As the Royals have grown from bottom-feeder to World Series champion, the organization has become a welcome spot for the wounded, a refuge for the recovering and injury-plagued.
Right-hander Kris Medlen came to Kansas City while recovering from his second Tommy John surgery and contributed on a World Series champion. Reliever Ryan Madson resuscitated his career arm issues nearly killed it. Right-hander Chris Young flourished in a place that protected his right arm.
On Friday afternoon, the Royals flashed the same tactical gambit, signing left-handed pitcher Mike Minor to a two-year, $7.25 million deal with a $10 million mutual option for 2018. Minor, 28, is just nine months removed from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He is also a former first-round pick who posted a 3.21 ERA for the Atlanta Braves in 2013 before struggling in 2014.
In a move to add depth to the pitching staff, the Royals will bet on Minor’s innate ability to get hitters out and their medical staff’s track record of handling recovering arms.
“We’re trusting (trainer) Nick Kenney and our medical team,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said, “along with Mike’s work ethic and dedication to get back to perform successfully at the major leagues. (It) led us to a conclusion to give him a two-year deal.”
Minor will make $2 million this season and $4 million in 2017. The deal also includes a $1.25 million buyout for 2018 and at least $4 million in performance bonuses for each season.
The deal, in most respects, is similar to the one handed to Medlen last offseason. Coming off his second major elbow surgery, Medlen signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with a mutual option for 2017. He spent the first half of the season concluding his rehab before making his Royals debut in late July. According to Moore, Minor could be on a similar path — with an expedited timeline.
“We don’t anticipate him being ready for the first six weeks to two months (of the regular season),” Moore said.
If Minor’s rehab is smooth, he could join the Royals in late May and fill a role similar to the one Medlen occupied in 2015. Medlen made 15 appearances, including eight starts, while moving from the bullpen to the rotation. He will likely begin this season as a starter. Minor, who was once teammates with Medlen in Atlanta, will attempt to follow that track.
“Hopefully, we’d have him in a position to give us some depth the second half — probably before that,” Moore said. “But realistically, around that period of time.”
For Minor, the two-year contract offers the opportunity to re-start his career while not rushing his return. A former No. 7 overall pick out of Vanderbilt in 2009, Minor spent just a year in the minor leagues before debuting with Atlanta in August 2010. He spent parts of the next three seasons in the Braves’ rotation, making at least 30 starts in 2012 and 2013.
As a pitcher, Minor’s 6-foot-4 frame belies his style, which eschews power for variety. While starting in Atlanta, he used a four-pitch mix that featured a fastball that touched 90 mph, a slider that hovered in the mid-80s, a knuckle curve and a change-up.
He used the arsenal to great effect in 2012 and 2013, but his performance began to lag in 2014, when he recorded a 4.77 ERA over 25 starts. His shoulder barked the following spring, and he went on the disabled list last March. Two months later, he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum. The Braves opted to let him walk in December.
The Royals, Moore said, had liked Minor since scouting him before the 2009 draft. As an organization, the Royals collect starters like bobbleheads and put an emphasis on depth. When the medical assessments on Minor came back positive, club officials felt comfortable offering a two-year deal.
If his left arm cooperates, the deal could put Minor in the mix for a rotation spot in 2017. But for the moment, the Royals will wait to see what he can be in 2016.
“We wouldn’t put limitations on him,” Moore said. “The important thing is to move at a rate that ensures his long-term health. And that’s why it was important to get him on a two-year deal; not just one year, because not always, but usually you see them better the following year.”