The fact that the Kansas City Royals went ahead and signed Ian Kennedy isn’t such a big surprise. The more surprising factor in this deal is the amount of money they were willing to give him.
Kennedy, previously with the San Diego Padres, signed a five-year, $70 million contract, which is quite an upgrade compared to what he made in San Diego and previously with the Arizona Diamondbacks, coming after two good but not special seasons, which just goes to show that the right starting pitcher can still hold the right kind of leverage when it comes to free agency negotiations. Just like Chris Davis who signed a deal with the Baltimore Orioles, Kennedy is represented by Scott Boras, who knew exactly what he was doing when he spurned a $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Padres.
Kennedy doesn’t have the flashiest numbers. He has a 4.28 ERA in 2015 while going 9-of-15 (saying more about the Padres than him) while posting a 1.295 WHIP and striking out 9.3 batters per innings. He has speed behind his pitches and has picked up his strikeouts/walks ratio, but many were surprised to see him get such an impressive raise after not making any headlines in San Diego, making $9.8 million last season for them.
Maybe staying healthy is the key. The Royals rely on bullpen and varied hitting, not their starting pitchers. Kennedy has 30 or more starts in six straight seasons, dating back to his first season with the Diamondbacks after the trade from the New York Yankees. He’s coming in to fill in for Johnny Cueto, who was a short-time plug for the Royals last season. Cueto didn’t do too well in the regular season, but mostly shined in the playoffs, especially in his one appearance in the World Series, before signing a $130 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. The nine biggest pitcher signings this offseason including Kennedy are worth over $1 billion.
The Royals rotation ranked 24th in Major League Baseball last season, so even after giving Joakim Soria and Alex Gordon big re-signing contracts in Royals terms, they had to go out and make a major improvement to the starting pitching core. The combined ERA of 4.34 and having such a weak shield in front of the precious bullpen just wasn’t going to cut it in their opinion, despite heading into the season as the defending World Series champions.
Kennedy is a risk. Not just because of the money, but because of his style. He makes batters miss, but he gave up 31 home runs in less than 170 innings last season. When they connect, it goes deep and long. His home run-to-fly ball ratio more than doubled in 2015 compared to the previous season, jumping from 7.8% to 17.2%. But him joining a rotation that also includes Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen and Chris Young makes the Royals better, or gives them insurance, considering they don’t have anyone who is a guaranteed 6 innings plus kind of pitcher, while giving them more time to develop Kyle Zimmer in the minors.