The hot stove season will soon be upon us, and the Royals will have several big decisions to make on key free agents. Unfortunately, as a small market club, financial constrains are always a big consideration as they decide who to bring back and who they can bring in to improve the club.
Dayton Moore has hinted payroll may come down, although he hinted that the previous season and payroll actually went up, to a franchise-record $145 million on Opening Day. Even if payroll stays at current levels, the current contracts may prevent the Royals from making many moves.
The Royals have nine players eligible for free agency - Melky Cabrera, Trevor Cahill, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Mike Minor, Mike Moustakas, Peter Moylan, and Jason Vargas. Here are the players under contract next season, according to Cot’s Contracts.
|Alex Gordon||$20,000,000||$20,000,000||$4,000,000||$23 million mutual option for 2020|
|Ian Kennedy||$16,000,000||$16,500,000||$16,500,000||Has an opt out he can exercise this year|
|Joakim Soria||$9,000,000||$1,000,000||Free Agent||$10 million mutual option for 2019|
|Jason Hammel||$9,000,000||$2,000,000||Free Agent||$12 million mutual option for 2019|
|Brandon Moss||$7,250,000||$1,000,000||Free Agent||$10 million mutual option for 2019|
|Drew Butera||$2,300,000||Free Agent|
That is over $90 million for just nine players. Four potential arbitration cases await the Royals, headlined by closer Kelvin Herrera. The arbitration process pretty much ensures players never get a pay cut, even after a poor season, and Herrera has a solid track record before last year. He had a salary of $5.325 million last year, so it is not unreasonable he could get between $7-8 million in his last year of arbitration. Brandon Maurer could go from $1.9 million last year to $3-4 million if the Royals choose to tender him a contract. Nate Karns could earn $3-4 million as well in his first year of arbitration, while Mike Morin is probably a non-tender candidate. That is $13-16 million the Royals could spend on arbitration-eligible players.
The Royals also have $11.25 million tied up in dead money for players no longer on the club - Travis Wood ($6.5 million), Omar Infante (he is still owed a $2 million buyout on his 2018 option, although that may have already been paid out), Chris Young ($1.5 million buyout), and Mike Minor (a $1.25 million buyout that is likely paid even if he declines his half of the mutual option).
The Royals also have to fill out their roster with players making close to the Major League minimum salary like Whit Merrifield, Jorge Bonifacio, and Cheslor Cuthbert. Twelve players at that salary will cost between $6-7 million. Add it all up and the Royals are looking at a payroll just over $120 million without re-signing a single player, or adding a single free agent.
This is not counting the $6.45 million owed to Yordano Ventura under the terms of his guaranteed contract, which may be voided or may be covered by insurance. It has not been made public how that is being handled, but my best guess is that the Royals are likely not on the hook for much of that.
Dayton Moore has consistently said that the Glass family will give him the resources he needs, and if they are going to break the bank, Eric Hosmer is the kind of player they would exceed any payroll constraints for. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that this tight payroll situation necessarily precludes them from bringing back their star first baseman.
But it is going to make navigating this off-season very difficult, with little room for financial flexibility. The Royals could try to get other teams to help pay for some of their bigger salaries, but most are pretty unmovable and they have few assets to try to entice other teams to take on salary obligations.
Dayton Moore may want to extend the window of contention for one more season, but the financial season may prevent him from doing so. The Royals took some gambles the last two winters on some free agents, but those moves have backfired badly. Perhaps the best course of action would be to stop throwing good money after bad.