Fans have a mixed reaction to KC Royals signing Seth Lugo

Royals fans have been starving for this kind of news.
John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports

The KC Royals announced on Tuesday they had signed free agent relief pitcher Seth Lugo to a three-year contract worth $45 million. Lugo, who has previously pitched for the Mets and Padres was rumored to be one of their top targets from the start of free agency, and general manager J.J. Picollo got his man.

How are KC Royals fans feeling about this uncharacteristic free agent splash?

Early fan reaction on social media has fallen into two main camps. The first is over-the-moon excitement, while the other is more of a reserved pessimism. Of the two, the former is more prevalent, but either sentiment is completely understandable.

On the one hand, Royals fans have been clamoring for this type of move for years. This is the biggest move the Royals have made in free agency since they signed Ian Kennedy before the 2016 season for five years and $70 million. That deal did not ultimately play out as anyone hoped, and the cynics are not crazy to point out that the Royals could be setting themselves up for a sequel. But there are good reasons to believe Lugo will fare better in Kauffman.

Lugo has been a solid pitcher — and perhaps most importantly for a Royals rotation that has struggled with wild ups and downs, he has been a consistently productive arm as both a starter and reliever. No, he is not Shohei Ohtani and he is not going to be an ace, but if Royals fans have gone a little over the top reacting to his signing, who can blame them?

For years, fans have watched the front office fill out the roster with over-the-hill veterans and reclamation projects signed to cheap deals or minor-league contracts. After a quiet offseason of transition and a 106-loss season, Picollo promised this time would be different. He made some shrewd deals during the season, in particular acquiring potential future ace Cole Ragans, and he started the offseason by trading for relief pitcher Nick Anderson and injured starter Kyle Wright. The former was a nice move to improve a weak spot, and the latter may pay off down the road. But he still needed to make a splash for 2024. Lugo does that.

Of course, there's always a catch. If this is the only big move the Royals make, the excitement of the Lugo deal will fade quickly. Even if Picollo is right and the Royals really were better than their record in 2023, they still lost over 100 games, and it was the third time they've done so in the last six seasons. This team needs an infusion of talent, and with the farm system ranking near the bottom of baseball, neither internal reinforcements nor blockbuster trades are likely to be the solution. Lugo is a nice start, but owner John Sherman needs to open his pocketbook even more if this team is going to make any noise in the immediate future.

The crazy thing is that even after so much bad baseball, Royals fans can almost see a path to contention if they squint. The AL Central is the worst division in baseball, and no one in it appears set on making a big splash this offseason. There are a lot of ifs in the equation: Bobby Witt Jr. continuing his upward trajectory, Vinnie Pasquantino returning to health, Cole Ragans proving 2023 was not a fluke, Melendez and Garcia or some other young guys having a breakthrough year, etc. Signing Lugo improves arguably the weakest part of the team, the starting rotation.

Shortly after announcing the Lugo deal, the Royals also signed relief pitcher Chris Stratton. This was definitely a step in the right direction. Combined with the previously mentioned Nick Anderson and the signing of Will Smith over the weekend, the bullpen is already considerably better.

Now Picollo needs to round out the rotation. The Royals have been rumored to be in pursuit of both Lucas Giolito and Marcus Stroman this winter, and inking either to a deal might be enough to cause Royals fans to throw another parade. Of course, it doesn't have to be either of those players, but it needs to be someone who can give them a credible chance to win every five days.

At the very least, continuing with their free agent push would give fans legitimate hope entering the season for the first time in over half a decade, and it probably wouldn't hurt Sherman's campaign for a downtown stadium either. But if they're content to call it good with Lugo and sit on their hands until spring training, Royals fans are likely to shrug, and apathy will set in again before pitchers and catchers even report.