Righty Lyles' 2-year deal with Royals official

December 28th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- In keeping with their target of adding veteran arms tasked with logging innings next season, the Royals officially announced a two-year deal with right-hander on Wednesday.

Financial terms were not disclosed by the club, but a source told MLB.com the deal is worth $17 million.

“What it’s done is stabilize our pitching and create a lot of competition for spots in our rotation,” executive vice president/general manager J.J. Picollo said. “Jordan will occupy one of those spots, but the competition that will be created is important to us and how we take our next step forward. [Lyles] has shown in the last two years that he can really handle a heavy workload.”

Lyles, 32, has a 5.10 ERA pitching for seven teams in his 12-year career, which began in 2011 with the Astros. He made 32 starts last year with the Orioles -- who declined his $11 million option this offseason, making him a free agent -- logging 179 innings and posting a 4.42 ERA. In '21, he threw 180 innings for the Rangers. That many innings over the past two years piqued the Royals’ interest this offseason as they build their pitching staff.

Lyles brings durability and can get outs as the Royals enter 2023 hoping (but not knowing for sure) their young starters can take steps forward in their development at the Major League level. A two-year deal at $8.5 million a year -- a low price in an expensive starting pitching market -- gives Kansas City security if Lyles repeats his last two years.

“Staying on the field, I’ve been very fortunate and blessed from that aspect, and that boils down to taking care of yourself in between starts,” Lyles said about his durability. “Secondly, it’s just never turning the mind off. Never closing the ears. Always asking questions. I ask young guys just as many questions as 10-year guys.”

In the corresponding move to put Lyles on the roster, infielder Ryan O'Hearn was designated for assignment. The 29-year-old avoided arbitration this offseason by inking a one-year, $1.4 million contract for the 2023 season. That money is guaranteed, so if the Royals trade him or a team picks him up on waivers, the new team is on the hook for that money. If O’Hearn doesn’t land with a new team, he could elect free agency (losing the $1.4 million) or stay with the Royals on their Triple-A roster, still with the same chance to make the Opening Day roster.

“The decision to pre-tender and sign Ryan O’Hearn was one decision at a certain point of time in the offseason, not knowing what would evolve throughout the rest of the offseason,” Picollo said. “You have to make decisions strategically. We thought this was the best move. We’ve got a lot of pitchers on our staff that have options, and ultimately, we think when we manage our bullpen throughout the year, having pitchers with options is going to be more beneficial.”

Lyles is the second veteran pitcher added in as many weeks after the Royals inked Ryan Yarbrough to a one-year deal last Tuesday, filling their need for a swingman. Lyles will likely be competing for a starting spot in Spring Training, but he does have experience in the bullpen and could be valuable for Kansas City there, too.

Lyles’ career ERA doesn’t jump off the page, but the Royals were interested in his low walk rate over the past couple of seasons. They have been targeting veteran arms who throw strikes after their young pitching staff struggled collectively in 2022. Yarbrough fits that bill with the weak contact he generates. Lyles fits it with his ability to limit walks. He had a 6.7% walk rate in 2022, and that number has decreased each year since '19, when he had a 9.2% walk rate for two teams (Pittsburgh and Milwaukee).

“From an organizational standpoint, you can never have enough pitching and you can never have enough depth,” Picollo said. “I think that’s what these two signings help us move in that direction where we can manage the season more effectively.”

Even with Yarbrough and Lyles, the Royals’ pitching staff will still emphasize youth in 2023. and figure to be part of the Opening Day rotation, and , , Jonathan Heasley, , , and will be competing for spots, too.

Picollo mentioned for the first time Wednesday that Kansas City would consider any young starters who don’t make the rotation in the bullpen.

The offseason isn't over yet. There are still several free-agent starters on the market, including . The Royals are interested in bringing him back like they did last season, but the 39-year-old could be garnering more interest -- and more money -- elsewhere as the offseason continues.