(Story Update: After this story was written, the KC Royals shifted pitching plans for their weekend series with the Yankees. Instead of pitching Saturday, Jordan Lyles is now slated to start Friday evening).
Barring a change in their pitching plans, the KC Royals will start Jordan Lyles against the Yankees Saturday in the season's penultimate game for both clubs. Only a win will be at stake when the two teams meet — New York fell out of the playoff race a few days ago, and Kansas City was never in it.
Not much will be on the line for Lyles, either. Nothing he does in his final start of the campaign will bear on his immediate future: a win or loss, or a no-decision, won't change the fact that, despite being so bad this year —through Wednesday, his 17 losses and 6.42 ERA are the big leagues' worst — he'll likely be a Royal again next season.
Skeptical Royals fans, of which there are many, must wonder why the Royals, whose rotation has been poor all year, would usher Lyle back when spring training opens in February. The reasons are many.
His contract heads the list. The Royals signed Lyles to a two-year deal last December, giving him $17 million to bring his then-career 5.10 ERA to Kauffman Stadium. Yes, he was about the closest thing to an ace Baltimore had in 2022 (12-11, 4.42), but that excessive 12-year ERA evidenced his propensity to give up too many runs.
The Royals could, of course, (and probably should) simply move Lyles. A trade is the most appealing route via which to cut ties with him, but won't be easy to put together — Lyles' market, to the extent one materializes, won't be strong and won't yield much of a return.
There's also the financial factor. Any team interested in Lyles will justifiably expect KC to pay a good chunk of the $8.5 million remaining on his contract, which will almost certainly pain the frugal Royals.
Failing a trade, and assuming designating him for assignment doesn't secure a waiver claim from a team willing to assume his entire $8.5 million 2024 contract, the Royals could simply release him. But letting him go doesn't relieve the club of its financial obligations, and eating almost $9 million isn't something this typically tight franchise is prone to do.
What else could figure into a decision to keep Lyles?
The KC Royals may actually have a need for Jordan Lyles' services next year
As strange and illogical as it may seem and sound, need may compel Kansas City to bring Lyles back. The state of the rotation is as uncertain as ever, and he could supply some help of sorts until that rotation stabilizes.
As it stands now, and without significant changes over the winter, only Cole Ragans, and probably Brady Singer, have decent claims to starting spots next season; Ragans' is a lock, and Singer's is, assuming he recovers well from the back issue that recently forced him to the Injured List and prematurely ended his season, fairly strong (unless he's traded, which could happen).
After Ragans and Singer, though, the rotation is thin at best. Kris Bubic is recovering from Tommy John Surgery and probably won't return to action until May at the earliest; shoulder issues have caused Daniel Lynch IV to miss most of the season, although he squeezed in a rehab assignment appearance at Triple-A Omaha before the Storm Chasers' season ended last Sunday; and Brad Keller's season ended earlier this month when he began exhibiting thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms.
Keller is also eligible to test free agency when the World Series concludes, which means he may seek employment elsewhere. All things considered, Kansas City's best move is to wish Keller well and pursue someone to replace him.
The Royals, then, may prefer to keep Lyles, hoping the historically durable hurler can temporarily fill a gap in their rota and pitch well enough to become marketable for trade deadline purposes. He isn't the best solution to the club's lack of pitching depth, but they won't have many options unless general manager J.J. Picollo finds help over the winter.