Ian Kennedy emerged as a reliable closer for the KC Royals in 2019. With a couple of additions deemed reclamation projects, could they spark a trade later?
When the KC Royals signed Ian Kennedy to a five-year, $70 million contract ahead of the 2016 season, the envisioned getting the version that posted a 74-64 record between 2010-2015. They ended up getting a less-than-ideal Kennedy as he went over the age-30 hill. The former 21-game winner from 2011 with the Arizona Diamondbacks is long gone, but he found new life in 2019.
After back-to-back disappointing seasons in the starting rotation, Kennedy was moved to the closer role in 2019. Recording 30 saves and posting a 3.41 ERA in 63 games last year, he experienced his best campaign in years. In his new role, Kennedy was able to strike batters out more frequently and could throw his best stuff in a lesser amount of innings.
The Royals have toyed with the idea of sending Kennedy off to another team, but his price tag has been too much for potential suitors to want to accept. He’s owed another $16.5 million in 2020 and although he projects to be a good closer again, opposing general managers still won’t be on board with taking on that salary.
In the event of an eventual Kennedy trade, which has gained next to no traction and is more so an idea lingering in the distance, several things must happen. First and foremost, it would likely take place closer to the July 31 trade deadline. By that time, a lot of Kennedy’s 2020 salary will have already been paid. He’d be more affordable.
Secondly, the Royals would need a replacement for him. Two reclamation projects, Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland, seem to make some sense as guys with outside shots on minor-league deals. They’re underdogs looking to resurrect their careers — something general manager Dayton Moore has been a big proponent of throughout the past several seasons.
Rosenthal, a former All-Star under Mike Matheny in St. Louis, has spent the last couple of seasons seeing his career traject downward. After missing the entire 2018 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, he returned in 2019 and posted a 13.50 ERA between two stops. Rosenthal will turn 30 this season and still has some heat on his fastball, so he’s certainly an intriguing candidate to turn things around.
Holland, one of the most dominant relievers in Royals history, now has an opportunity to return to where it all started. After recording 145 saves from 2010-2015, the former H-D-H member has made stops in Colorado, Washington, St. Louis and Arizona. In 2019, he saved 17 games while spinning a 4.54 ERA in 35.2 innings pitched.
Should Ian Kennedy succeed again this season at closer, it’s a formality that his name will be swirled around in trade rumors. If one (or both) of Rosenthal/Holland can work their way back into the fold, perhaps sending Kennedy elsewhere wouldn’t be the end of the world. His trade value isn’t very high because of his age (35) and contract status (upcoming free agent), but he could at least net something in return.
There are a lot of “what if” situations going on here. At the end of the day, Ian Kennedy showed that he can thrive as a closer. He’s the part of the equation we do know. The variables are Holland and Rosenthal. If either of them can regain anything close to their old form, let’s revisit this in a few months. Until then, one can hope…