Royals starter Ian Kennedy is a realist of sorts, a rational thinker under no illusions about his performance or his future. So let’s get this part out of the way early.
Kennedy, 32, possesses a one-time opt-out this offseason on a five-year, $70 million contract signed before the 2016 season. He knows there is almost zero percent chance he will use it.
“It would be pretty stupid if I did,” Kennedy told The Star in an interview on Wednesday, just two days after the worst start of his season.
In a 12-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, Kennedy surrendered seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, finishing out a miserable August. In his second year in the Royals’ rotation, he has posted a 4-10 record with a 5.47 ERA in 130 innings.
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“I don’t think anybody would want how I’ve been throwing lately,” Kennedy said. “Shoot, I haven’t thought about it. If you’re throwing well, then you start thinking about it.
“But right now, it doesn’t look too good. You don’t go to the free-agent market pitching how I’ve been. No one is going to want that.”
Kennedy is slated to make a guaranteed $49 million across the next three seasons, including $16 million in 2018 and $16.5 million in 2019 and 2020. He will enter the offseason as the Royals’ second-highest paid player the next two seasons behind left fielder Alex Gordon. His tenure in Kansas City began with a strong debut season in 2016 before an inconsistent run in the first half and a precipitous decline in August.
“It’s been a roller coaster all year,” Kennedy said. “Started out really good. Got hurt. I tried to come back from that. I started pitching good again. And then this last month has been pretty awful. No, I haven’t thought about that opt-out stuff.”
On Wednesday, Royals manager Ned Yost revealed that Kennedy pitched through a bout of shoulder fatigue in early August. His arm barked and the issue limited his effectiveness. Yet Kennedy said he felt stronger in his start on Monday, even if the performance did not indicate that to be the case.
“Now it’s just mechanical,” Yost said. “He’s kind of under the ball a little bit instead of on top.”
For the moment, Kennedy is trying to find the form that defined much of his 2016 campaign. The quest has proved elusive.
In the months after claiming the 2015 World Series, the Royals offered Kennedy a five-year, $70 million deal, hoping to benefit from the presence of an innings-eater who had just turned 31. Club officials believed they required starting pitching help to extend their window to contend. To lure Kennedy to Kansas City, they included a one-time opt-out after the second season of the contract.
“When I look at it, I look at it as: ‘Five years is guaranteed,’ ” Kennedy said. “That’s something you play your whole life for, you play your whole career for, you work so hard for. It was like only if something worked out so well, that I pitched so well, that it made sense to opt out.
“Whereas, I didn’t plan on it. Now it’s really (gone) the other way.”
In addition to the $49 million remaining on his contract, there will be other fringe benefits to remaining in Kansas City, Kennedy said. When he signed with the Royals last year, he moved his young family, including four daughters, to suburban Johnson County. His wife, Allison, is due to give birth to their fifth child next month. They are hoping for a boy.
“We’re hoping,” Kennedy said. “We’re praying for one. We switched it up this time. We’re not finding it out. All the girls we did. … But we’ll see how it goes this time.”
Either way, the Kennedy family can plan to be in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.