The red flags were there when the KC Royals signed Jordan Lyles two Decembers ago. His career ERA was 5.10, he'd had four winning seasons in 12, in 2021 he gave up more home runs than anyone in the big leagues and more earned runs than any American League pitcher, and he tied for the most earned runs surrendered during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
Since that signing, much has been written here at Kings of Kauffman about Lyles who, as his 2023 numbers — a 6.28 ERA that was the major leagues' worst, his 17 losses that were the most among big league hurlers, and the 124 earned runs he surrendered that were also more than anyone else — prove he simply hasn't worked out as planned. So much so, in fact, that we've often called for the Royals to find a way to trade him or, that failing, cut him loose.
Yet, and despite a surprisingly aggressive winter packed with good moves the club needed and proved it could make, with players coming and going frequently, nothing has changed, at least roster-wise, with Lyles. He'll be on hand, and a presumptive member of the starting rotation, when Kansas City's pitchers and catchers report for their first day of spring training Wednesday.
That Lyles remains with the club may not be by Kansas City's preference, or that of many fans; his presence is in great part a product of temporary necessity. Even with the offseason additions of Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo, the well-chronicled uncertainty of Kansas City's starting pitching remains — after Wacha, Lugo, and inconsistent Brady Singer, KC has Cole Ragans, who must prove last year's hot half-season was no fluke, and Lyles as pitchers set in the rotation. Not until at least one more competent starter becomes available will the situation improve.
Things could be different in an ideal Royal world: general manager J.J. Picollo might have been able to swallow hard and move Lyles for anything he could get this winter, but demand, if Picollo tested it, probably wasn't high enough, or any potential return sufficient. And the Royals, their rotation diminished for now by injuries and an inexperienced pool of potential fill-ins, need veteran starters even if they aren't ideal choices.
So it is that circumstances still render Lyles' a continuing saga. He stands as a Royal dilemma, a disappointment who nevertheless is, at least in the short term, someone the club may need. Change, which many hoped offseason activity would occasion, will again have to wait.
KC isn't in good position to go in a different direction with Jordan Lyles
Why can't the Royals simply move Lyles to another club or drop him from theirs? His is not, unfortunately, a simple case.
First, of course, is rotation depth. For the time being, the club needs another veteran starter, and Lyles fits that minimum requirement. He's getting ready for his 14th major league season and has 245 starts to his credit.
There's also his well-earned status as a so-called "innings eater", a hurler capable of working regularly and throwing a lot of pitchers when he does. That doesn't always mean much — after all, "innings eater" is a descriptor frequently applied to an average-at-best (and often not even that) pitcher — but Lyles can definitely chew up innings, an ability the Royals may well need, especially early in the season.
So, as ideal as it may be for the Royals to go in a different direction with Lyles, it's a move they're not in good position to make any time soon. Hopefully, he'll pitch far better this season than he did last; but if he doesn't, he'll still be around for a while.