Jordan Lyles could be better for the KC Royals in 2024, but...

Kansas City needs more from this starter.

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The final year of the two-season deal Jordan Lyles signed with the KC Royals last winter will pay him $8.5 million in 2024, a relatively small sum considering baseball's ever-escalating compensation practices that too often facilitate overpaying underperforming players.

Whether the Royals will realize much return for that $8.5 million is questionable. After all, Lyles' decent 2022 season with Baltimore, which surely had much to do with the Royals bringing him to Kansas City, is a fading memory after he led the majors in losses and had the worst ERA among qualified pitchers in 2023.

Lyles' 6-17, 6.28 ERA performance was not what the Royals wanted or expected. Nor is it what they need from him in 2024, which has suddenly become a season of some promise after general manager J.J. Picollo's team-improving offseason wheeling and dealing. Imagine Kansas City's rotation if newcomers Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo come through as they should, Brady Singer shakes his frustrating inconsistency, and Lyles gives the club what it hoped he'd supply last year.

But will he do that?

Jordan Lyles has some promise, but production may be another matter

Barring a pre-Opening Day trade, an unlikely prospect given his frightful 2023 record, Lyles will be a member of the Royals' starting rotation when they open the season March 28. A rota spot will be his more by default than via merit — Lugo, Wacha, Singer and Cole Ragans are locks, but the uncertainty of how, or if, Daniel Lynch IV will bounce back from shoulder issues that sidelined him most of last season, the probability that Kris Bubic's Tommy John Surgery recovery will delay his first pitch until midseason, and the lack of experienced alternatives force Lyles back into picture.

The situation is what it is, however, and the Royals must make the most of what they have. That means Lyles must step up and be better than he was last year ... and that's not an impossible task. To think otherwise ignores the kind of work he can do, but too often last year didn't do.

It was only two seasons ago, remember, that Lyles was the best starter (12-11, 4.42 ERA) on a Baltimore team that won 31 more games than it had the year before. He also won 10 games for Texas in 2021 (the Royals didn't have a single 10-game winner) and went 12-8, 4.15 in the 2019 season he split between Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. That he typically has good control (2.94 career BB/9) won't hurt.

Can Jordan Lyles get the job done for the KC Royals?

This is one of the most important questions facing Kansas City as the new season nears. The answer? Hopefully, but don't hope too hard or too long. Lyles is serviceable at times, and now and then more than that, but he's simply too inconsistent and too frequently subpar. And how bad his 2023 season was doesn't bode well for a turnaround; it won't take much for him to be better this season, but he probably won't be outstanding.

At this point, at least, the Royals seem willing to stick with Lyles. We've said before that notwithstanding the year left on his contract, the club should consider an alternative; if he fails to improve quickly, it needs to bit the bullet and move on from him.

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