With the signing of pitcher Edinson Volquez made official this week, the Royals seem to be just about set with their 2015 payroll. There is still the possibility of a trade this off-season, and there are rumors they may still be interested in infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, but we may be looking at our roster for next year.
The Volquez deal, like every other signing this winter, is back-loaded, with a mutual option. We laugh at the running gag of the "mutual option" but they really are a kind of clever way to defer some of the compensation and spread it out over time.
For 2015, the Royals have $81.5 million guaranteed to 13 players. They also have potential arbitration cases with nine players, and using the MLB Trade Rumors arbitration estimates, we can estimate those nine players will receive $27.1 million in salary in 2015. Combined with a few players making near the league minimum (sorry Yordano Ventura!), the Royals are set to have a 2015 payroll of $110.7 million.
There may also be $2 million buyouts they owe Bruce Chen and Billy Butler for declining their options. Its not certain whether that is paid in 2014 or 2015.
Things get a little dicier in 2016. Interestingly, none of those players are automatically eligible for free agency in 2016, the Royals will at least have the option to retain all of them if they want.
The Royals have a total of $47.75 million guaranteed to seven players in 2016. Alex Gordon has a $14 million player option which he has said he will pick up. The Royals have club options on Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar that they will almost certainly exercise. The total for these ten players amounts to $75 million.
Then you have the 2016 Mutual Option Gang - Alex Rios, Jeremy Guthrie, and Jason Frasor. By April 8, 2016, that trio will be age 35, 36, and 38 respectively. They could add up to $24.5 million to the payroll collectively, but if the Royals decide to buy all of them out, they would only have to pay out $5.25 million.
Finally the Royals are on pace to have ten arbitration cases in 2016. Its hard to estimate what those 2016 salaries could be, but if we spitball figures a bit, knowing that generally all arbitration-eligible players get raises regardless of what kind of season they had, we can throw out some ballpark figures based on service time and what kind of numbers the players is projected to have.
If you add the $75 million in guaranteed/pretty much guaranteed contracts, the $24.5 million in mutual options, and the $45 million in arbitration-eligible player salaries, the Royals are already looking at a 2016 payroll of $144 million for 23 players. Obviously some of those mutual options could be declined and some of those arbitration-eligible players could be non-tendered, relieving the Royals of some salary.
But more likely the Royals will have some very hard choices to make in 2016, and will probably have to swing a deal or two to alleviate payroll concerns unless David Glass gets very generous with his pocketbook.