We’re on the cusp of the off-season, but with Dayton Moore preferring to strike while the iron is hot, it is time to get in your predictions before he starts handing out mutual options. You can see from my pre-season predictions, I’m not exactly Nostradamus here. But here are some bold and not-so-bold predictions on the Royals upcoming off-season anyway.
The Royals will cut payroll
Sam Mellinger is an honest-to-goodness journalist with good sources and terrific knowledge of the Royals, and I am just random blogger guy sitting in my mom’s basement. So of course, I am going to disagree with him when he says the Royals talk of decreasing payroll is just a smokescreen. David Glass has given Dayton Moore a tremendous amount of resources, but his generosity will only go so far. The Royals spent a record $144 million last year, and it got them - 81 wins. The Royals probably could have been mediocre with a much smaller payroll.
I don’t expect them to trim things back drastically, but with no post-season revenue and attendance down slightly, the Royals probably did take it on the chin last year, and David Glass is not a man to swim in the red. I would look for the Royals to cut payroll down slightly, probably to around $130-135 million. The Royals could cut payroll dramatically and do a complete rebuild. Or they could increase payroll and go all-in for another championship. Splitting the difference and cutting payroll just slightly while trying to compete would probably be the worst option.
Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales won’t be given Qualifying Offers
Volquez likely torpedoed any chance of getting a Qualifying Offer when he posted a 6.92 ERA over his last 13 starts. Yes, the starting pitching free agent market stinks this winter, but that won’t justify the one-year, $17.2 million Qualifying Offer the Royals would have to give Volquez to net a compensation pick in next year’s draft.
Kendrys Morales is a tougher decision. Some might expect Morales to turn down such an offer in favor of a multi-year deal, but I would expect Morales to strongly consider accepting it after his experience the last time he declined a Qualifying Offer. If Morales accepts his $17.2 million offer, it would be an overpay. For that reason, I don’t think the Royals will take that financial gamble, they simply cannot afford to pay $16.7 million for a fairly mediocre designated hitter. The talk of having a rotating designated hitter next year is probably real, although I could see them bringing in a cheaper platoon bat to get most of the DH time.
Wade Davis will be traded
If the Royals are going to cut payroll, Wade Davis makes the most sense to deal. Everyone else either is not valuable enough that another team would want to trade them, or is valuable enough that the Royals won’t want to trade them if they want to compete.
Davis is set to make $10 million next season and has attracted considerable interest in the past. With bullpens getting exposed in the post-season, the emphasis on having elite relievers could be more frenzied this winter. Expect the Royals to pick up trade talks that they were reportedly having with teams in July before Davis got injured. I wouldn’t expect the same kind of haul teams got for Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman, but Davis still had a very good year in 2016 with a 1.87 ERA, 2.29 FIP and 9.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings. If a team thinks he can be healthy next year, the Royals could save money and get prospects for the future.
Jarrod Dyson will be traded
It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. Many were speculating this would happen once the Royals made the puzzling trade to acquire Billy Burns from Oakland for Brett Eibner. Burns has a skillset that bears a mild resemblance to Dyson. They are both fast.
Well, that’s pretty much it. Dyson is one of the best defenders in baseball, Burns is average at best. Dyson is the fourth-best base-stealer of the last 50 years, Burns is average at best. Dyson has a higher career on-base percentage and walk rate, Burns has one of the softest-contact rates in the big leagues.
But Dyson will cost around $3-4 million, the team doesn’t seem to fully appreciate his value, and if they can swap him for a cheap reliever or low-ceiling starter, I expect them to make that move. Dyson reportedly received a lot of interest from teams last winter, and with Burns out of options next year, it seems one outfielder will be moved, and Dyson seems to be the odd man out. I would guess it will be to an analytics-driven, resource-strapped team trying to improve next season. Jarrod Dyson, look for real estate in San Diego!
Greg Holland will be back
If Davis is traded away, the Royals will look to replace that bullpen depth, which Dayton Moore pointed out was a concern last season. This could mean a reunion with Greg Holland, who missed all of 2016 after Tommy John surgery. Holland is throwing again and will probably have a showcase for teams soon to show he is healthy enough to return to action.
The Royals have reportedly expressed a willingness to bring him back, although there is no guarantee that we will have the same Greg Holland of old after his UCL injury. Dayton Moore did stress the need for more bullpen depth, but after the Joakim Soria experience, don’t expect him to pay top dollar for it. Look for the Royals to come to agreement with Dirty South on a low-base salary of $2-3 million with several million in incentives based on appearances and games finished.
The Royals will sign a starting pitcher coming off injury
Dayton Moore expressed satisfaction at the depth of his starting pitching, which was odd considering the team finished fourth-worst in starting pitcher ERA, with disastrous seasons from Chris Young, Kris Medlen, and Mike Minor due to injury or ineffectiveness. Medlen and Edinson Volquez will likely depart, and while Jason Vargas should be back after missing most of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Royals could still use some depth. Signing another starting pitcher could also allow them to ease Matt Strahm into the rotation, or keep him in the bullpen all year as another power arm.
Dayton Moore has made it an annual tradition lately to bring in once-talented starting pitchers coming off injuries on incentive-laden deals. Neither Kris Medlen and Mike Minor have really paid off yet, but Chris Young did in 2015, although he wasn’t coming off an injury. Free agent starting pitchers who might sign incentive-laden deals include Henderson Alvarez, Jarrod Parker, Brett Anderson, C.J. Wilson, and Derek Holland.
The Royals will make a financially-creative trade
Dayton Moore mentioned the team would have to be “creative” this winter. If they are to contend while trimming roster, that may mean backloading more deals to push of financial obligations past 2017, when the amount of money committed to payroll drops dramatically. They could re-work an existing contract - lowering Alex Gordon’s $16 million 2017 salary, for example, in exchange for guaranteeing him another year on his contract in 2020.
The Royals could also use some of their assets to induce teams to eat part of a salary in a trade. They did this in 2015 in deals for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, in both cases, offering an extra prospect in exchange for not having to take on those players salaries. The Atlanta Braves are a team more than willing to eat money on contracts in order to receive young, valuable assets. I could see the Royals swapping a young player like Cheslor Cuthbert or even Hunter Dozier as part of a trade for a veteran like Nick Markakis, a player the Royals have been linked to before, with the Braves eating much of his 2017 salary so the Royals could afford him.