After apparently resisting the urge to make one of his patented early-offseason signings, Kansas City Royals has come up with a January head-scratcher. According to a report from MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Royals have agreed to a five-year contract with right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy worth $70 million. Kennedy has the option to opt out of his deal after two seasons, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Kennedy, a Scott Boras client who spent the last three seasons pitching for the San Diego Padres, was considered by many to be one of the free agents most likely to get the "Kendrys Morales treatment" after declining a qualifying offer in November. Now, the Royals will be forced to hand over their first round draft pick in 2016.
The deal itself harkens back to previous years when Moore handed long-term deals to Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas. Moore drew scorn for both deals at the time, and the two pitchers have combined for 3.2 fWAR in five full seasons in Kansas City.
Kennedy comes in with slightly better career numbers, but he has not posted an above average ERA+ since 2012, when he was just better than average at 101. He put up a 3.63 ERA and 3.21 FIP in 201 innings in 2014, but regressed with a 4.28 ERA and 4.51 FIP in 2015. A healthy strikeout-to-walk ratio has been counterbalanced by an elevated home run rate, and his line drive rate has been above 22 percent in each of the past three seasons.
There are several layers of "What in the world are you doing?" here, but the most puzzling aspect involves the rest of the Royals' young, talented roster. Franchise cornerstones Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas all have two years of club control remaining, while Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar have team options for the 2017 season. Cain is all but a lock to depart after 2017, and it's tough to see them paying top dollar to retain Davis as well.
There is a certain amount of risk involved with locking up too much of your core roster for multiple years -- the 2007-2010 Tigers can attest to that -- but the Royals are jeopardizing their future "window" by paying Kennedy $14 million per season, a salary well above what many expected early on this offseason. They have already added over $20 million to their Opening Day payroll since last season, and owner David Glass has never been shy about tightening the pursestrings. Their farm system is somewhat depleted after a couple of win-now moves at last year's trade deadline, leaving no ready-made replacements for the soon-to-depart free agents.
Worse yet, the Royals are handcuffing their payroll for a pitcher that doesn't provide much of an upgrade over the current roster. The Royals already have Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez entrenched atop their rotation, with Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen, Jason Vargas, and Chris Young in the mix. In terms of innings pitched, Kennedy's durable right arm slots in as the team's No. 3 starter.
However, his 4.19 ERA and 4.06 FIP since 2012 aren't quite so sexy, and he's moving out of the offensively starved NL West for the first time since 2009. His fly ball tendencies should play well in the spacious Kauffman Stadium with Kansas City's "you hit it, I'll get it" outfield, but he struggled with the long ball at times while pitching at Petco Park. Guaranteeing five years to a 31-year-old pitcher with so many question marks -- and surrendering a draft pick, to boot -- is a puzzling move at best, and one that many may point to as a turning point for a franchise currently on top of the baseball world.