Kansas City Royals: What does the 2021 rotation look like?

Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images
Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images /

With a new owner, large salaries going away, and solid prospects, the Kansas City Royals potential 2021 starting rotation should be much improved.

As another Kansas City Royals season winds down instead of focusing on the upcoming playoffs, we dream of how next year can be better. Buoyed by a change in ownership, exciting arms in the minor leagues, additional TV money coming in and Alex Gordon’s salary coming off the books, what might the rotation look like in 2021?

Here are some facts we know at this point: Danny Duffy is under contract until 2021 at just over $15M per season. Unless they trade him before then, 2020 will be the last season for Ian Kennedy and his $16.5M salary. A long list of pitchers who had at least 10 starts in 2019 qualify for arbitration the next few years including Mike Montgomery ($2.44M in ’19), Jakob Junis ($578k), Brad Keller ($578k), Jorge Lopez ($562k), Glenn Sparkman ($555k). As you can see not much money is committed to this position outside of Duffy going into 2021.

Since we are looking two years out, we can also guess what minor leaguers would be ready to make the jump either next year or in ’21. Good news on this front as the Kansas City Royals drafted pitchers extremely well in 2018.

Brady Singer (#53 overall MLB prospect) should begin 2020 in minors after a strong season that ended at Northwest Arkansas and has the potential to see the big leagues next year. Daniel Lynch (#72 overall prospect and #8 LHP) played in A+ ball this year so a jump to Kansas City may not as promising but not out of the discussion either. Singer’s college buddy, Jackson Kowar, also posted some fine numbers between A+ and AA and a trip to Omaha or Kansas City next year is possible.

Rounding out the 2018 first few picks for the Royals (that may be looked back at fondly for years to come) is Kris Bubic who has overwhelmed hitters in Lexington and Wilmington since last year. The chance all four of these players are on the opening day 2021 roster is slim, however, the potential they have is exciting.

The last factor to consider before we project who will be on the mound at the beginning of ’21 for the Royals is potential free agents to sign. With a possibly $25-35 million more from Fox Sports Kansas City and at least Kennedy and Gordon’s salary gone that gives John Sherman an additional $60 million to hand out to solid players, not to mention if he decides to throw in more of his own money. For this exercise, we will stick with the known and realize that not all free agent cash would go to pitching.

A list of starting pitchers hitting the market in 2020 include Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Jake Odorizzi, Zack Wheeler, and Alex Wood. Cole is my favorite on this list but he may command $30M/year and I am not sure the Royals could or should pour all of that into one player.

I am still bitter over 2014 and cannot deal with Bumgarner and he hasn’t been as sharp the last three years. Alex Wood has a ton of potential and could come cheaper with the injuries he has had but that scares me away. I feel there is much value in Odorizzi and with a projected value of $17M/season he would be a nice anchor in a rotation with younger players. Wheeler may cost more than Odorizzi but he is a solid selection too and would fit nicely in Kauffman Stadium.

We can squint further into the future and look at the free-agent class after the 2020 season. Do the Royals sign one pitcher this offseason and another next winter or be patient and wait for the next class? Names like Trevor Bauer, Robbie Ray, Jake Arrieta, Jose Quintana, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and Marcus Stroman look for their next suitor.

Many of these pitchers will be over 30 at this point and I would prefer a guy in his mid to late 20’s to be an integral part of the rotation for years to come. Bauer would be a nice get but he also would come with a heavy price and there is some baggage as well with his outspokenness. Ray is an intriguing option that pitches well in a hitter-friendly park and would not break the bank.

Wow, a lot to digest. Considering the multiple in house and free-agent options, I can see the Royals starting 2021 with the following pitchers ready to wreak havoc on their opponents (or my spirit):

#1 Jake Odorizzi
#2 Danny Duffy
#3 Brady Singer
#4 Brad Keller
#5 Daniel Lynch

Next. 3 players who need to take next step in 2020. dark

With Jakob Junis, Kowar and Bubic ready to fill in case Duffy is traded and/or Keller does not work out long term. There should be intriguing pitching for the Kansas City Royals soon.