The Royals entered the offseason with a stated goal of adding some veteran depth to their young rotation, and the signings of Jordan Lyles and Ryan Yarbrough have addressed that need. However, general manager J.J. Picollo may not be done, recently telling The Kansas City Star’s Lynn Worthy and other reporters that “I think we have to still explore” further reinforcements to the starting five.
“Because we just don’t know how it’s going to end up throughout the offseason, regardless of who the pitcher is,” Picollo said. “So if there’s an opportunity for us to get deeper and get better, we can’t close the door right now.”
Technically, only Lyles is assured of a full-time spot in the 2023 rotation, as K.C. could opt to keep using Yarbrough in a swingman capacity. Yarbrough has started 59 of his 127 career MLB games (all with the Rays), operating as a traditional starter, an opener, a bulk pitcher behind an opener, and in a long relief capacity. New Royals manager Matt Quatraro is a former longtime member of the Rays’ coaching staff, and thus is very familiar with how Yarbrough can be deployed in a way that helps a pitching staff as a whole.
Considering the uncertainty throughout the rest of Kansas City’s rotation, Yarbrough’s versatility gives Quatraro, Picollo, and company some flexibility with their pitching options. Lyles and Brady Singer are the only sure things for starting roles, as highly-touted younger starters Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Jackson Kowar have all struggled in their relatively brief big league careers. Veteran Brad Keller has also been quite shaky over the last two seasons, and was shifted to the bullpen last summer.
As much as the Royals still want (or need) to see what they have in Lynch, Bubic, and Kowar, bringing in another steady veteran hurler in addition to Lyles and Yarbrough might help the Royals be more competitive in 2023. While this could leave the youngsters competing for just one starting spot heading into Opening Day, it can be assumed that Keller might be something of a short leash for a rotation job. Plus, the Royals could also pivot and move Yarbrough to the pen if multiple pitchers impress during Spring Training.
Picollo also suggested that any starters who don’t win rotation spots could work out of the bullpen. K.C. is also looking for relief pitching this winter, yet this need could be addressed from within if one of younger starters make at least a temporary transition to the pen. This wouldn’t forego an eventual return to rotation work later this season or in 2024, but clearly the Royals are willing to explore all possibilities for upgrading a pitching corps that struggled last year.