makes up roughly 35 percent of the team’s current payroll for next season.

How Kennedy Has Worked Out

In 2016, Kennedy put together a really nice debut season. His record of 11-11 doesn’t jump off the page, but his 3.68 ERA and 1.22 WHIP tell the tale. In fact, his ERA+ of 117 was the second highest of his career, trailing only his 2011 season (137) when he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting.

He struggled to stay healthy in 2017, but even that shouldn’t completely excuse his poor season. Kennedy, who will turn 33 in December, finished 5-13 with a 5.38 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. His biggest issue proved to be pitching deep into games. In 2016, he averaged almost exactly six innings per outing. This past season that average dropped to just over five innings. That’s an insane difference.

Can Kennedy Bounce Back?

If you convince yourself Kennedy’s struggles are solely related to his injuries, you can probably convince yourself he’ll be worth the $49 million he will earn over the remainder of the contract. Others won’t be so easily swayed. Could he rebound in 2018? Sure, he likely won’t be worse than this past season. But if that’s the bar, the Kansas City Royals are in trouble.

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Even if Kennedy recovers next year, what will he be like in 2020? Next season, I’d expect Kennedy should be able to inch closer to a .500 record and drop his ERA into the 4.00-4.50 range. But beyond that, fans should be happy with anything that’s an improvement on 2017. Given his track record, don’t expect a late-career resurgence by Kennedy.

The best-case scenario for the Kansas City Royals would be for Kennedy to have a great first half and perhaps find a desperate trade partner. It might be more like to happen in 2019 than 2018. But depending on just how good his performance is, and just how desperate the team is, it’s a possibility. Nobody would have thought Jason Vargas could be a trade target in 2017. Yet, in hindsight, the Kansas City Royals should have traded him for something.

Instead, they held on to him as they pushed for an ultimately futile playoff berth. The team won’t make the same mistake with Kennedy, especially since they’re unlikely to be in the postseason hunt.

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More than likely, though, Kansas City Royals fans should get used to the idea of seeing Kennedy pitch every five days for the next three seasons.