Five weeks after ushering in their offseason by beating the Yankees in the final game of the 2023 campaign, the KC Royals are in the same pitching position they were a year ago. They need help, both in the starting rotation and bullpen, and desperately need to bolster both staffs. And unless they do, they may find themselves flirting with a single-season loss record again next year.
General manager J.J. Picollo tried to make necessary improvements last winter. Unfortunately, his efforts bore little fruit; disastrous, for example, was the signing of starter Jordan Lyles, who pitched a lot but in the end lost more games than any other big league pitcher.
A bright spot, though, was Aroldis Chapman, who Picollo surprisingly signed in January. Chapman made the deal worth it — he contributed immediately and his fine 2.45 ERA with and K/9 of just over 16 enabled Picollo to trade him to the contending, reliever-hungry Rangers for Cole Ragans, who pitched sensationally for the Royals and finished the season as their best pitcher.
It was a job well-done for Picollo. He swung some bullpen help, which his club needed, and, as everyone hoped, flipped Chapman for excellent value.
Could Picollo, who seems more interested in doing meaningful deals than his predecessor Dayton Moore, do the very same thing again?
Why bringing Aroldis Chapman back isn't completely out of the question
Reuniting with free agent Chapman would be just as, if not more, surprising than bringing him aboard last winter was. But all things considered, it might be worth Picollo's consideration.
Although he'll turn 36 not long after spring training begins, Chapman can still pitch, and still frequently smokes his offerings in at 100 mph or better. He was good with the Royals, and certainly serviceable with Texas, for whom he struck out 50 in 29 innings, saved four games although he wasn't the everyday closer, posted a regular-season 3.72 ERA, and pitched nine times in the postseason.
The idea, of course, would be to duplicate what happened last season: get good work out of Chapman for half the season before dealing him to a contender for a nice return. Invite lightning to strike twice, so to speak.
Bringing back Chapman isn't without risk, however. His 2023 control was, as usual, far from perfect — he walked 36 in 58.1 regular season innings( 5.5 BB/9), and five in eight postseason innings. His age might soon catch up to his ability and desire. And it's possible he wouldn't pitch well enough to reap a big return.
Will Picollo pursue Chapman? Probably not, and that might be best. But with the Royals, a surprise is always possible.
Just like last winter.