The Royals have already made a big splash this month, handing out a pair of $70 million contracts to Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy. This comes in addition to their earlier signing of reliever Joakim Soria last fall, and the re-signing of starting pitcher Chris Young. Their payroll now stands at well over $130 million, but the Royals may not be done yet.
And #Royals aren't done yet. May still add another cost-efficient starter and/or bullpen help.— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) January 16, 2016
Yes, at this point the job is Dyson's. But that could change. They are still searching. https://t.co/h5RS3xKnFT— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) January 16, 2016
What do the Royals have left to do? What options are remaining for them? Let's go over the options.
The Royals rotation will certainly have Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, and Ian Kennedy, with Kris Medlen likey a near-lock as well. The last spot will come down to Danny Duffy or Chris Young, with non-roster invitee Dillon Gee and top pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer giving the team some depth. According to Baseball-Reference, the average team needed at least 8 starters who made five starts or more last season, so the Royals will likely need even more depth.
Dayton Moore will likely look for someone willing to take a very low base salary with incentives to prove himself. That might rule out a guy like Cliff Lee, who is reportedly looking a decent amount in guaranteed money. The Royals may be able to find a bargain in sifting through pitchers returning from injury such as former Braves pitcher Mike Minor. Just 28, the left-handed Minor was a 3.5 WAR pitcher in 2013, according to Fangraphs, but was lackluster in 2014 and did not pitch at all last year due to labrum surgery in May. He hasn't thrown since then, so he is a major injury risk, but he could be a nice gamble later in the year as Kris Medlen was last year.
Other pitchers who could be had on a low base salary may include Aaron Harang, Chad Billingsley, Justin Masterson, or even a return by Jeremy Guthrie.
The bullpen loses some help from last year, notably Greg Holland, Ryan Madson, and Franklin Morales. Wade Davis will likely serve as closer, with Joakim Soria, Kelvin Herrera, and Luke Hochevar locks to join him in the pen and Louis Coleman a candidate to join them. Whoever is left out of the starting rotation could also join the pen as a long-reliever. However, the Royals may look for more depth, and could sign a reliever to a minor league deal the way they did with Ryan Madson last winter.
The Royals checked in on Blaine Boyer earlier this off-season. The 34-year old right-hander had a 2.49 ERA in 68 games for the Twins last year, but with a very low strikeout rate (4.6 per-nine innings). Boyer was drafted by the Braves when Dayton Moore was still with them, and pitched briefly in the Royals minor league system in 2013. Other right-handers who might be had for cheap include Ryan Webb, Dale Thayer, and Burke Badenhop.
The Royals might decide that with Tim Collins recovering from Tommy John surgery and questionable for the start of the year, that they need to bring a left-handed reliever into the mix. The team will likely not spend what it takes to bring back Franklin Morales, especially after how he collapsed late in the year, and the internal options - Brian Flynn, Scott Alexander, and David Huff - are no sure thing. Randy Choate, Eric O'Flaherty, Cesar Jimenez, and Nebraska-grad Brian Duensing are some veteran lefty-specialists who could be had cheaply. Another intriguing option is 35-year old Craig Breslow, who has made 524 relief appearances in the big leagues and just two starts in his career, but is trying to convince teams to give him a chance at a starting gig.
Alex Gordon returns, flanked by defensive wonder Lorenzo Cain. The Royals have said they feel comfortable moving forward with Jarrod Dyson getting more playing time in the third outfield spot, although Jeffrey Flanagan reports the team is still searching for options. Don't expect them to get in the bidding for Yoenis Cespedes, but they may look for a lower price outfielder to drop into their price range. The Royals have been linked to Austin Jackson this winter, but he may beyond their budget, even with back-to-back disappointing seasons. The Royals nearly acquired Marlon Byrd in a trade two summers ago, and he could provide some good pop in the lineup, although his defense is a liability at this point.
The Royals may decide to give Jarrod Dyson playing time but pair him with a right-handed bat who thrives on left-handed pitching. Paulo Orlando does not have much of a split and posted a poor .269 on-base percentage last year, so the team may instead look for a cheap veteran like Drew Stubbs. Veteran Shane Victorino is 35 and has had two bad years in a row, but seems to fit the Royals profile well and would likely come cheap. The Royals have also not completely ruled out a reunion with Alex Rios, although it seems unlikely with his poor showing in 2015.
The Royals have reportedly open competition up at second base between Omar Infante and Christian Colon, so it seems unlikely the Royals will bring someone else in the mix. Infante has struggled at the plate for two years in a row, and the Royals got the least offensive production in the league at second base. However the Royals may be willing to let him play solid defense and hope the bat can rebound a bit, or they may give 26-year old World Series hero Christian Colon a chance despite concerns about his defense.
If the Royals really wanted to go "all in", they could pursue a player like Howie Kendrick, who could fit in as a #2 hitter and solidify the second base position. He would cost at least $10 million per season, but the Royals have been creative with contracts thus far. He would also cost a draft pick, but the Royals have already forfeited their first-rounder, so Kendrick would only cost a second-round pick.
Another possibility is Ian Desmond, who could not only play second base, but fill in at shortstop to spell Alcides Escobar, and even play the outfield as needed. He could fill the hole Ben Zobrist leaves, although with more power and less ability to get on base. Signing either Kendrick or Desmond would require going way over budget and would be a bold move that would send a big message to fans, but don't expect it to happen.