KC Royals add familiar batterymate for Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo

Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/GettyImages
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When The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal broke the news that the KC Royals signed catcher Austin Nola to a minor-league deal, the move made sense for some organizational depth. But, he tweeted a correction, one seconded by MLB.com's Anne Rogers, that the deal was a major-league one, and that is when the move became curious. But, if Royals fans want a reason this move makes sense beyond experienced depth, look no further than the 2023 San Diego Padres.

The KC Royals bring in Austin Nola, a familiar face for two veteran starters.

This buy-low move for Nola reunites him with former Padres starters Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo. Nola caught in 14 combined starts for Lugo and Wacha in 2023 alone, catching many more from Wacha during his career-high 110 games in 2022. Nola has not been as productive in recent seasons, but a vision disorder diagnosis in 2023 could be the culprit. He had a .263/.336/.395 slash line in 293 career MLB games before a pitch broke his nose in last year's spring training.

The Royals have not officially announced the move or added Nola to their 40-man roster. The signing, which is pending a physical, requires Kansas City to clear a roster spot. MLB teams can currently add players to their 60-day IL, so moving pitcher Kris Bubic or another unknown injury to clear a spot for Nola does make sense. But, now it boils down to will the Royals carry three catchers on their 26-man roster, or is Freddy Fermin's backup job in jeopardy?

Royals fans are bullish on Fermin in 2024, considering his hot start and fresh name in the lineup. But, there are concerns about Fermin this coming season and beyond. He only has 73 MLB games to his name, and his production at the plate waned as the season progressed. His projections still have him as an above-replacement catcher, but Kansas City is not content with that heading into spring training. The front office values roster flexibility and Fermin does have two minor-league options remaining. In the worst-case scenario, they could option Fermin to Triple-A Omaha and retain Nola on the 26-man roster.

But, all that is conjecture. Royals fans will likely see Nola in Arizona next week, giving him some time to acclimate to the clubhouse. Thankfully, he has some former teammates to welcome him with open arms.

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