Dec. 28: The Royals have officially announced their deal with Lyles.
Dec. 20: Lyles has a two-year, $17MM deal with the Royals, tweets Feinsand. The agreement also contains performance bonuses and is still pending the completion of a physical, tweets Andy Kostka of the Baltimore Banner.
Dec. 19: The Royals are nearing agreement on a contract with free agent starter Jordan Lyles, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post (Twitter link). It’s likely to be a two-year contract for the Ballengee Group client, reports Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (on Twitter).
Assuming the deal eventually pushes across the finish line, it’ll be the eighth MLB organization for Lyles. The former first-rounder and top prospect has moved around the league in journeyman fashion, securing numerous opportunities on the strength of his durability and a strong clubhouse reputation. Lyles has made 28-plus starts in each of the past three full seasons, entirely avoiding the injured list since June 2019.
The right-hander doesn’t post especially eye-opening numbers on a rate basis. He’s pitched parts of 12 seasons in the majors and never managed an ERA below 4.00, allowing more than five earned runs per nine innings in eight years. Some of that is attributable to difficult environments, as he’s spent multiple seasons calling hitter-friendly venues like Coors Field and Globe Life Field home. Yet he also consistently runs lower than average strikeout rates, and the significant number of balls in play has helped lead to a 5.10 ERA through more than 1300 career innings.
To his credit, Lyles is coming off one of the better seasons of his career. Signed to a $7MM guarantee by Baltimore last offseason, he ably filled the role of ’innings-eating veteran’ on an otherwise young pitching staff. Lyles took the ball all 32 times for the O’s, ranking 29th in the majors with 179 innings pitched. He threw strikes and posted a reasonable 4.42 ERA in arguably the game’s most hitter-friendly division. Lyles walked just 6.7% of batters faced this year, nearly a percentage point lower than the league average and his lowest rate since his 2011 rookie season.
The 32-year-old wasn’t overpowering. He averaged 91.8 MPH on his fastball while posting lower than average strikeout and swinging strike marks (18.6% and 9.3%, respectively). He was hit hard to a .278/.347/.500 clip by left-handed hitters, while he held same-handed opponents to a more manageable .275/.318/.418 line. Fielding independent metrics like FIP (4.40) and SIERA (4.36) generally pegged his production right in line with his actual run prevention mark.
Lyles performed as well as the Orioles could’ve reasonably anticipated at the time they signed him, logging plenty of serviceable but slightly below-average innings. Nevertheless, Baltimore paid him a $1MM buyout in lieu of an $11MM option at the start of the offseason. They reallocated the $10MM to fellow veteran Kyle Gibson, who inked a one-year free agent deal after a season and a half in Philadelphia. Dan Connolly of the Athletic wrote this evening that Baltimore had cursory conversations with Lyles about a potential reunion — presumably at a lower price point — but talks never advanced beyond the initial stages.
Instead, Lyles looks as if he’ll head to Kansas City to play the same role he did in Baltimore. The Royals have a young pitching staff that’s light on certainty. Brady Singer looks to have at least emerged as a mid-rotation starter after posting a 3.23 ERA across 153 1/3 innings. He’s the only of the Royals’ stable of talented young arms to do so thus far, as players like Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic and Carlos Hernández haven’t found much consistency.
Adding some veteran stability to the mix seemed to be a priority for general manager J.J. Picollo and his front office. They’ve targeted the lower tiers of the free agent rotation market to that end. Last week, Kansas City inked southpaw Ryan Yarbrough to a $3MM guarantee. It seems they’ll follow with Lyles, bringing in two experienced arms to raise the unit’s floor. Singer, Lyles and Yarbrough seem as if they’ll take spots in the season-opening rotation, while players like Lynch, Bubic, Hernández and Brad Keller may jostle for roles at the back end.
Financial terms under discussion aren’t yet clear, though Lyles doesn’t figure to break the bank. Roster Resource projects K.C. for a player payroll around $79MM, a fair bit shy of last year’s season-opening mark in the $94MM range. The Royals could further clear some spending room by contemplating trades of arbitration-eligible players like Keller, Scott Barlow or Adalberto Mondesi or a deal involving center fielder Michael A. Taylor, who’s guaranteed $4.5MM in the second season of a two-year extension.
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