One look at a list of Tampa Bay free agents reveals a lot, at least as far as the KC Royals should be concerned.
There isn’t much there to get excited about. Starter Michael Wacha already signed with Boston. The only big bat is Nelson Cruz, but the Royals don’t need a 41-year old designated hitter…or any DH for that matter considering the number of players who’ll necessarily take turns there next season. And for the most part, the pitchers aren’t overwhelming.
Most of them, that is. The exception is Collin McHugh, and he might be perfect for Kansas City given the club’s immediate need for pitching help.
Kansas City fans know two main things about McHugh. As Houston’s starter in the final game of the 2015 American League Division Series (he beat them in the opener), McHugh opened the door for a three-run fifth inning that proved to be all the Royals needed. Staked to a 2-1 lead (he’d given KC its first run just the inning before), he hit leadoff hitter Salvador Perez, then gave up a double to Alex Gordon to put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position for reliever Mike Fiers, who allowed three runs before the inning ended. Kansas City won 7-2.
The second thing Royals followers know about McHugh is how good he is. He’s 3-1 against them lifetime; more importantly, though, is his nine-season body of work—he’s 64-44 with a 3.77 ERA, has good control (6.8 BB% and 2.5 career BB9), and a 23.4 K%.
How can he help Kansas City?
Collin McHugh can definitely check some pitching boxes for the KC Royals.
McHugh is a veteran hurler whose wealth of relief and rotation experience can give Kansas City some of the pitching help it needs.
The righthander shined as a reliever when the Astros moved him to the bullpen in 2018. He’d started almost exclusively until then but found relief work to his liking—he surrendered only 16 earned runs in 72.1 innings (1.99 ERA), went 6-2, and averaged 11.7 strikeouts every nine innings.
Houston moved him back into the rotation to start 2019 but, after going 3-4, 6.37 in his first eight starts, he moved back to the pen and went 1-1, 2.67 the rest of the way.
McHugh opted out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and signed with Tampa Bay last winter. Working mostly in relief—30 of his 37 appearances were out of the pen—he went 6-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 1.7 BB9. He also didn’t give up a run in 12 innings as a starter/opener.
Relieving would be McHugh’s best role with the Royals. The middle of the pen is thin; he could also throw long relief.
And he’d give Manager Mike Matheny another starting option—although KC probably wants its hot young prospects taking most of the starts, McHugh can spot-start and open.
But is he affordable? Probably. At 34, he wouldn’t be a long-term investment for the Royals (and probably no other clubs) and, although he’ll be seeking a raise after his excellent 2021 campaign, he made just $1.8 million with Tampa. Even the $5.8 million Houston paid him for 2019 to avoid arbitration suggests he won’t be a bank-breaking acquisition.
And his age? Again, he probably won’t command a lengthy deal, but he’s still good and has additional upside as a potential mentor for the younger KC pitchers.
The Royals should look him up when the MLB lockout ends and clubs can once again pursue major league free agents.
Collin McHugh can offer some excellent pitching versatility to Kansas City. He might be perfect for the Royals.