I just really want Zac Gallen to pitch for Kansas City next year. You probably can’t get him without MJ Melendez at this point because he decided to compete for the Cy Young Award this year, posting a 2.54 ERA in 184 IP for Arizona, but gosh dammit is he good. Like, really really good. (For context, he posted an ERA of 4.30 last year after having ERA’s in the twos his first two seasons, so I thought there could be a buy-low opportunity this offseason. That is no longer a thing.) So, my first target is Zac Gallen. See if you can get him for MJ Melendez and Nick Loftin and then go from there. If you can, I might do it. Probably not? But I’d be tempted. If that price doesn’t get it done, you can forget about all that and start focusing on the next five guys on this list.
Option #1: Jose Urquidy, RHP, Houston
Urquidy is no ace, but he’s got three years of control left on his rookie deal and he’ll be just 28 years old next year. Since the beginning of last season, Urquidy has made 48 starts, thrown 271.1 innings, and posted an ERA of 3.81 with a 4.42 FIP. For some reason the Astros were floating Urquidy’s name out there at the trade deadline this past season, and with Hunter Brown coming up as yet another example of the Astros ability to develop any Jimmy or Joe into a useable starting pitcher, they may be willing to let Urquidy go to fill a different hole on their roster.
The problem with Houston is that they generally don’t have very many holes on their roster. The Astros entire infield is completely set for the foreseeable future and they’ve got Kyle Tucker roaming the outfield. So how do you steal an effective 28-year old starting pitcher out of there without breaking the bank? If I was Kansas City, I’d start with Michael A. Taylor and Scott Barlow. The Astros could use some cheap help in centerfield and everyone needs elite relievers. In terms of prospects you could move to sweeten the deal, how about a Will Klein type? Klein has some of the most ridiculous stuff I’ve seen in the minor leagues but he needs some help perfecting his craft and the Astros would probably just go ahead and turn him into an All-Star-caliber reliever. It’s nearly impossible to gauge what the hell Houston is thinking on any given day, but I’d start there and see how that goes.
Option #2: Kyle Freeland, LHP, Colorado
Here’s the thing with trading for established starting pitching: it’s going to cost a lot in prospect capital and the Royals aren’t in a great position to be trading a bunch of that away at the moment. So, if you’re going to try to trade for a starting pitcher, you’re going to have to get creative. The Rockies signed Kyle Freeland to a 5-year, $64.5M deal before the 2022 season and then finished last in the NL West again. They are a broken organization, so there’s never any telling what the hell they’re going to do, but I would love to get Kyle Freeland out of there and see what he can do at sea level more than half the time.
Since the beginning of the 2020 season, Kyle Freeland has made 67 starts, thrown 366 innings, and has a 4.43 ERA and 4.43 FIP in that time, making half of his starts at Coors Field. Freeland doesn’t strike a ton of hitters out, but he doesn’t walk many hitters either and he does a great job of keeping the ball in the yard. If you can get that kind of pitcher in Kauffman Stadium, with what has traditionally been a good defensive unit, I really think you could see him blossom into a legitimate #3 starting pitcher.
The reason Colorado might be okay parting with Freeland is that he’s going to be 30 years old next year and is owed $57.5M over the next five seasons. For the Rockies, a team stuck in a division with the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants, Freeland likely isn’t moving the needle. For a team like the Royals, with a blossoming young offense and generally weak division, Freeland would bring some much needed stability to a rotation that can’t help but to walk batters at will. I think you could get Freeland for the price of Nick Loftin, Luca Tresh, and a lower-level lottery ticket as long as you’re willing to pay his entire contract. That wouldn’t kill the farm system, nor the Royals payroll, and immediately gives the Royals rotation a much needed boost for the foreseeable future.
#3: Pablo Lopez, RHP, Miami
The Miami Marlins have a bunch of young pitching on their hands and could use some young bats. Lopez is one of my favorite trade targets not because he’s 26 years old and just posted an ERA of 3.75 in 180 innings this season, but maybe because he’s only got two years left on his rookie deal, which means you won’t have to totally break the bank for him. If you wanted to extend him after that you could, but he’ll be 29 years old when he’s a free agent and should command a pretty penny on the open market. Two years may not seem like much to acquire for the Royals right now, but it’s the same amount of control the Royals acquired when they went and got James Shields before the 2013 season as well.
Lopez is a gosh darn stud on the mound. He’s one year older than Brady Singer, and this season he recorded nearly 30 more innings pitched than Singer, almost exactly the same K/9, just a few more BB/9, almost exactly the same HR/9, and about a half a run higher ERA. They’re honestly pretty similar pitchers on the surface, with years of control being the biggest difference between the two. Wouldn’t you like to have two Brady Singers at the top of this rotation?
The real question with Lopez will be the cost to acquire him. His name was a hot commodity at the trade deadline this past season and no one seemed willing to meet the Marlins’ asking price. Could you get him straight up for Nick Pratto? Would you have to add in a Peyton Wilson or Luca Tresh type? I really don’t want the Royals dealing from the current core of hitters they have at the big league level unless they’re going to sign Brandon Nimmo or something crazy. If the Marlins would trade you Lopez for Pratto, and you could get Lopez extended, I’d be all for it. I love Lopez the pitcher. I’m just a bit curious as to the asking price.
#4: Tyler Wells, RHP, Baltimore
This might not be a name anyone else agrees with, but I really like what Wells brings to the table and I really think he would thrive pitching half his games at Kauffman Stadium. Wells is a flyball pitcher who spent 2021 in the Orioles’ bullpen, and while his first season starting in the big leagues wasn’t overly fantastic, he did some good things and I’d be willing to bank on the 6′ 8″ 28-year old turning some things around and improving on his 4.25 ERA in 2023.
On the surface, a 28-year old starting pitcher with a 4.25 ERA in 103.2 IP may not seem like much, but here’s a few things that caught my eye that make me interested in bringing Wells to KC:
- Among 140 big league pitchers with at least 100 IP this season, Wells ranked 29th in Hard%
- Wells posted an ERA of 3.81 in 56.2 IP away from Camden Yards this season
- Before missing most of the second half of the season due to injury, Wells had an ERA of 3.38 in the first half of the season
- Despite being a RHP, Wells held left-handed hitters to a .193 BAA
And, last but certainly not least, Wells shouldn’t break the bank if you decide to trade for him this offseason. He’s still got four years of control left on his rookie deal and you might be able to get him for a one-time fee of, say, Michael Massey and Anthony Veneziano. I know folks won’t be thrilled with the idea of moving Massey, but getting a controllable starter in his prime, with tons of upside left, would be a huge get for the Royals. I want to clarify once again that I am not very well in tune with how these organizations view their players, so I have no idea what Baltimore would want for Wells, if they’re willing to trade him at all.
#5: Cole Irvin, LHP, Oakland
I don’t really know why Oakland would be eager to move off of a 29-year old LHP with four years of control left, but hey, these dudes will wheel and deal seemingly anyone at any time. Standing 6′ 4″ 217′, you’d think Irvin would be able to strike some dudes out, but he does not. Like, ever. You know what else he doesn’t do, like ever? Walk people. Irvin had one of the best BB/9 in all of baseball this season, something the Royals desperately need in their rotation moving forward.
Irvin is probably never going to pitch in an All-Star Game, but he’s another guy you could easily pencil into the back end of your rotation for the next four seasons and the Royals don’t have many of those guys right now. Over the last two seasons, Irvin has made 62 starts, thrown 359.1 innings, posted an ERA of 4.11 and a FIP of 4.25. Because of everything I’ve already mentioned, I also think you could get him for something like Michael Massey and Anthony Veneziano…something like that. For the final time, I have zero clue what these other orgs are thinking at any point in time, but it’s certainly a conversation I’d be willing to have if I was JJ Picollo and company.
One Last Thing
The Royals currently have a fantastic core of young hitters at the big league level, but not all of them are going to be contributing to a playoff lineup on an everyday basis. Nate Eaton is awesome, he’s probably not an everyday guy long-term. Edward Olivares has been incredible, but he also probably has to sit against RHP every now and then. Kyle Isbel has been atrocious at the plate despite being a defensive wizard. Drew Waters’ strikeout rate was really high. I’m all in on this group, but they also don’t have a ton of depth to just be dealing from like everything is all set for the next decade.
For this reason, the Royals need to be in the business of paying free agents to come in and fix this rotation. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. They need to be looking to keep this young core together to maximize their chances of getting nine good ones that can play everyday. Their Opening Day payroll in 2023 is set to be less than $80M at the moment. Go spend some freaking money this offseason. Otherwise, firing Matheny, Eldred, Moore, and Simontacchi will have been for next to nothing and you can kiss this fanbase goodbye again by Memorial Day.