The KC Royals are in a world of pitching hurt. Their 2023 mound corps was atrocious with little promise of immediate improvement. They’ve already moved on from Jackson Kowar, who they dispatched to Atlanta for Kyle Wright, a pitcher with potential but who will also miss all of the 2024 season. And Kansas City has a handful of players (at best) they can dangle as trade bait to lure other clubs into sending them pitching help.
It will be suggested that the Royals turn to the free agent market for veterans pitching help. This approach can certainly work if they have, and will spend, enough money. But these days, quality starters don’t come cheap. General manager J.J. Picollo reportedly has said the Royals have at least $30 million budgeted for free agents; but assuming they need two or three starting pitchers, that won't buy much.
For a team in such dire straits as the Royals, one way to lower financial risk is to sign a player whose salary is already on the books of another franchise. Arguably the most famous example of this is the Mets trading David Justice to the A's in 2001, a move prominently featured in the film Moneyball. The Mets paid a chunk of Justices' $7 million salary just to move him.
The Royals could look for a similar deal. Certainly options are out there. However, in order for the club to make such a trade, they have to give something up in return. For a team with such limited assets, trading probably should be utilized elsewhere.
One area they could consider mining for talent is the ranks of out-of-work veterans who've have been let go by other clubs that remain on the hook for their salaries. One such player is Madison Bumgarner, who Arizona DFA'd and then released in April.
Would Madison Bumgarner even consider joining the Royals?
Bumgarner should be familiar to Royals fans thanks to his heroics in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, a performance that secured for him that Fall Classic's MVP award. Following his career with the Giants, he signed a five-year $85 million deal with the Diamondbacks, but performed poorly in 2022 and the team DFA'd him after he went 0-3 and gave up 20 runs over 16.2 innings in four games this year.
But the Diamondbacks still reportedly owe him $34 million. So, Bumgarner is getting paid to stay at home, and any team signing him will have to pay him only an amount equal to the major league minimum salary.
Bumgarner, only 34, hasn't announced his retirement, so he may still be available to teams willing to sign him. He's a pitcher who could still have some life left in his arm — only two seasons ago, he carried a 1.182 WHIP over 146 innings. He's pitched at least 200 innings seven times; could he do that again? It's totally possible.
Could he also be a 3.00-4.00 ERA hurler again on the right roster? Absolutely. The Royals recently gave Zack Greinke a couple of seasons as a mid-rotation arm. What about giving "MadBum" a shot? The Royals could enlist his services for two or three years and pay very little to do it.