Jul 5, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Greg Holland (56) delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Bargain Bullpen Bodies

It’s pretty clear that even though the Royals aren’t likely to spend much money that they’ll look to reinforce a bullpen that had way too many leaks in it. Actually that’s not a very fair characterization. A leak implies there were just some holes. It was way worse than that. And so, as the Royals are trying to instill a winning culture at the big league level, they need the benefit of their young players in the majors not suffering from crushing defeats quite as often as in 2018. So the bullpen will get plenty of attention.

But money is a bit of an issue. That’s not to say they can’t spend any of it. I talked a few weeks ago about how they’ll have enough players who are pre-arbitration that they won’t need to spend a lot on the middle of the roster, so they could afford to spend some on a reliever, especially if they backload the deal a bit. But those aren’t the guys I’m talking about today. Here are some of the reclamation projects who the Royals might look to sign to see if they can get some value from late March to late July and then get even more value in a return package in a deal. Of course, it’s all speculation at this point because decision day hasn’t come, but these are some guys who could very well be available in a few weeks.

Shane Greene

We’ve seen a lot of Greene over the years, and his 4.8 million projected arbitration number might make him a casualty of the system. When he’s on, his stuff is pretty darn good, and there’s some to like about him. He strikes hitters out, doesn’t walk a terribly high number and he has generally kept the ball in the ballpark throughout his career. The issue is that his 2.66 ERA from 2017 seems to be the outlier. Though in spite of a rough year in 2018, he did post a 3.94 DRA and still did his usual dance with the strikeouts. His home runs allowed spiked, but if he’s out there, he’s an interesting target.

Tommy Kahnle

The Yankees have plenty of money, so Kahnle’s $1.5 million arbitration estimate isn’t hurting anyone, but he was also especially bad in 2018 and, in spite of two straight really good seasons (but just one the peripherals supported), his track record is spotty. And he even went down to AAA and wasn’t especially good. But he wouldn’t be on this list if he had a great 2018, would he? The major difference between this year and last was really just his fastball. Velocity was down a great deal, so there’s a risk there, but again, this is why he’s on the list.

Shelby Miller

He’s made nine big league appearances since a disastrous 2016 because of Tommy John surgery and then was put back on the disabled list because of an elbow issue. At an estimated $4.9 million in arbitration, I could see the Diamondbacks just cutting bait. He’d be an interesting add as a potential bullpen arm.

Hector Neris

Given the analytical nature of the Phillies front office, I don’t think they’d non-tender Neris, but his 5.10 ERA and losing of the closer’s job might make him someone the team could look to move on from as they gear up to make plenty of moves this year to help avoid the late season collapse of 2018. Neris struck a ton of batters (76 in 47.2 innings) without walking a ton of batters, but he did give up too many homers. The 2.36 DRA is attractive, though, along with those strikeouts, so if he’s out there, the Royals need to jump on him as fast as possible.

And these below seems like they have a good shot at big league deals, but they might be cheap enough anyway to make a difference.

John Axford

Leading off with Axford may or may not make sense because he has a decent shot at a big league deal, but he’s a guy the Royals could jump on if his market doesn’t really develop. After a few years as a dominant relief force, Axford has been up and down in performance, but has shown flashes of solid and has put up excellent ground ball rates over the last few seasons. DRA tells a story of a wholly ineffective pitcher, but I’d give him a shot on a base deal of $1 million or so.

Greg Holland

Back when the Cardinals let Holland go, I figured the Royals were going to be big time leaders in the clubhouse to sign him to a minor league deal. Then the Nationals signed him and he posted a 0.84 ERA with 10.5 strikeouts per nine and fewer walks and now he seems likely to get a big league deal. That doesn’t preclude the Royals from picking him up, but it does probably make it less likely. Still, I wanted to put him on here because there’s at least mutual admiration.

Ryan Madson

Here’s another familiar name. He’s been a Royals reclamation project once before and it earned him a big deal from the A’s of all teams. He was kind of whatever in the first year of his deal but was outstanding in 2017. Then the wheels fell off a bit in 2018, and you wonder what that will do to his market. His 5.47 ERA would have fit nicely with the 2018 Royals, but he did post a 1.67 DRA after being dealt to the Dodgers with a ton of strikeouts and just one walk in 8.1 innings. At 38 years old, maybe the wheels fell off, but if he has to settle for a small deal, the Royals could do worse than find out.

Zach McAllister

There isn’t much about McAllister’s 2018 season that makes him appealing, but after moving to relief basically full time in 2015, he was really fantastic for three seasons before the wheels fell off. He was a decent-ish starter before that too, so I’d bank on 2018 being just one of those years and see if the soon-to-be 31-year old can recapture some of his form from the past. From 2014 to 2017 as a reliever, McAllister has thrown 189.1 innings in 168 games with a 2.71 ERA, 10 strikeouts per nine, 3.1 walks per nine and less than a homer per nine. He’s a fly ball guy in a fly ball world, but he could be a nice veteran trade chip if he does well early.

AJ Ramos

Look, we’re talking veterans who will sign for cheap. They’re not going to be attractive. Ramos posted a 6.41 ERA and a 5.19 FIP, but if you’re looking for a light, a 3.93 DRA. He also didn’t pitch much with just 19.2 innings, so the sample is way too small, but it’s ugly. He did strike hitters out, though with far too many walks and a ground ball rate WAY below league average. But he’s a guy with closing experience who has nasty stuff when he’s on. Those are the pitchers you bank on in these situations and hope for the best. When your team has Wily Peralta as the incumbent closer, I’d think it would be an attractive landing spot for guys looking to build a resume for a bigger payday next winter.

Some might sign for more than you want to spend on them. Some might not be non-tendered. Some might simply retire. But any of the above are a good place to start when thinking about veterans Dayton Moore may look toward as he looks to rebuild a brutally bad 2018 bullpen.

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