KC Royals Roster: Trying to solve the rotation puzzle

Kansas City has been busy improving its pitching. Who might make up the 2024 rotation?

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
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Will Seth Lugo be the KC Royals' No. 4 starter?

Kansas City paid up for Lugo, giving him a three-year deal potentially worth $45 million. Royals general manager J.J. Picollo is signaling the club intends to use Lugo in the rotation.

The Royals signed Lugo because they like his terrific curveball. But there's a lot of risk involved in signing a 34-year old starting pitcher, especially when he's started only 64 games in his entire eight-year career.

Every bit of value Lugo has as a starter is tied to his 2023 performance with San Diego, where he went a respectable 8-7 with a 3.57 ERA. He also pitched 146.1 innings which, because that figure represents about 23% of his total career innings pitched, is concerning, as is the month he spent on the Injured List with a calf strain.

Will Lugo start for KC this season? Probably. Will he close out the season starting in KC? That's questionable because two big issues are at play. One is that Lugo is older and hasn't had the years of starting experience required to be physically capable of stretching out as a starter for a full season.

The second issue is demand. The Royals paid up to nab Lugo before the top of the free agent board was clear and did so because he was of interest to a lot of teams, and starting pitching is at a premium. With the control Kansas City established in negotiations, he's likely to be a profitable midseason trade piece if he performs well.

If the Royals intend to use Lugo in the long term, it would make far more sense for him to assume a fireman role or bulk man role. He's shown he can throw high-volume innings and his curveball is ideal for shutting down rallies in Kauffman Stadium. Some solid logic supports putting Lugo and his curveball behind a starting fastball pitcher — let a flame thrower pitch a couple of innings, then bring Lugo on for the next six before handing the game over to a closer.