The Royals dipped their toe into the free-agent market for the first time on Tuesday, landing a reclamation project with a strong pedigree and an uneven track record of performance.
The club signed right-handed pitcher Wily Peralta to a one-year, $1.525 million contract with a club option for the 2019 season. The deal includes $1.5 million in guaranteed salary in 2018 and a $25,000 buyout on a $3 million option the next season.
Peralta, 28, is seeking to revitalize his career after a promising start and a precipitous fall with the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2017, he posted a 7.85 ERA in 19 appearances, including eight starts, at the major-league level. He was designated for assignment in late July.
Those struggles came just three seasons after he recorded a 17-11 record and 3.53 ERA for the Brewers in 2014. He also scored an opening day start for Milwaukee in 2016. In six seasons, he was 47-52 with a 4.48 in 132 appearances, including 120 starts.
The Royals will hope to harness the potential in Peralta’s power stuff, perhaps in a relief role. His fastball averaged 96 mph in 2017, when he partly transitioned to the bullpen, and Kansas City has a track record of converting failed or struggling starting pitchers into reliable relievers.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore said the club will stretch Peralta out during spring training and give him the opportunity to start, though they also see upside as a reliever.
“He’s performed in both roles in the past,” Moore said. “He’s shown flashes of success in both roles. We see him as someone who’s potentially on the rebound.”
The risk is limited, considering the contract. In addition to the guaranteed money, Peralta can max out at $1.25 million in performance bonuses in either season. If he performs well in 2018, his option could escalate for 2019. If Kansas City opts to decline the option, he would also remain under club control and be eligible for salary arbitration in 2019. Either way, the Royals see value in the control across two seasons.
Peralta, of course, has tried to transition to the bullpen before. In 2017, the Brewers were hopeful that his fastball would translate to success. But he issued five walks per nine innings while striking out just less than a batter per inning, which limited his effectiveness.
A native of Samana, Dominican Republic, Peralta made his major-league debut on April 22, 2012, at the age of 22. He started 32 games in both 2013 and 2014 before struggling through a 2015 season that was marred by a strained oblique that cost him nine weeks. He finished 7-11 with a 4.86 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings in 2016 and never regained his top form from 2014.
Peralta’s signing came one day after former Royals reliever Mike Minor agreed to terms with the Texas Rangers. The 40-man roster now has 38 players with the Winter Meetings and annual Rule 5 draft scheduled for next week in Orlando, Fla.