How 1 Minnesota free agent might help the KC Royals

(Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Minnesota Twins, a team that nosedived from American League Central champs in 2020 to the division cellar this season, have little to offer the KC Royals in the way of free agents.

Righthanded starter John Gant posted the worst ERA (5.61) of his six-year career and will be three campaigns and a 10-22 overall record removed from his 11-1 2018 season with the Cardinals that put him on the starting pitching map.

Fangraphs’ Roster Resource lists Matt Shoemaker, another righty starter, as a Minnesota free agent, but he presents a more unappealing pitching package than Gant—Shoemaker was 3-8, 8.06 in 2021 and hasn’t hit double-digits in victories since going 16-4 with the Angels five years ago. The Royals were reportedly thinking about him last winter before he signed with the Twins; now, KC should look elsewhere for a veteran starter.

The Royals could kick the tires on Alex Colomé, 4-4 with 17 saves in 2021 and saver of 155 games in his nine-year big league career, including a major league-leading 47 with Tampa Bay in 2017, but Kansas City should stick with the far more affordable Scott Barlow. Another free agent reliever is journeyman Nick Vincent, but the Royals have little need for the services of a mid-to-late-inning bullpen piece entering his age-36 season who pitched just seven times at the major league level in 2021.

And with an infield overflowing with talent, especially with Bobby Witt Jr. about to debut, Kansas City definitely won’t be considering shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

So, is there any chance the Royals might find help among Minnesota’s small free agent pool?

One Twin is worth a look from the KC Royals…unless he decides to stay.

A year ago, in the aftermath of a pandemic-shortened season, one thing was painfully clear about the pitching situation in Kansas City. The KC Royals needed rotation help.

Highly-touted prospects Brady Singer and Kris Bubic debuted in the majors with mixed results. Jakob Junis’ decline continued—after losing 12 games in 2018 and 14 in 2019, he went 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in six starts. Rookie Carlos Hernandez, previewing little of the success he’d find this season, gave up eight runs in 8.1 innings as a starter. Matt Harvey, inexplicably signed to a free agent deal in July, was a disaster, going 0-3, 12.54 in four starts.

Only Brad Keller (5-3) and Danny Duffy (4-4) had solid seasons, leaving the Royals with offseason work to do.

Unfortunately, the club is in the same spot again. Hernandez blossomed at 6-2, 3.68 this year, but Duffy is gone, Keller went 8-12 with a team-worst 5.39 ERA, Mike Minor matched Keller’s disappointing won-loss record and wasn’t far behind with a 5.05 ERA, Bubic started 2021 in the minors and drifted in and out of the rotation when he returned, and rookies Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar struggled.

But there’s a Minnesota free agent who could help, and probably make a difference.

Michael Pineda was the Twins’ best 2021 starter, a savvy veteran who went 9-8, 3.62 a year after a suspension for taking a prohibited diuretic kept him out of action for all but a month of the 2020 campaign.

Pineda, whose repertoire includes a four-seam fastball, changeup and slider, has good control (1.99 career BB/9, 1.73 in 2021), won 12 games with the Yankees in 2015, and was 22-13 in three Minnesota seasons.

The righthander’s two-year $20 million contract expired after this season; he can probably be had for close to that.

But will Pineda want to leave the Twins, with whom he’s been part of two Central Division championships? Perhaps not—Minnesota boldly signaled a strong commitment to the immediate future Sunday evening by signing incumbent center fielder Byron Buxton to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension—and it’s difficult to imagine the Twins’ eagerness to avoid another dismal season not manifesting itself in more moves, including efforts to keep Pineda.

Pineda will receive a good bit of interest, but won’t command top-tier compensation. The KC Royals should at least explore his market.

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Minnesota’s Michael Pineda is on the market. Will the Royals show interest?