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2016 Royals offseason retrospective

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The two biggest contracts in franchise history highlight a mixed offseason.

Biggest contract in the history of whatever.
Biggest contract in the history of whatever.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off the franchise's first World Series win in three decades, the Royals' front office faced an offseason in which several key contributors looked to be leaving via free agency, namely Alex Gordon, Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto, Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales, Alex Rios, Chris Young, and Jonny Gomes. Additionally, their closer heading into 2015, Greg Holland, went down late in the season, needing Tommy John surgery which would likely cause him to miss the entire 2016 season. So despite the new, shiny trophy that will be housed in the Royals Hall of Fame, David Glass, Dayton Moore, and front office Moore assembled had their work cut out for them to stay in contention for the upcoming 2016 campaign.

After spending the month of November exercising or declining/buying out options and signing organizational filler like J.C. Boscan, Roman Colon, Tony Cruz (acquired via trade for the Jose Martinez who didn't just tear up the Pacific Coast League), and interesting man Cody Decker, Dayton Moore jumped into the waters of free agency with both feet on December 7th making the following two signings: a two-year deal to Chris Young worth $11.5MM and a three-year pact with Joakim Soria for $25MM. Both of the deals were backloaded and contained mutual options to offset expenses to 2018 and beyond when some of the escalating costs of the current crop of arbitration-eligible players will no longer count against the club's payroll.

One could certainly argue that both of these contracts were at least slight overpays. With Soria in particular, dropping that kind of coin on the bullpen may not have been the wisest allocation of funds. The $25MM promised to the Royals' former closer ended up being the second-largest contract given to a reliever this offseason, bested only by Darren O'Day. However, in a crop of free agent relievers headlined by Ryan Madson, Tony Sipp, and Shawn Kelley, and with teams willing to pay a premium for bullpen help as evidenced by the returns for Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, bargains for quality relief arms were not likely to be had.

Furthermore, many assumed the Royals' 2016 payroll to be just slightly higher than it was last season, when in fact the Royals increased payroll significantly before the off-season was completed. With Greg Holland set to miss the 2016 season and Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales leaving via free agency, there was at least an arguable need to fill holes in the bullpen to maintain their super bullpen.

A week after the Young and Soria signings, Moore and the Royals inked "Mets' odd man out of the rotation" Dillon Gee to a minor-league deal. Gee negotiated an opt-out clause that was recently used to leverage the Royals into adding Gee to the 40-man roster, guaranteeing the righty $2MM with incentives that could push his salary up to $5.3MM if used as a starter. As he currently looks like a candidate for long-relief, he's not an awful low-risk gamble and certainly insures a bit against injury-driven disaster in the rotation.

Three quiet weeks followed before the Royals made the biggest splash in the franchise's history - signing Alex Gordon to a four-year, $72MM deal with a mutual option for 2020 (because Dayton Moore closed the deal, therefore it must have a mutual option that will never get exercised). This exceeded the previous franchise-record deals of $55 million given to Gil Meche and Mike Sweeney. Just like the multi-year deals before it, this one was backloaded to keep options open in 2016 and 2017 while the competitive window is still wide open.

While spending that kind of money on any free agent goes wrong more often than not, Moore's biggest signing was below what many thought the market would yield for the Royals' perennial All-Star, and it isn't hard to envision the Royals getting the value that they are paying for back from Gordon's performance. And while the notion of a professional athlete only wearing the laundry featuring one team's name on it doesn't have a measurable on-the-field value, this deal increases the likelihood that Gordon will be a career Royal, a fact that certainly carries value to an energized fanbase who all remember a not-so-distant past when the Royals were not able to retain their players as they approached free agency.

The Royals followed the huge Gordon signing with two more pitchers signed to minor-league deals - righty Chien-Ming Wang and lefty David Huff. While Huff looks like organizational fodder at this juncture, the 36-year-old Wang has suddenly mustered velocity reminiscent of the Wang of yore, touching 96 MPH thanks to pitcher whisperer Ron Wolforth. If Wang's velocity increase is for real, he would be the best bet for Moore to repeat as a diamond-in-the-rough signing à la Ryan Madson in 2015. If (or more likely when) Wang is added to the major-league roster, he will earn a $1MM base salary with incentives up to $1.5MM.

After a two-year deal nailing down Lorenzo Cain's last two arbitration years, Dayton Moore made the second-largest deal in franchise history, though this one was decidedly less exciting than the Gordon signing. When the ink dried on the contract, Moore and the Royals found themselves with a new starting pitcher in the form of Ian Kennedy. The deal is for $70MM over five years with a player opt-out clause after the second season which will only get exercised if Kennedy performs well. The deal surprised many after Kennedy had a down year in 2015, especially considering the signing cost the Royals their first round draft pick after Ian Kennedy turned down a Qualifying Offer from the Padres.

Kennedy's peripherals indicated he was the victim of some particularly bad luck in the home run department last season, so there is hope for some positive regression to the mean in 2016. He will also benefit from the services of the Royals' stellar defense, particularly their rangy outfield, but any other free agent pitcher would have as well. Kennedy's durability is a mark in his favor, but the Royals inarguably gave up a lot to sign Kennedy, and his placement at or near the top of multiple "worst moves of the offseason" lists certainly shows how the signing is widely regarded.

The Royals followed with a slew of minor-league signings of the organizational filler variety - righties Peter Moylan, Lester Oliveros, Clayton Mortensen and Ross Ohlendorf, lefty Brian Duensing, infielder Clint Barmes, outfielder Travis Snider - and agreed to a two-year deal with Mike Moustakas to avoid arbitration in 2017.

Just as pitchers and catchers were reporting to camp, Dayton Moore added former Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor on a two-year, incentive-laden deal guaranteeing the lefty $7.25MM. Much like the Kris Medlen deal from the previous year, the acquisition is more about what he might be able to do for the Royals in 2017 than what he can do in 2016. Minor is recovering from surgery to repair his torn labrum in his left throwing shoulder, so the deal is not without its risks, as shoulder injuries are much harder to come back from than elbow injuries. Minor was placed on the 60-day disabled list to make room on the roster for Dillon Gee and expects to return no sooner than the end of May. Still, the upside of Minor--he was worth 3.5 fWAR and 3.1 rWAR in 2013--is tantalizing enough to probably justify the risk.

For the final move of the offseason, barring some last minute magic, the Royals renegotiated terms of Salvador Perez's extremely club-friendly contract, guaranteeing the catcher an additional $36MM and extending club control of their star catcher by two more seasons. Righting an arguable wrong, the Royals turned what were club options into guaranteed years. Whether the egregiously overused catcher will be worth the money is a question worth asking, one without an answer for years. However, the contract that Perez's previous agent negotiated was borderline criminal. The Royals did not make the best decision in the strictest financial sense by guaranteeing money that they didn't have to guarantee, but the move does buy goodwill with the All-Star catcher and further rehabilitates the image of owner David Glass, who spent the first decade-plus of his control over the purse strings reinventing cheapness.

The surprisingly expensive offseason brought the Royals' Opening Day payroll to over $130MM, a shocking number to any Royals fan who saw the Royals field a payroll not ranked in the bottom five in baseball just four seasons out of 13 from 2000 to 2012. The business of second-guessing Dayton Moore's moves is a well-established one in these parts. That the best-case scenario for the Royals second-largest signing in club history sees that player opting out after proving a worth in excess of what he is getting paid and that said signing sees the club forfeit the 24th pick of the draft is suboptimal to put it in the kindest of terms. Perez's new deal is another instance in which the club allocated future money that didn't have to go in that direction, though the spirit of the extension is at least a more palatable one on the personal side of things. Additionally, the money spent of Joakim Soria might have been better spent elsewhere, but like the Perez restructuring, it is a modest public relations win, and there was little available in the way of quality relievers on the free-agent market.

Of course the biggest public relations win in the offseason comes in the deal handed to Alex Gordon. If the Royals were going to spend big on a free agent, it's hard to argue against a franchise cornerstone capable of down-ballot-MVP-level production who hasn't had a carb since elementary school and treats his body like the shrine it is. For every bit as bad as the Kennedy deal might be, the Gordon deal is its polar opposite. Combined with the re-signing of Chris Young, and solid depth signings like Gee, Wang, and possibly Minor, an offseason grade in the C-to-B-minus range would probably be apropos at this moment in time.

Whether this is enough to vault the Royals back into the postseason is yet to be seen, but it would seem unlikely that they won't at least be in the picture.