The Royals are nearing an agreement on a free agent contract Jordan LylesJohn Heyman of the New York Post reports (Twitter link) It will likely be a two-year deal for the Ballengee Group client, according to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (on Twitter)
Assuming the deal eventually goes through the finish line, it would be the eighth MLB organization for Lyles. The former first-rounder and top prospect has moved around the league in workmanlike fashion, securing plenty of opportunities thanks to his durability and strong clubhouse reputation. Lyles has made 28-plus starts in each of the previous three full seasons, avoiding the injured list entirely since June 2019.
The right-hander doesn’t post particularly eye-opening numbers on a rate basis. He pitched in parts of 12 seasons in the majors and never posted an ERA below 4.00, allowing more than five earned runs per nine innings over eight years. Some of that is attributed to the difficult environments, as he spent several seasons calling hitter-friendly venues like Coors Field and Globe Life Field. However, he’s also consistently struck out at a below-average rate, and a significant number of balls in play have contributed to a 5.10 ERA through more than 1,300 career innings.
To his credit, Lyles is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Signed by Baltimore last season for $7 million in guarantees, he has adeptly filled the role of “veteran innings eater” in an otherwise young outfield. Lyles caught the ball all 32 times for the O’s, ranking 29th in the majors with 179 innings. He threw a strikeout and posted a reasonable 4.42 ERA in perhaps the game’s most comfortable division. Lyles has walked just 6.7% of batters this year, nearly a percentage point below the league average and his lowest rate since his rookie season in 2011.
The 32-year-old player was not overwhelming. He averaged 91.8 MPH with his fastball while posting below-average strikeout and swing marks (18.6% and 9.3%, respectively). He was hit hard at a .278/.347/.500 clip by left-handed hitters, while he held same-handed opponents to a more manageable .275/.318/.418 line. Independent measures of FIP (4.40) and SIERA (4.36) generally correlated his production with the right run prevention mark.
Lyles performed as well as the Orioles could have reasonably expected at the time they signed him, logging very serviceable but slightly below-average innings. However, Baltimore paid him a $1 million buyout instead of an $11 million option earlier in the offseason. They redistributed $10 million to a fellow veteran Kyle Gibson, who signed a one-year free agent contract after a season and a half in Philadelphia. Dan Connolly of the Athletic wrote tonight that Baltimore has had cursory conversations about a possible reunion with Lyles, possibly at a lower price, but talks never progressed beyond the initial stages.
Instead, Lyles looks set to head to Kansas City to play the same role he played in Baltimore. The Royals have a young pitching staff that is confident. Brady Singer Looks like he’s at least established as a mid-rotation starter after posting a 3.23 ERA in 153 1/3 innings. He is the only one of the Royals’ talented young arms who has so far done it the way the players love him. Daniel Lynch, Chris Bubich and: Carlos Hernandez did not find much consistency.
Adding some veteran stability to the mix seemed to be a priority for general manager JJ Piccolo and his front office. They have targeted the lower tiers of the free agent rotation market to that end. Kansas City inked the southpaw last week Ryan Yarbrough $3mm warranty. It appears they will follow Lyles, bringing in two experienced arms to shore up the floor of the unit. Singer, Lyles and Yarbrough look like they’ll earn a spot in the starting rotation for the season, while players like Lynch, Bubic, Hernandez and Brad Keller can smash for roles on the back end.
The financial terms involved are still unclear, though Lyles doesn’t want to break the bank. Roster Resource projects KC’s player payroll to be around $79MM, down slightly from last year’s season-opening mark in the $94MM range. The Royals could further clear cap space by considering deals for arbitration-eligible players like Keller. Scott Barlow or Adalberto Mondes or transaction involving the center field Michael A. Taylor:who is guaranteed $4.5 million in the second season of a two-year extension.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.