In what is likely their last significant move of the offseason, the Royals moved to fortify their starting rotation Saturday, reaching an agreement with free-agent right-hander Ian Kennedy, according to multiple reports.
The deal is worth $70 million over five years and, according to ESPN, Kennedy can opt out after the second year. The contract would be the second-largest ever handed out by the Royals, behind Alex Gordon’s four-year, $72 million agreement signed earlier this offseason. The dollar figures for the first two seasons of the Kennedy contract were not immediately available.
Because Kennedy rejected a one-year qualifying offer from his former team, San Diego, the Royals would give up their first round pick in this summer’s draft by signing him.
The Royals had been seeking a starting pitcher after losing Johnny Cueto to free agency. The Royals’ rotation candidates include right-handers Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlen and Chris Young and lefty Danny Duffy.
The acquisition of Kennedy could mean a larger bullpen role for Duffy, who spent most of last season as a starter before moving to the pen in September. He also pitched as a reliever each of the last two postseasons. Young and Medlen also pitched out of the bullpen at times last season.
In acquiring Kennedy, 31, the Royals are placing a bet on a potential bounce-back candidate with upside. Kennedy finished 9-15 with a 4.28 ERA in 2015, his second full season with the San Diego Padres.
The peripheral numbers were more appealing. Kennedy struck out 174 batters and walked 52 in 168 1/3 innings. His effectiveness was limited by a propensity to give up the long ball. Kennedy served up 31 home runs on the season.
In 2014, his first full season in San Diego, Kennedy finished with a 3.63 ERA while striking out 207 batters in 201 innings. His best season came with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, when he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting.
The Royals will count on Kennedy to eat innings in the middle of their rotation, and he could benefit from the Royals’ elite outfield defense and the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium.
The addition of Kennedy is likely the final major acquisition as the Royals prepare to defend their 2015 World Series championship. After re-signing Gordon to a club-record deal, re-upping with Young for two years and $11.5 million, and reuniting with reliever Joakim Soria for three years and $25 million, the Royals’ payroll could push past $130 million in 2016, another club record.
The Royals also reached agreements Friday with six of their seven players who filed for arbitration, including buying out All-Star center fielder Lorenzo Cain’s final two years before free agency with a reported two-year, $17.5 million contract. All-Star third baseman Mike Moustakas is the club’s only unsigned arbitration player. He filed at $7 million, while the Royals countered at $4.2 million.