The year was 2017 and the KC Royals, not quite two full seasons removed from a World Series title, wanted back into the postseason. Proof they were desperate for another shot at October baseball before Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar headed for free agency came July 24 when the club made one of its most infamous trades.
The Royals, just 1.5 games out of first place and with pitching their obvious target, sent injured pitcher Matt Strahm, pitcher Travis Wood, and minor leaguer Esteury Ruiz to San Diego for reliever Brandon Maurer and fellow hurlers Trevor Cahill and Ryan Buchter.
Maurer and Cahill were busts—Maurer went 2-2 with an 8.10 ERA and Cahill 0-0, 8.22 the rest of the way—while Buchter proved himself with a 2.67 ERA in 29 games. But the trio didn’t make the difference and Kansas City finished the season on the outside looking in, a full 22 games behind American League Central champ Cleveland.
The June knee injury Strahm suffered meant the Padres couldn’t use him that season. But he returned in 2018 and, pitching primarily in relief, posted a 2.05 ERA in 41 appearances. Splitting time between the pen and rotation in 2019, Strahm went 6-11, 4.71, then 0-1, 2.61 in the short 2020 campaign before undergoing postseason knee surgery. He didn’t pitch in the majors again until last August, then went back to the Injured List with knee inflammation after working only 6.2 innings.
The Padres non-tendered him in November.
Should the Royals take a chance on this new free agent?
Signing Matt Strahm is a low-cost, low-risk proposition for the KC Royals.
The Royals picked Strahm in Round 21 of the 2012 amateur draft. Although he was 1-3, 5.64 in Rookie ball after signing that summer, and missed 2013 recovering from Tommy John Surgery, he returned in 2014 and went 1-0, 2.29 in 10 Rookie level games. Strahm’s 3-7 record across stops at Low-A and High-A in 2015 was concerning, but his combined 2.59 ERA wasn’t.
The lefthander made it to Kansas City the next season and posted an excellent 1.23 ERA in 21 relief appearances. But he was 2-5 with a 5.45 ERA and on the Injured List when the Padres landed him in the ill-fated 2017 Maurer deal.
Now, after going 9-17 with a 3.81 ERA in four years with San Diego, Strahm is unemployed and trapped in the lockout-induced transaction freeze. Who signs him when the lockout ends remains to be seen, but the Royals might be in the mix.
Strahm, 30, is the kind of risk Kansas City is known to take, a talented pitcher with a checkered injury history looking for a place to retool. He’d be the latest reliever the Royals have taken in under such circumstances—they had good luck with Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland, although Wade Davis didn’t work out as planned and recently retired.
Strahm also won’t be too expensive for the typically tight Royals. His last good full season was 2018 and a 2021 campaign limited by injury problems won’t enhance his value. That his price won’t be high means Kansas City might land him with a minor league deal.
And his arm appears sound: per Baseball Savant, Strahm’s fastball velocity has decreased only slightly since he last pitched for Kansas City in 2017, while his breaking and offspeed pitches are faster.
So, the former Royal is just what Rosenthal, Holland and Davis were when the club rolled the dice on them—a low-risk, low-cost veteran pitcher with high reward potential.
Don’t be shocked, then, if the Royals take a chance on Matt Strahm, especially when they need some bullpen help.
Should the Royals take a chance on Matt Strahm? His situation and their history suggest they might.