3 high-profile former KC Royals make early Hot Stove news

Two ex-KC stars are now free agents the club could pursue. Another retired.
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The free agent and trade markets opened Thursday, and a trio of former KC Royals were in the news before the clock struck midnight.

While Kansas City made some early Hot Stove moves, slugging outfielder-DH Jorge Soler became the first ex-Royal headline maker when he declined his Miami player option for next season. Whit Merrifield and the Blue Jays declined a mutual option that, if exercised, would have kept the former Royal in Toronto for another year. And Ian Kennedy retired.

Should the Royals pursue new free agents Jorge Soler and Whit Merrifield?

Not until his third season with Kansas City did Soler flourish. By slamming 48 homers in 2019, he shattered the club single-season home run record of 38 Mike Moustakas set two years before; playing in all 162 games, he also drove in 117 runs and hit .265 with a .354 OBP and 136 wRC+.

But the Royals chose not to keep Soler in their long-term plans and shipped him to Atlanta in a 2021 trade deadline deal. His long slump probably greased the decision: although his bat seemed to be coming around, he was hitting only .192 when the Royals and Braves made the trade. Perhaps reinvigorated by his sudden change of scenery, Soler homered 14 times and hit .260 down the stretch for eventual World Series champ Atlanta and won the Series MVP award.

He moved on to Miami via free agency after the Series and enjoyed a superb 2023, clubbing 36 homers with 75 RBIs to help spur the Marlins to a National League Wild Card berth.

Declining his 2024 option made Soler a free agent, but he's not one the Royals should pursue. Yes, his power would be a plus for the offensively challenged team, but KC doesn't have a place for him. Their current outfielders are better defensively than Soler, and the club is already DH-heavy with Nelson Velázquez, Salvador Perez, Vinnie Pasquantino, and possibly Edward Olivares and Nick Pratto if KC keeps them, expected to take turns there next season.

Merrifield's status as a potential Kansas City free agent target is similar. Although they traded him to Toronto last year, he was one of the Royals' most reliable hitters during his almost seven full seasons with the team, but it's unlikely that at 34 (35 in January) he'd displace Michael Massey at second base and, after his excellent first taste of the majors, Nick Loftin could be destined for the utility role Merrifield filled so well.

Ian Kennedy's time in Kansas City was a mixed bag

Kennedy joined the Royals via free agency just months after they won the 2015 World Series. Signed as a starter (he'd pitched only twice in relief during his nine-year career), Kennedy went 19-33 in his first three Kansas City seasons, a record falling far short of the expectations his five-year, $70 million contract fueled.

The solution? A move to the bullpen, thought the Royals, and they were right. There wasn't a single start among the 63 appearances Kennedy made in 2019, and his 30 saves, 51 games finished, and 3.41 ERA were the good dividends the switch paid.

But Kennedy's new-found success was short-lived.

Apparently not entirely satisfied with Kennedy's fine season, the Royals brought veteran reliever Trevor Rosenthal aboard for the 2020 campaign, and he soon forced Kennedy out of the closer's role he'd won so convincingly the year before. Kennedy fared no better after Greg Holland replaced Rosenthal following the latter's trade to San Diego at 2020's belated trade deadline, and he finished the year 0-2 with no saves and a 9.00 ERA in 15 games.

Kennedy moved on to stops in Texas, Philadelphia and Arizona before returning to the Rangers this season. But he pitched only 16 times for Texas, and 22 in the minors, before finishing the campaign on the Injured List with a strained rotator cuff.

Kennedy ends his 17-year career with a 104-114 record, 4.16 ERA, and 66 saves.

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