Starters the Royals could target at Winter Meetings

December 5th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers' Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- The Winter Meetings begin on Sunday in San Diego, baseball’s annual gathering of executives, agents and others around the game. Offseason trades and transactions will be discussed, and other MLB business -- the Rule 5 Draft and the new Draft lottery -- will take place.

The Royals have been quiet at the start of the offseason, as they’re still filling out their coaching staff behind manager Matt Quatraro. The new pitching coach is an extremely important hire for the development of the young core of pitchers Kansas City has, so it makes sense the club wants to take its time. But the Royals also want their pitching coach to have a voice in any free agent or trade acquisitions -- so the clock is ticking.

Beyond its staff, Kansas City has a variety of offseason targets. At the top is pitching, and the Winter Meetings will be a chance to begin or continue conversations about adding more to that area of the roster. The Royals aren’t going to be big spenders this offseason, but there are still several free agents on the market who can be in their budget. Those familiar with the situation say Kansas City is looking for strike-throwers and would like a veteran or two to help lead the young staff.

The Royals would also like to add a reliever or two, but for now, let’s focus on the starting market. Here are five pitchers who could be a good fit in Kansas City:

It’s well known that the Royals have interest in bringing back Greinke, and if he wants to return, he might be waiting to see who the pitching coach is or other offers from teams interested in signing him. The 39-year-old would be entering his 20th season in the Majors; last year, he returned to Kansas City on a one-year deal and posted a 3.68 ERA across 26 starts. Greinke doesn’t have the same velocity as he did back in the day, but he’s still getting hitters out -- and he had just a 4.6% walk rate last year. Greinke finished his season strong and acknowledged he enjoyed the 2022 campaign despite not winning as much as the Royals would have liked. Given his influence on the young team last year, Greinke would be a welcome addition again in 2023.

Bassitt turned down the Mets’ qualifying offer, so he’s looking for a high-end multiyear deal -- and that might be out of the Royals’ price range. Still, it’s worth looking at the 33-year-old who made 30 starts for New York in 2022. Bassitt posted a 3.42 ERA over 181 2/3 innings, which was a career high for him. An All-Star in ’21 for the A’s, Bassitt had a 22.4% strikeout percentage and a 6.6% walk percentage in 2022, and he has consistently generated weak contact (32.8% hard-hit rate in ’22). Since the start of 2018 (when he returned from Tommy John surgery), Bassitt has a 3.29 ERA across five seasons as a mid-rotation starter. Kansas City is looking for consistency, and Bassitt delivers on that front.

Taillon had his best campaign since 2018 this past season with the Yankees, matching a career high with 14 wins while posting a 3.91 ERA. He also threw 177 1/3 innings, the second-highest total of his career after missing most of ’19 and ’20 with injuries. Taillon, who will be 31 on Opening Day, had the seventh-lowest walk rate (1.62 per nine innings) among qualified starting pitchers this past season. That should immediately put him on Kansas City's radar. A two- or three-year deal could give the Royals a consistent mid-rotation piece while their young starters develop.

The low-cost investment the Pirates made by signing Quintana to a one-year, $2 million deal for the 2022 season paid off, as the 33-year-old posted a 2.93 ERA across 32 starts between the Bucs and Cardinals. He was a valuable trade asset, going to the Cards at the Trade Deadline to help the National League Central champions down the stretch. His 0.43 home runs per nine innings was the lowest among qualified starters in baseball, and he lowered his walk rate from 11.8% in 2021 to 6.9% in ’22. Quintana isn’t the same pitcher as he was for the White Sox from 2012-16, but his experience would be good for the Royals' rotation.