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If the Royals dip their toe into free agency at all, it is likely to be in the shallow end of the pool. The club is relying mostly on its young talent developing, and isn’t looking to add players in their decline phase at great cost.
However, a few weeks ago, a number of additional players hit the free agency pool when the deadline to tender arbitration-eligible players a contract passed. Non-tendered free agents could be more attractive for the Royals since they are generally younger than other free agents. On the flip side, these are players other teams have decided to cut loose either due to performance, injury, or to save some money.
Non-tendered free agents can put together valuable seasons. The Cubs non-tendered pitcher Jason Adam last year, and he went to Tampa Bay and posted a 2.6 rWAR season with a 1.56 ERA out of the pen. Other solid non-tendered free agents from last year include Daniel Vogelbach, Matt Strahm, and Taylor Clarke, who the Royals signed.
You can see a list of this year’s non-tendered free agents here. Here are some players recently cut loose that could be of interest to the Royals.
The Royals have been said to be seeking a right-handed bat, which could lead them to Brian Anderson. The Oklahoma native and former Arkansas Razorback hit .256/.341/.410 in six years with the Marlins, hitting 20 home runs in 2019. He hit just .222/.311/.346 last year, and was limited in action due to a shoulder injury. He can draw a few walks and has a low chase rate. He has a very strong arm and can hold his own at third, although he is capable of playing the outfield and even second base on occasion.
I don’t really think Bellinger is a good fit for the Royals, but he’s the biggest name here, and he would at least be worth a gamble if he’s willing to come to Kansas City. Bellinger was Rookie of the Year in 2017, and won National League MVP in 2021 with the Dodgers, but has been awful the last two seasons with a line of .193/.256/.355. He is just 27 years old and despite many multi-year offers, he is seeking a one-year “make good” deal. There are no shortage of suitors, so don’t expect Bellinger to land with the Royals unless they overpay.
Candelario posted a 125 OPS+ over 2020-2021 and led the league with 42 doubles in the latter year. But instead of giving him a long-term deal as the Royals did with Hunter Dozier, the Tigers went year-to-year with him and non-tendered him after he fell to .217/.272/.361 this year. Unlike Dozier, Candelario is pretty decent defensively at third base, and is a switch-hitter that just turned 29 years old.
The Royals are a big light in lefty reliever depth, and could do worse than bring in the 29-year-old former Giants southpaw. He has a 3.61 ERA in six big leagues seasons, including a serviceable 3.74 ERA last year. He doesn’t have big strikeout numbers, but lefties have struggled to hit him, and he does a pretty good job throwing strikes.
The former first-round pick was a solid reliever for the Reds last year, posting a 3.83 ERA in 44 2/3 innings, although with a 4.30 FIP. He was a starter earlier in his career with the Rockies, but has had better results in the bullpen. He throws a 94 mph fastball with some of the best spin in the league, and did suffer a forearm injury this summer.
James had forearm issues that required surgery this fall, so he likely won’t be ready for the start of the season. Another team would have been more patient with him, but the Astros are teeming with pitchers and can move on. The 29-year-old right-hander has a 96-97 mph fastball when healthy and has struck out 13.3 per-nine-innings in his big league time. But he pitched just five innings in 2021, and none in the big leagues last year. Depending on his medicals, he could be worth a gamble, especially since he would be under club control through at least 2025.
Another injury-plagued arm, Marquez was ranked the #52 prospect in the game by Baseball America just 21 months ago. But he has not thrown a pitch in a game since then, due to shoulder issues. He underwent a debridement procedure last summer and has basically not pitched in three years, but the 23-year-old lefty had a fastball in the upper 90s when healthy, and could be worth a flyer.
Moronto was a solid reliever for the Giants in 2018-19, but has not been the same since a labrum injury cost him the entire 2020 season. The big burly right-hander posted a 4.30 ERA and 4.41 FIP in 37 2/3 innings of relief for the Dodgers and Diamondbacks last year. His velocity is down a tick from the 97 mph he was throwing in his prime, but perhaps another year removed from his injury can yield better results. Walks can be an issue for the pitcher that turns 30 in January, but he has struck out 10.6 per-nine-innings with a solid 3.02 ERA in his career.
The former Cardinals closer was an All-Star in 2021 with 29 saves and a 3.24 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 72 1⁄3 innings. But he didn’t throw a single pitch this year due to shoulder injuries and the Cardinals opted to let him go rather than pay him $3 million. He throws in the upper-90s when healthy but can be very wild. He already has multiple teams interested in his services so the odds of the Royals landing him seems rather slim.
Rios hit 31 home runs in Triple-A in 2019, but since then has been stashed away on the Dodgers bench. He has hit .219/.299/.492 with 20 home runs in 291 plate appearances in parts of four seasons at the big league level. He strikes out a ton and doesn’t walk much, but does have some plus power. He’s a left-handed bat that can play first or third, and he should have a lot of service time left, although he’s already 28 years old.
The 28-year-old right-hander was decent for the Braves this year, with a 3.69 ERA and 3.54 FIP in 53 2⁄3 innings of relief. He doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters, instead finding success with a groundball rate near 50 percent. He has a terrific spin rate on his curveball, inducing some poor contact this year.
Toussant was a first-round pick with the Diamondbacks and was a top 100 prospect as recently as 2019 with the Braves, but he has struggled with a 5.34 ERA in 170 1⁄3 innings at the big league level. He has been pretty wild, so perhaps a move to the bullpen could resurrect his career a bit.
Warren was fantastic in 2021 in 21 innings with the Reds showing a 1.29 ERA and striking out 34. He was named the team’s closer early this year, but faltered in the role and regressed badly with a 6.50 ERA and 5.5 walks-per-nine-innings. He’ll be 30 years old next spring, so he’s not particularly young, but he has been able to miss bats despite not flashing a big fastball, instead relying on a slider he throws more than half the time. Warren had UCL surgery this fall, but is expected to be ready for the 2023 season.
The crafty lefty won 16 games his rookie year in 2018 and was a 2.6 fWAR pitcher in 2019, but was let go after a 5.11 ERA in 2021 and a 4.50 ERA this year. He has one of the lowest-walk rates over the last two seasons, although also has one of the lowest strikeout rates. That’s because he only throws 86 mph, relying more on a cutter, slider, and change up. He’ll be 31 in January, but he can be a back-of-the-rotation candidate.