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Bullpen depth on Kansas City Royals’ agenda ahead of 2023 Winter Meetings

The Kansas City Royals have some decisions to make this offseason, and Royals general manager J.J. Picollo has already executed a few trades to improve the roster.

The Royals acquired pitchers Nick Anderson and Kyle Wright in separate trades. KC also signed utility player Garrett Hampson to a one-year deal.

However, there is more work to be done.

Picollo plans to address a few roster needs. The Royals look to add starting pitching, bullpen depth and possibly another impact bat this offseason. MLB executives will convene in Nashville for the 2023 Winter Meetings next week.

Generally, MLB free agency ramps up around the Winter Meetings. The Royals will get a chance to meet with other clubs and chat with free-agent representatives.

The Star previously highlighted potential starting pitchers that could interest the Royals. Now, we will take a look at some bullpen options.

Closers

The Royals struggled in late innings last season. KC entered the 2023 campaign with veteran relievers Scott Barlow and Aroldis Chapman available to close games.

Both relievers were dealt ahead of the midseason trade deadline. It led to a revolving door of young pitchers in the closer role. The Royals tried Carlos Hernandez, James McArthur, Austin Cox, Collin Snider and Taylor Clarke to finish games.

The Royals’ bullpen had a 5.23 ERA last season, per FanGraphs. Picollo could decide to overhaul the relief corps with a couple MLB veterans.

There are a few closers that could fit with the Royals. One player that makes an interesting fit is former All-Star closer Will Smith.

Smith, 34, spent last season with the Texas Rangers. He posted a 4.40 ERA and 22 saves for the World Series champions. Smith is also familiar with the Royals’ organization. He made his MLB debut in 2012 and spent two seasons in Kansas City.

There is a lot of value in a veteran closer. Smith has experience in high-leverage roles and could also operate as a setup man. He had a 3.36 FIP (fielding independent pitching) and 55 strikeouts.

If Smith is open to a short-term deal, a possible reunion with the Royals makes sense. He could also be a reasonable trade chip if the Royals fall out of contention.

Other closers that make sense: Dylan Floro, Andrew Chaflin.

Relievers

There are several relievers that are available in free agency. The Royals could go a lot of ways in filling out their bullpen.

Expect competition for the 2024 relief spots in spring training. Anderson was added to bring veteran experience and help stabilize the bullpen.

The Royals have young guys in McArthur, John McMillon and Will Klein that could get an extended look. Other veterans that will compete include Hernandez, Clarke and Jake Brentz, among others.

There could be some crossover in long relief as well. It remains to be seen if players such as Angel Zerpa or Alec Marsh will continue in “opener” roles in 2024.

Some free-agent relievers that might appeal to the Royals include Ryne Stanek, Collin McHugh and Matt Moore.

Stanek, 32, is a local product. He attended nearby Blue Valley High School and has turned in a successful MLB career. Stanek is a seven-year veteran and spent time alongside Royals manager Matt Quatraro with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2017 to 2019.

Last season, Stanek posted a 4.09 ERA in 55 games with the Houston Astros. His numbers were slightly inflated from his career peripherals. In 2022, Stanek had a 1.15 ERA and held opponents to a .188 batting average.

Stanek is a hard-throwing righty who has a wealth of postseason experience. He can fit anywhere from middle relief to a setup role.

McHugh could also be an interesting target. He also spent time with the Rays in 2021. That season, McHugh had a 1.55 ERA and registered 74 strikeouts.

The last two years, McHugh has spent time with the Atlanta Braves. He posted a 4.30 ERA in 2023 and will be 37 years old next season. It’s possible McHugh might be looking for a short-term deal. The Royals could use a middle reliever that can pitch multiple innings.

Moore pitched for three teams last season. However, he continued to put up consistent numbers with each stop. Moore is another reliever that spent time in Tampa Bay.

He had a 2.77 ERA in 48 2/3 innings and is an option with a lot of experience. MLB teams value lefty relievers, and Moore offers good value entering his 13th season.

The Royals will continue to evaluate both the free-agent and trade market. With the Winter Meetings on the horizon, the Royals will likely cast a wide net to add to their bullpen.