Edinson Volquez could become free agent but remains open to staying with the Royals

Royals starting pitcher Edinson Volquez probably will become a free agent in the offseason, but he said Wednesday that he could be open to saying “yes” to his side of a one-year mutual option in 2017.
Royals starting pitcher Edinson Volquez probably will become a free agent in the offseason, but he said Wednesday that he could be open to saying “yes” to his side of a one-year mutual option in 2017. The Associated Press

The nickname is still inscribed on the outside of Edinson Volquez’s Rawlings glove, the white stitching popping against the Royal blue leather. Volquez ordered the special inscription earlier this season, in the final weeks of June, and in those moments, the name still made some sense.

Here, inside the Royals’ clubhouse, they called him “Steady Eddie” for a number of reasons. Maybe it was the performance. Maybe it was his jovial presence. Maybe it was just that it rhymed and sounded kind of cool.

But there was more to it than that. For a time in Kansas City, Volquez was a dependable innings eater and a easy-going presence in the clubhouse. On some nights, he was a rock. On other nights, he was “sexy”, his preferred adjective for describing a strong performance.

Volquez was not always the perfect pitcher, but for the 2015 Royals, he was close to a perfect fit. He started 33 games. He posted a 3.55 ERA. He took the ball on the decisive night of the World Series, Game 5 at Citi Field in New York, offering a sterling performance just days after the death of his father.

The narrative, of course, took a turn this season, a year of regression, periodic implosions and a 5.25 ERA in 32 starts after Tuesday’s performance Progressive Field. But as the Royals push forward through the final weeks of September, Volquez has prepared for reality: These could be his final starts in a Royals uniform. The Steady Eddie era, if it still exists, could soon be over.

“I’d love to stay here,” Volquez said on Wednesday afternoon, sitting inside the visitors clubhouse at Progressive Field. “But who knows?”

The uncertainty is expected. In the offseason, Volquez could become a free agent for the third time in four offseasons. His current contract, a two-year deal signed before the 2015 season, contains a mutual for $10 million in 2017. But a return to Kansas City would require both player and team to agree to those terms, a rare occurrence when a trip to the open market of free agency is the alternative.

As he pondered the decision on Wednesday, Volquez said he would be intrigued by a return to the Royals. But he planned to huddle with his agent after the World Series before making any decision.

“I don’t think about it,” Volquez said. “I guess the answer right now, I’d have to say: ‘OK, let’s take it.’

“Because I want to stay here one more year. In another way, if I can get more money, I would decline it. It’s hard man. I don’t know [anything] about those numbers. But we got to wait until after the World Series.”

Even if Volquez felt tempted to say yes to his side of the option, the Royals could also elect to walk away from the deal and pay out a $3 million buyout. In general, the club has used mutual options as a creative way to spread out the money in multiyear contracts. In most cases, there is little expectation that the mutual option will be exercised. Some of this is simple logic, of course. If a player performs well, he will likely choose free agency. If he doesn’t, the team has motivation to move on. But in the case of Volquez, a rational case could be made for both sides mulling the deal.

The Royals would get a possible back-end-of-the rotation starter for $10 million, a reasonable cost in what could be a thin offseason pitching market. Volquez, 33, would have an opportunity to have a bounce-back season before entering free agency again after next season.

“We got to wait until after the World Series and see what happens,” Volquez said. “I haven’t talked to (general manager Dayton Moore). They haven’t come talk to me. I don’t know. I think they’ve got a tough decision to make next year.”

If either side opts to walk away, the Royals could still offer him a one-year “qualifying offer”, estimated at close to $16.7 million. But that prospect seems remote after Volquez posted a 5.89 ERA in 70 1/3 innings after the All-Star break. One year after logging 200 innings for the first time, Volquez has maintained his durability. But in 32 starts, he has allowed the most hits (206) and runs (106) in the American League.

If Volquez reaches free agency, the club could also pursue a reunion on more cost-friendly terms, letting the market play out. But in any scenario, they would take on some risk by signing a starter who will be 34 years old next summer.

For now, the Royals’ 2017 starting rotation appears to have three locks in Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura. Left-hander Jason Vargas will likely slide into a rotation spot after returning from Tommy John surgery, while left-hander Matt Strahm will compete for a spot after a strong debut in the bullpen in August and September. The Royals will also have right-hander Chris Young and left-hander Mike Minor under contract for 2017, offering depth entering spring training. But another starting pitcher could rank somewhat high on the priority list in the offseason.

For Volquez, some of this calculus has crossed his mind. But for now, he’s focused on finishing strong in his last two starts.

As he thought about the future on Wednesday, Volquez said leaving the Royals after two seasons would be “hard.” He built relationships here, he said. He won a World Series. He carved out a tiny place in franchise lore with his performance in the 2015 postseason. But for now, he will wait.

“If I have to go, I have to go,” he said. “I can’t control that. Hopefully everything goes well. Who knows?

“You want to keep the same guys here for next year, so I want to be here. Because I know we got good chemistry together, and it’s going to be hard to be away from those guys.”