The numbers stun you at first, all of them, the reported five years and the $70 million, and depending on how deep you want to go with it, the opt-out clause for a dependable but average starting pitcher named Ian Kennedy.
There is no way to fully get past those numbers, because these are the Royals we’re talking about, and only a few weeks ago there were men who worked for the organization who didn’t believe ownership would approve a smaller contract for a franchise icon named Alex Gordon.
Whether that was posturing or genuine doubt is hard to tell, and largely irrelevant now because the Royals have fully graduated from small-market bargain shopper to outbidding other suitors for a Scott Boras free agent.
There is a lot to digest here, and not simply because this figures to be the last major move of owner David Glass’ and general manager Dayton Moore’s first offseason as world champions.
The first thing, and perhaps most obvious, is that this is a lot of money. Before this winter, the Royals had never given a contract worth more than $55 million. Now, they have given contracts worth $70 million and $72 million in the last two weeks.
The team’s payroll will be over $130 million on opening day, something nobody in the organization expected when the offseason began, and a number that would’ve ranked among the sport’s 10 biggest last year.
You can imagine this deal not being done if the Royals operated differently — if Moore had not earned Glass’ faith and convinced him that winning does not come without increased spending.
This is a small thing, but when Moore and his assistants gather to talk about potential signings, it is understood by everyone in the room that they are not to talk about the cost. Moore wants the evaluations to be purely about baseball, and then later he and Glass will see if the money will work. There are exceptions — late in the spring, for instance, when budgets are mostly set — but this is how a small-market team keeps its focus more on baseball than dollars.
Still, getting hung up on the money is wasted time, and not just because the sport is generating record revenues every year with promises of more to come, and not just because it makes more sense for the players who provide the entertainment value to get it than the owners who make the rules and take on virtually no risk.
Jeff Samardzija gave up more hits, earned runs and home runs than anyone else in baseball last year, and was rewarded with a $90 million contract. It’s all silly.
Kennedy’s contract has an opt-out clause for him after two years, which both follows the industry trend (especially for starting pitchers) and lines up perfectly with the organization’s push to maximize its success during the next two years before potential free-agency for — deep breath here — Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Mike Moustakas, Edinson Volquez, Alcides Escobar, Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas and Jarrod Dyson.
The Royals could have gone into the season without another starting pitcher, but it would’ve been the kind of risk based on faith and hoped fortune that doomed so many seasons before. They could have been discouraged by a rotten TV contract that doesn’t expire until two years after the potential 2017 free-agent exodus.
Instead, they stretched themselves to help their chances in the moment. They now have some depth, with Kennedy joining Yordano Ventura, Volquez, Kris Medlen, Chris Young and Duffy. Young and Duffy could split time in the bullpen, Vargas should be back from Tommy John surgery in mid- to late summer, and the Royals are high on the potential of Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer.
Kennedy is reliable, having averaged nearly 196 innings during the last six years, and he has history with pitching coach Dave Eiland — whose track record has helped the Royals’ rise, and warrants trust.
Only 11 pitchers have more strikeouts than Kennedy since 2010. He is a fly-ball pitcher whose home-run rate in recent seasons indicates bad luck, and there are other metrics that present him as better than his traditional numbers — 44-50 with a 4.19 ERA over the last four years.
He should also benefit greatly from Kauffman Stadium’s big outfield and the Royals’ terrific outfield defense. There is some nuance in this part of it, since any pitcher would benefit from the Royals’ stadium and defense, and Kennedy is coming from San Diego — one of the game’s biggest stadiums, and worst defensive outfields — but this is probably getting a little too granular.
Because the takeaway here is not whether the Royals overspent, or whether Kennedy will be worth the money (his track record suggests he won’t, but who knows what anything is worth these days?).
The important thing is that the Royals have stepped off their previous platform of frugality, stepped into baseball’s second tier of spenders and are committed to maximizing a window of opportunity that has already produced two American League pennants and a World Series title.
This is what it’s supposed to look like. After so long of the other way, it is what the Royals look like.