The KC Royals’ reported recent interest in a Boston lefthanded starter raises questions, but might make sense.
The signing last month of Oakland free agent Mike Minor appeared to lock in the KC Royals’ 2021 starting rotation. Minor’s return to the Royals after a three-season absence gives the club five starters and completes what’s expected to be a customary five-man rota.
The concept of a set starting five doesn’t quite square, however, with a recent Major League Baseball Trade Rumors report counting the Royals among a handful of teams having interest in southpaw Boston free agent Martin Perez. Although Perez now seems to be on his way back to the Red Sox, any interest Kansas City may have had in him seems a bit odd.
Why, for instance, would KC, with a rotation appearing established in all respects, be kicking the tires on another starter, especially a lefthander when there are already three lefties—Minor, Danny Duffy and Kris Bubic—in a fivesome that also includes Brad Keller and Brady Singer?
The question deserves an answer.
Perhaps Danny Duffy makes the KC Royals nervous
The Royals essentially recognized Duffy as their staff ace when they gave him the five-year, $65 million contract that he will play out, one way or another, this season—2021 is the 32-year old’s last chance to make the mark that could enable him to realize his well-known wish to remain a Royal for life. His 4-4, 4.95 ERA effort last season was more pedestrian than especially encouraging, and he’s posted only one winning record in the first four years of his five-year deal.
Duffy is inconsistent. Kansas City never really knows what to expect from him when he takes the mound, and that’s not a good thing.
Would Perez have eased any discomfiture Duffy creates for the Royals? Perhaps, but only if he had the chance, which wouldn’t have come absent a Duffy trade. Any deal based primarily on uneasiness with Duffy makes sense only if Kansas City plans or wants to move him before the season; there are no signs of such designs, and the team wouldn’t sign Perez merely as insurance against a possible preseason or midseason trade.
Maybe the KC Royals want a placeholder
Could it be that the Royals want a veteran starter to help hold down the fort until Singer and Bubic are more established, and hot prospects like Asa Lacy, Jackson Kowar, Jonathan Bowlan, Daniel Tillo (who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Austin Cox are ready? If Kansas City wants a fairly average starter to fill such a role, Perez fits the bill: he’s won 10 or more games three times in a nine-year career (13 was his best in 2017) and is 56-61 with a 4.71 ERA.
But seeking a “placeholder” seems unlikely for a team whose current offseason approach seems refreshingly geared more toward immediate progress than treading water until its prospects mature.
More improbable is that Kansas City would look outside the organization for a placeholder. Internal candidates abound, including Jakob Junis and Ronald Bolanos, and the club can always dip into Omaha’s Triple A roster if necessary.
And, when all is said and done, the Royals don’t need someone to fill in until help arrives. There are plenty of talented arms capable of helping the team progress.
A KC Royals swingman?
With the starting rotation full (at least for now), any interest Kansas City had in Perez could have been as a pitcher capable of spot starting and long relief. Unfortunately, injuries and bothersome aches and pains befall all pitchers, requiring big league teams to carry at least one hurler who can start occasionally and pitch a lot of innings when starters get knocked out early. And if the Royals tinker with “openers” at any point this season, they’ll need a long-innings hurler or two in the bullpen.
Perez is capable. He’ll never win a Cy Young Award and probably won’t ever win 20 games, but has averaged 5.2 innings in 169 big league starts and can give a club the spot start and long relief innings it needs. And although he’s made only 16 relief appearances in 185 big league games, there’s no one better suited for long relief than an established starter.
So it is that the Royals’ interest in Perez may signal interest in a steady swingman. Such a role could be more important than ever this season as starters reacclimate themselves to what is sizing up to be a full 162-game schedule. The process may be gradual; teams will require the services of versatile pitchers capable of putting in long stints.
As qualified for the job as Perez might be, the Royals need to look inward if they want a swingman. Junis is the most likely candidate and could use the work to reestablish himself as a starter or carve his niche as a reliable swingman. Kyle Zimmer is a possibility, but concerns about his durability render him a better middle or short reliever. Hernandez and Bolanos come to mind. And but for his inexperience, newcomer Angel Zerpa would be a candidate.
A swingman is certainly something to think about. Kansas City may have been doing just that with Martin Perez.
Any interest the KC Royals may have had in Martin Perez makes sense if they’re hunting for a dual-purpose pitcher. But they have adequate internal candidates for that role.