KC Royals: Ian Kennedy making any move difficult

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Coming into this season, a reliever in the last year of his KC Royals contract figured to be an attractive trade deadline target. But now, the chances of moving him aren’t good.

With a little more than a week left until the major league trade deadline, it seems the KC Royals may be stuck with Ian Kennedy. Last year’s sensation as Kansas City’s closer is this year’s bullpen disappointment, not a good place to be for a player whose lucrative contract is soon to expire.

The Kennedy of 2020 has rarely resembled the pitcher who turned his fortunes around in 2019 by saving 30 games in his first venture into relief work after a disappointing three campaigns starting for the Royals. He didn’t last an inning in KC’s 7-2 loss to Minnesota Saturday night and allowed the Twins to bolt away from the Royals when he took over in the seventh inning with his club down just two runs.

Despite his 0-1, 6.55 record entering the game, Kennedy had walked only two in 11 innings. But before manager Mike Matheny pulled him with two outs in the only frame he’d work, Kennedy managed to walk more batters than he had in 10 previous appearances and allowed the Twins to stretch their lead to five.

It wasn’t pretty. Kennedy walked leadoff hitter Alex Avila on a 3-2 count, then hit Max Kepler on an 0-1 count. Jorge Polanco sacrificed Kepler to second and Ehire Adrianza, who ran for Avila, to third.

Eddie Rosario walked to load the bases. So did Marwin Gonzalez, on another full count, to force in the first Twin run of the inning and make it 5-2.

Kepler was out at home on Jake Cave’s fielder’s choice.

Miguel Sano, however, finished Kennedy off with a two-run single. Jake Newberry came on and got Luis Arraez to ground into a fielder’s choice. The Twins’ three runs, all courtesy of Kennedy, gave them a five-run lead and put the game, close just moments before, out of reach for a KC Royals team struggling to score runs this season.

Kennedy’s pitching wasn’t, of course, the only reason the KC Royals lost this game. Starter Brady Singer must shoulder plenty of the blame. He gave Minnesota three runs in the first before getting an out, then surrendered another in the fourth.

And the offense was the offense it’s been too frequently this year. It managed 10 hits, but only two–Alex Gordon’s third home run and Nicky Lopez’s fourth double–were for extra bases. The Royals were a dismal 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base.

Kennedy’s poor showing Saturday, however, increased the likelihood that the Royals won’t be able to move him this season. Considering this is the final year of his KC contract, last season’s performance made him a prime candidate to be traded at mid-season this year, a status further assured by Trevor Rosenthal’s early emergence as Matheny’s clear choice for closer.

But Saturday night for Kennedy was too similar to most of his other 10 appearances this season. Simply put, it just wasn’t good. He left with an 8.49 ERA, an especially awful mark for a reliever. He’s held opponents scoreless only three times and has surrendered three runs in less than an inning’s work twice. He’s given up six home runs–he gave up only six all last year, and that was in 63 games, not 11. Against all that, his 13 strikeouts in 11.2 innings don’t count for much.

No, Ian Kennedy looks far less like the pitcher he was last year and more like the pitcher who unfortunately hasn’t measured up to the five-year, $70 million deal the KC Royals signed him to in 2016. His 19-33 record over the first three years of that pact won’t make him attractive as a starter on the 2020 deadline market; despite his 30 saves for a bad team last year, this season’s performance, almost free of any stellar moments, has devalued him as a reliever in a market that probably won’t yield as many deals as usual.

So, unless Kennedy suddenly pitches like he did in 2019 and does so several times before the Aug. 31 trade deadline, Kansas City is the most likely place he’ll spend the final month of his lucrative contract.

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Before this season started, the KC Royals and Ian Kennedy parting ways in a trade deadline deal seemed like a sure thing. Now, it appears the veteran pitcher may finish his contract as a Royal.