The Royals are a small market team. We know that this means that they will not have a $200M payroll like the Yankees. They can't go out and spend $50M next year on two starting pitchers. They can't afford to carry tons of payroll.
What this means is that the Royals have to be more efficient with their limited resources than other teams are. If we are going to be competitive with the Yankees, Angels, Rangers, Tigers, Rays and the rest of the AL, we have to be smarter.
The first part is to turn the team into a first class organization. To some degree that has already happened at the minor league level, with the Royals boasting three minor league titles since 2008 and three teams that will likely compete for their league titles this year in Omaha, Kane County and Burlington. That's only the start, though.
Under GMDM they have done a good job of spending on the amateur draft and internationally to bring talent into the system. All appearances suggest that the Royals did an excellent job again this year in the amateur draft judging by the fast starts from players like Zimmer, Selman, Fred Ford, Diekroger, and others.
They can do more, though.
First and foremost, I think the Royals need to commit to building the best medical and training staff in all of major league baseball. The Royals can't really outspend teams to bring the most major league talent to Kansas City. However, they probably could spend enough to bring the best training and medical talent to Kansas City.
I have no idea what each team spends on training staff, but I would imagine that most teams spend about the same amount. Let's say for the heck of it that each team spends between $4.5M and $5.5M on training and medical staff each year for the organization. That would cover athletic trainers, team doctors, massage therapists, etc. Let's say the Royals were to bump that number from roughly $5M up to $7M. Add a massage therapist to the staff for each minor league affiliate. Add another athletic trainer to each affiliate. Hire a couple of doctors that specialize in arm injuries since those are fairly common in baseball. Double down on the budget for preventative care, whether that be through yoga or other stretching, or strength training or whatever. Spend whatever resources it takes to keep guys healthy not just at the major league level, but organization wide.
By increasing the budget on medical and training staff by 35%-50% you could actually make the organization as a whole much more attractive to free agents as well, without trying to compete by offering enormous contracts to players. In the NBA the Phoenix Suns are widely regarded as having the best training staff in the league. Partly as a result of that (along with several other factors), many veterans list Phoenix on their wish list of destinations. Good, high quality care could extend a playing career by 2-3 years. That has quite a bit of value to each individual athlete (particularly if, in addition to adding 2-3 years at the end of the career, a player's prime is extended by one or two years as well), even if the Royals aren't offering the biggest payday overall.
The second thing the Royals need to do is set internal salary caps.
For example, the Royals should set a salary cap on the bench and bullpen (excluding closer). That's a shade less than half of the active MLB roster, but it could result in big savings. The bench (backup OF, utility IF, backup C) should be capped at roughly $3M, $3.5M if they carry an extra utility player. The bullpen sans closer (long man, situational righty, situational lefty, two regular relievers and a set up man) should be capped at roughly $7M, $7.5M if they carry an 8th reliever. All told, the Royals should limit their spending on bench and bullpen (excluding the closer) to $10.5M or less. That would leave somewhere between $65M and $70M most years to spend on regular position players and starting pitching.
The Royals already have the internal structure to do this. Everyone in the bullpen other than Aaron Crow makes less than $1M this year and is pre arbitration. Now that Betancourt is gone, everyone on the bench for KC makes less than $1M as well.
The key is to avoid spending big in free agency for backups, or for set up men, or situational pitchers, all things that GMDM has done in the past.
John Bale 2 yrs/$4M
David Riske 1 yr/$2M
Yasuhiko Yabuta 2 yrs/$6M
Horacio Ramirez 1 yr/$1.8M
Kyle Farnsworth 2 yrs/$9.25M ($5.25M club option in ’11)
Miguel Olivo 1 yr/$2.1M ($2.7M club opt ’09, $3.3M mut opt’10)
Willie Bloomquist 2 yrs/$3.1M
Juan Cruz 2 yrs/$6M ($4M club option in ’11)
Jason Kendall 2 yrs/$6M (listed here because the Royals could have kept Buck and Olivo both for roughly the same amount as Kendall alone)
Jonathan Broxton 1 yr/$4M + $1M in games pitched bonus (signed to set up Soria originally)
Yuniesky Betancourt 1 yr/$2M + $0.5M in games played bonus
And he has done all of that even while being able to acquire able bullpen arms on the cheap (like Jose Mijares for less than $1M this past offseason), and sign replacement level backups (or have internal alternatives) for little to no cost. He has acquired Brayan Pena, Robinson Tejeda, Kanekoa Texeira, Joaquin Arias, Lance Zawadski, and others on waivers. None of those guys was/is great, but its better to spend $750K or less on a guy like that to be on the bench or come out of the pen than to drop nearly $5M on Kyle Farnsworth, or $2M on Juan Cruz or Yuniesky Betancourt, or over $1.5M on Willie Bloomquist, then be forced to give those guys innings or at bats to justify that spending.
If the Royals are going to win with a payroll of $75M-$85M they are going to do it by being smart. Not just smart, but smarter and more prudent than everyone else. They are going to do it by maximizing organizational resources by keeping players healthy with the best medical and training staff in baseball by spending more in that area, and by being prudent at the major league level with spending on bench players and bullpen arms.