Royals continue busy offseason, sign Stratton to one-year deal

December 16th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- Looking to improve the reliability in their bullpen this offseason, the Royals officially signed right-handed reliever to a one-year contract with a player option for 2025 on Friday.

The team did not disclose the terms of the deal, but a source told that Stratton will make $3.5 million in 2024 with the player option worth $4.5 million.

The 33-year-old Stratton provides another steady arm in the bullpen following the Royals’ signing of closer Will Smith, Stratton’s teammate with the World Series champion Rangers last season.

Kansas City’s bullpen 5.23 ERA last season was second-worst in baseball. This offseason, the Royals have targeted relievers who can not only control the zone, but also take the pressure off young arms.

Stratton, who owns a career 4.43 ERA across eight seasons, was traded from the Cardinals to the Rangers last season ahead of the Trade Deadline. Upon joining Texas, Stratton posted a 3.41 ERA with 22 strikeouts and eight walks across 29 innings in the regular season.

“Everybody knows the theme of our offseason is aiming to improve our pitching staff,” said general manager J.J. Picollo. “We had some holes in our rotation and our bullpen. Chris certainly represents what we were looking for in our bullpen.”

Picollo went on to mention some of Stratton’s characteristics that appealed to the Royals. Since 2020, Stratton has thrown 253 innings as a reliever, trailing only the Giants’ Tyler Rogers (258 2/3). Stratton’s 82 2/3 innings last season not only ranked fourth among all relievers, but was the most he’s thrown in a single season since 2018, a year where he primarily started.

Stratton also can be relied on to throw multiple innings, recording at least four outs in 36 of his 64 appearances this past season. That’s valuable to have on a staff as the Royals try to take pressure off some of their young relievers such as James McArthur and Carlos Hernández, among others, and help them develop.

“We have some guys that we think really highly of, and we put them in some situations last year that were really daunting,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t. Now we can be in a little bit more of a stable situation where we know we can rely on guys that have been through the fire and let those guys kind of find their footing.”

Stratton is adept at limiting walks, posting a 7.7 percent walk rate with the Cards to begin 2023, then lowering that figure to 6.8 percent upon joining the Rangers.

And it was the perfect fit for Stratton, too. The appeal of coming to Kansas City increased when Stratton heard of the Royals’ early interest, as well as what the coaches envisioned to help his arsenal. Stratton said he will enjoy the mentoring role that will come with being an experienced player here.

“Hopefully I can pour into some of these younger guys and elevate their game as well,” Stratton said.

A conversation with Smith didn’t hurt, either.

“He’s one of those guys you love to have in the locker room and the bullpen,” Stratton said. “That veteran presence that you need, just the communication that you have. … He’s been through the wringer. He’s [been to] three World Series in a row, and he’s a good one to follow. You figure out where he’s going, you want to go there too, and hopefully the free agents keep coming.”

The free agents have certainly kept coming. Along with Smith and Stratton joining the bullpen, Seth Lugo officially joined the rotation on Thursday. On Friday, the Royals agreed to terms with starter Michael Wacha and outfielder Hunter Renfroe (the club has not announced either deal and both are pending physicals).

In a span of five days, the Royals added five veteran players to the fold. Earlier this offseason, they signed utilityman Garrett Hampson to a one-year deal, acquired Nick Anderson in a trade with the Braves and selected Matt Sauer, now the Royals’ No. 22 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday.

It has been, to say the least, a whirlwind of a week. The Royals have accomplished nearly all of their offseason goals: Adding at least two starters, new bullpen pieces and an outfield bat. When asked if the Royals had more to add, Picollo said that if Spring Training “started tomorrow, we would be content.”

“We’ve hit our goals,” he added. “As far as what we’re trying to do, there’s still some things to be determined, some things to be finalized. We’ve hit our goals, but Q says it all the time, ‘You never have enough good players.’ So if there’s ways for us to improve our team on the margins, we’re going to look to improve the team. There’s certainly going to be some staples that are pretty obvious, but if we can improve the depth in any way, we’re going to continue to do it.”