Kennedy a fit for Royals' 2-year plan

World Series champs add righty to a group that is built to win in 2016 and '17

January 16th, 2016

Go ahead, Ian Kennedy. Knock yourself out.

Give us two good years, the usual 30 starts a season and then go back on the free-agent market before your age-33 season, like James Shields after 2014. All that really matters are the two good seasons.

Source: Kennedy agrees to join Royals

That's what the Royals are saying as they try to sustain the giddy high they've experienced with back-to-back trips to the World Series.

It has to end sometime, right? But general manager Dayton Moore is doing everything in his power to keep the wins flowing at least through 2017.

That's the obvious expiration date for his team of contact hitters, glove men and speedsters, as a wave of talent -- Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Wade Davis and Edinson Volquez -- is due to hit free agency after two more seasons. Cain reportedly agreed to a two-year deal on Friday that didn't buy out any of his free-agent years, but guarantees the club doesn't have to go through the arbitration process with arguably its best player a year from now.

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Alex Gordon, recently signed to a four-year contract, is due $20 million in 2018 and '19. Maybe Moore and owner David Glass will be able to sign a veteran or two to a long-term extension, but some of them will have to be replaced. That's just the way it works.

Moore shouldn't have had any reservations about giving Kennedy an opt-out clause in the five-year, $70 million contract that was reportedly agreed to on Saturday. The scary part is guaranteeing big salaries to Kennedy in the third, fourth and fifth years of the deal, which fall on the other sign of 2017.

Kansas City knew it needed another starter to add to the rotation that is fronted by Yordano Ventura and Volquez. The latter proved to be an incredibly wise signing last offseason (two years for $20 million and an option). Moore felt he needed somebody else to add innings with Jason Vargas likely out until August after his Tommy John surgery.

Kennedy looks like an upgrade on Chris Young, Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen and reclamation project Dillon Gee, who signed a Minor League contract. He may free up Duffy to be used out of the bullpen, giving manager Ned Yost a left-handed weapon to go with right-handers Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria.

A first-rounder from USC in the 2006 Draft, Kennedy worked under Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland when they were both with the Yankees. Then he hung up a 21-win season for the 2011 D-backs after he was included in a three-team deal that sent Curtis Granderson from the Tigers to the Yankees and Max Scherzer from Arizona to the Tigers.

Kennedy has made at least 30 starts in six consecutive seasons, albeit with inconsistent results. His ERA spiked to 4.91 in 2013, and it was 4.28 for the Padres last season.

Very quietly, however, Kennedy has missed more bats than ever the past two seasons (9.3 strikeouts per nine innings in both 2014 and '15). He could benefit greatly from both Kansas City's excellent fielding, especially in the outfield, and bullpen. And it won't hurt to be back with Eiland, who was with Kennedy when he was getting started.

Assuming Kennedy does not opt out after 2017, he and Ventura would likely be the most expensive pieces in a rotation that could include prospects Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte. Zimmer probably would have been there already if not for a series of injuries that have slowed his ascent. He'll probably start 2016 in Double-A, but Zimmer could push for a spot at Kauffman Stadium before the summer is over.

Give Moore credit for not just giving Zimmer a chance to earn a rotation spot in Spring Training. He has the talent to make his case, but he will benefit from having time to develop. Kennedy buys Zimmer that time. He also gives the Royals a better chance to get off to a running start in April. They will need it in a balanced American League Central in which all five teams view themselves as contenders.

For Kennedy, this is the right team at the right point in his career. He's not an overpowering pitcher, but he believes in his 91-92 mph four-seam fastball, throwing it 62 percent of the time last year, according to Brooks Baseball. Kennedy is going to a team that's not afraid to challenge opponents, as we've seen the past two Octobers.

If Kennedy can help them get to October four years in a row, the Royals will wish him well in his next round of free agency.