To fortify their pitching staff, the Royals reached into their past to aid their bullpen and secured a commitment from a key contributor to deepen their starting rotation.
As the first day of the Winter Meetings concluded on Monday, the Royals finalized a two-year, $11.5 million agreement with starter Chris Young as they entered the final stages of completing a three-year, $25 million deal with former All-Star closer Joakim Soria.
The two deals represented a sizable chunk of the team’s offseason to-do list, though general manager Dayton Moore indicated the club will still look to add another starting pitcher.
In addition, the team seeks clarity with free-agent outfielder Alex Gordon. Rival executives do not view the Royals as the favorites to secure a long-term pact with Gordon, but the team has not given up hope.
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In the interim, Moore and his front office sought to refurbish their pitching staff. The deals with Young and Soria would fulfill that purpose.
Young, 36, will rejoin the rotation, where he finished the 2015 season after bouncing back and forth from the bullpen. Young posted a 3.06 ERA in 123 1/3 innings. He impressed his teammates with his dedication to his craft, and contributed a 2.87 ERA in four postseason appearances.
“Chris Young is special,” Moore said from his suite in the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. You can make the case that he’s the MVP of our pitching staff. And we’re very proud that he’s returning to Kansas City.”
The contract will pay Young $4.25 million in 2016 and $5.75 million in 2017. The $8 mutual option for 2018 comes with a $1.5 million buyout. Young can also earn a pair of $125,000 bonuses in 2016 and 2017, one for 90 games on the roster and another for 120 games on the roster.
The details of Soria’s contract remain under wraps. Young completed his physical in Kansas City on Monday, but Soria has yet to undergo one.
“We’re working toward an agreement,” Moore said. “Nothing is official at this point. The ‘I’s’ haven’t been dotted. The ‘T’s’ haven’t been crossed. We’re hopeful that can happen.”
But the Royals, of course, know Soria well. Moore chose him in the Rule 5 draft before the 2007 season and watched him become one of the game’s best relievers. From 2007 to 2010 Soria saved 132 games with 2.01 ERA and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He made a pair of All-Star teams.
“Just loved his professionalism,” manager Ned Yost said. “Loved his makeup and his composure. Loved his ability to field his position, control the running game, execute pitches. A lot like Chris Young. He’s just a professional performer when he steps on the mound and still very, very productive. Would love to have him.”
Soria, 31, damaged his elbow in the 2011 season and required Tommy John surgery in 2012. He became a free agent and signed with Texas. He bounced from the Rangers to the Tigers to the Pirates. Soria struck out 64 batters in 67 2/3 innings in 2015 with a 2.54 ERA.
Yost cast Soria as another overpowering arm to join Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Luke Hochevar in the bullpen. Another potential addition to that group could come internally, in the form of lefty Danny Duffy. After struggling as a starter last season, Duffy shifted into the bullpen during the postseason run.
“I still think we are looking to try to upgrade the rotation a little bit, and Danny is a guy that could be a starter or a reliever,” Yost said. “But time will tell exactly where we’re going to go with that, and we’ll see.”
Moore cautioned that the Royals would not make a maneuver like that unless the team can secure another credible starting pitcher. The club does not want to punt on Duffy’s potential as a starter unless a more reliable option emerges.
The Royals have conducted conversations with another lefty, Scott Kazmir, but were not said to be close to reaching an agreement, according to people familiar with the situation.
Kansas City could also pursue pitchers looking for a short-term, bounce-back contract like Doug Fister or Ian Kennedy. But to sign Kennedy, who the Royals have discussed in trade proposals in years past, the team would need to sacrifice a draft pick.
Meanwhile, the Royals refuse to overextend themselves on long-term contracts. Moore wants to attempt to keep together the team’s core of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. All three can become free agents after 2017. The team will have to operate with that in mind.
“We’ve got some flexibility to do some more things,” Moore said. “But I like what we’ve done thus far. I really do. I think our pitching right now is in better shape than it was this time last year.”
Royals projected pitching staff for 2016
RHP Yordano Ventura: Struggled in expanded role in 2015, but KC still hopeful for his future.
RHP Edinson Volquez: Led rotation during the playoffs and could be opening-day starter.
RHP Chris Young: Turned down a three-year offer from another team to return to Kansas City.
RHP Kris Medlen: A survivor of two Tommy John surgeries, he’ll try to stick in rotation.
LHP Danny Duffy: Could move to bullpen if Royals find another qualified starter.
RHP Wade Davis: Might be the best closer in baseball and excelled in 2015.
RHP Kelvin Herrera: Received his first All-Star nod in 2015 and is useful in multi-inning stints.
RHP Luke Hochevar: KC expects Hochevar to dominate after easing him into action in 2015.
RHP Joakim Soria: Rule 5 pick turned All-Star closer returns to KC as setup man.
LHP Tim Collins: Could help team later in season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
LHP Brian Flynn: Impressed brass during 2015 spring training before injuring lat muscle early in year.