KANSAS CITY -- After losing 106 games in 2023, the Royals vowed to improve their roster and have a busy offseason, intending to spend money and explore trades that will bring in key pieces to help the young core in Kansas City.
Their intentions have turned into action.
The Royals signed Seth Lugo to a two-year contract with a player option for 2026 on Thursday. Terms of the deal were not announced, but Lugo will make $15 million the next two seasons, with a $15 million player option in ‘26, a source told MLB.com.
The club on Friday also announced the signing of right-handed reliever Chris Stratton to a one-year deal with a player option for 2025. Terms of Stratton’s deal were not announced, but a source told MLB.com, that he'll make $3.5 million this season and his player option is at $4.5 million.
The deals come on the heels of signing lefty reliever Will Smith to a one-year, $5 million deal on Monday. The Royals have also agreed to a one-year contract with a player option with Michael Wacha. The club has not confirmed that deal.
Lugo, 34, has long been of interest to the Royals. The team talked with the curveball specialist last offseason before he signed with the Padres, and Kansas City was able to target him again this offseason when he declined his 2024 player option with San Diego in November.
The right-hander opted to test the open market again after proving himself in a full-time starting role for the Padres, posting a 3.57 ERA with 140 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings over 26 starts in his age-33 season.
Now, the Royals are giving Lugo one of the biggest free-agent deals they’ve signed as he slots in near the top of their rotation. Lugo’s $45 million contract is the fourth-largest free-agent deal (excluding extensions) in franchise history behind Alex Gordon ($72 million) in 2016, Ian Kennedy ($70 million) in ‘16 and Gil Meche ($55 million) in ‘06.
Lugo, who initially put himself on the map with his outstanding high-spin curveball when he debuted with the Mets in 2016, had some starting experience prior to this past season. However, his results were mixed, as he recorded a 4.35 ERA in 38 career starts before 2023.
Lugo made 26 of those 38 starts in his first two seasons before spending 2018-22 pitching almost exclusively in a relief role for New York, recording a 3.25 ERA in 329 1/3 innings spanning 239 appearances (12 starts).
As a result, it was unclear what to expect from the Shreveport, La., native after the Padres signed him last offseason and gave him a chance to return to the rotation.
Lugo did more than prove himself worthy of a rotation spot. And he was arguably the team’s second-most reliable starter behind Blake Snell during a season in which Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove both missed significant time due to injuries.
Despite having never thrown more than 101 1/3 innings in a season prior to 2023, Lugo actually got stronger down the stretch, pitching to a 2.50 ERA over his final nine starts -- including 8 2/3 scoreless innings against the Giants in his final outing of the year.
Lugo gives the Royals an anchor in the rotation to go along with Cole Ragans, Brady Singer and Jordan Lyles. Stratton, 33, provides another reliable arm in the bullpen following the Smith deal.
Kansas City’s bullpen 5.23 ERA last season was second-worst in baseball, and this offseason, the Royals have targeted relievers who can not only control the zone, but also take the pressure off young arms.
An eight-year veteran with a career 4.43 ERA, Stratton was traded from the Cardinals to the Rangers last season, winning the World Series and posting a 3.41 ERA with 22 strikeouts and eight walks across 29 innings for Texas in the regular season.
Stratton doesn’t light up the scoreboard, but he induces weak contact and limits walks -- exactly what the Royals need. He had a 7.7 percent walk rate with the Cards in ‘23 and lowered it to 6.8 percent with the Rangers.
At the very least, the Royals will have plenty of new names in their ‘pen next season. Along with Smith and Stratton, Kansas City acquired Nick Anderson in a trade with the Braves last month and selected Matt Sauer, now the Royals’ No. 22 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday.