The three curveball-first starters the KC Royals need to target

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James Paxton feels like a short-term, low-ceiling option.

The Royals adding veterans on one-year deals feels like a realistic move in 2023. That sort of move is hardly exciting and only continues dashing fans' hopes of immediate improvements. Veteran James Paxton fits the mold as a declining, short-term signing with little financial commitment or immediate improvement over the past season's product.

Paxton suited up last season for the Boston Red Sox, his second season with the club. Boston signed him on a two-year deal after the 2021 season. Paxton missed most of the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late April, then missed all of the 2022 season. 2023 was somewhat of a comeback season for Paxton, where he logged his most starts and best ERA since 2019.

His 4.50 ERA, 96 innings pitched, and 1.313 WHIP are far from enticing, but feel right for a Royals free-agent target. He was very volatile even against the Royals in two starts. In his Aug. 10 start in Fenway, Paxton recorded six strikeouts and surrendered no runs to the Royals. Then, on Sept. 1, Paxton allowed a staggering six earned runs in only 1 1/3 innings in Kauffman. That start took his season ERA from 3.99 to 4.50 alone. It was also his final start of 2023. The Red Sox placed Paxton on the IL due to right knee inflammation on Sept. 10.

Paxton throws a curveball as his primary offspeed offering, pitching it 19.3% of the time in 2023. While it is slightly below average since his surgery, Paxton offers a four-pitch arsenal of average pitches. He was a safe pitcher for the Red Sox throughout 2023, a great option in the rotation's bottom half.

It is easy to forget that Paxton was an above-average starter for most of 2023. In his first 13 starts, he averaged 5 1/3 innings per start, with a 3.34 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. The 2023 Royals could have certainly used that production, instead of the many underperforming starters they trotted out.

Paxton made a paltry $4 million in 2023 and he outperformed that salary. The Royals could do much worse than Paxton in 2024. Now, he does not provide Kansas City with a solution to their rotation but could be a solid complimentary piece.