As Christmas Eve Day eased into Christmas Eve, Kansas City sports fans were lucky their Chiefs provided a welcome winning reprieve from the comparative letdown that has become the KC Royals' winter.
That the club hasn't moved heaven and earth to improve itself isn't shocking. No matter what their fans crave, huge moves aren't in the Royals' general nature or makeup, and general manager J.J. Picollo hasn't hidden from anyone KC's plan to avoid spending much this offseason.
Still, fans probably expected more than the smattering of low-profile, unfamiliar players, primarily pitchers, Picollo has brought to his club so far. And with the 2022 season's final game nearly three months in the past, fan favorite Zack Greinke, who seemed so certain to re-sign, remains on the market, and the Royals haven't landed any offensive help.
So, just what is this club doing?
The KC Royals appear committed to unspectacular patching of their pitching ills.
Picollo was never going to bolster Kansas City's problem-riddled rotation or bullpen with expensive, high-profile free agents, or mortgage his club's future by trading away a package of promising young players for a pitching mega-star or two.
But a pitching-poor team like Kansas City choosing to sign a pair of career plus-5.00 career ERA hurlers in a week's time seems counter-productive and counter-intuitive. Yet, that's exactly what Picollo has done.
It started Tuesday with reports that Jordan Lyles is joining the club on a two-year, $17 million deal, not a particularly surprising development considering our recognition late last month that such a move could happen.
That much money, though, seems a bit much for a 12-year major league veteran with a 66-90 record, especially when it's coupled with a 5.10 ERA. Only four times (4.33 in 2014 with Colorado, 4.11 between Milwaukee and San Diego in 2018, 4.15 one year later with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, and 4.42 last season for the Orioles) has Lyles managed to post a sub-5.00 ERA, He's been as high as 7.75, an entirely unacceptable mark he achieved in a 38-game 2017 season split between the Rockies and Padres, and 7.02 for Texas in 2020.
What's more concerning than a starter with a plus-5.00 career ERA? A reliever with one, that's what, and Kansas City now has one to go with Lyles after signing Mike Mayers to a minor league contract late in the week. Although his Lyles-matching 5.10 career ERA includes a couple of decent seasons (2-0, 2.10 in 29 games with the Angels in the short 2020 campaign, and 5-5, 3.84 in 70 games with LA the following year), adding such a high ERA-prone pitcher to an already shaky bullpen may not be the best choice.
Add to that pair of signings Friday night's report, via The New York Post's Jon Heyman (Twitter link), that the Royals have added seven-season veteran Nick Wittgren to their mix. Fortunately, the righthanded reliever's career ERA doesn't eclipse 5.00 (it's a much more palatable 3.96 over 287 games), but he did give up 19 runs in 29 innings (5.90 ERA) with the Cardinals last season and 38 in 62.1 (5.05) for St. Louis in 2021.
Picollo, then, and excepting recently-signed starter Ryan Yarbrough, is at least in part supplementing Kansas City's pitching staff with experienced big leaguers who unfortunately tend to yield a lot of runs, a recipe geared more toward eating innings and filling roster spots until the club's younger and greener hurlers are ready than it is for making a run at .500.
In other words, written not so subtly between the lines appears to be a strategy banking on the Royals' new pitching staff fixing, over time, the many flaws of its present hurlers while at the same time hoping the rotation and bullpen can survive on a band-aid approach designed to just get by until times, and talent, improve.
There really isn't any other explanation. The Royals aren't about to abandon their vaunted 2018 pitching draft class; nor are they willing to spend or trade big for quick fixes.
No, these are the Royals, and they'll do things their way.
And their fans will just have to hope the process, however long it takes this time, will bear fruit.
But Picollo and principal owner John Sherman shouldn't expect unlimited patience. They won't get it.
Who will Kansas City sign next?