The 2019 season will be a pretty important season for the Royals, as they have prohibited the word “rebuild”, but will be pretty clearly trying to build the team back up with the young players that helped them enjoy a much improved second-half in 2018. But some of the players from 2018 may not be part of the future, particularly those eligible for arbitration that are going to be more costly.
The Royals have six players eligible for arbitration this winter. Players are eligible for arbitration if they have at least three years service time and are not yet eligible for free agency. Clubs can offer or “tender” arbitration-eligible players a contract and go through the arbitration process - which may include the salary determined by an arbitration judge - or they can “non-tender” a player, effectively releasing them.
MLB Trade Rumors has a model to project how much arbitration-eligible players will make based on production, service time, and comparable players, and have released their figures for this off-season. Here are their estimates for the six Royals up for arbitration.
- Brandon Maurer – $3.1MM
- Wily Peralta – $2.8MM
- Jesse Hahn – $1.7MM
- Nathan Karns – $1.375MM
- Cheslor Cuthbert – $1.1MM
- Brian Flynn – $1.0MM
Brandon Maurer will be entering his final year of arbitration and was last off-season he became the first player ever to take Dayton Moore and the Royals to an arbitration hearing, losing his case. Maurer made $2.9 million in 2018 and was horrible, posting a 7.76 ERA and getting demoted mid-season. Despite that, players are virtually guaranteed a raise through the arbitration process, so expect the Royals to non-tender him rather than pay him any kind of guranteed money.
The Royals hold a $3 million club option with a $25,000 buyout on Wily Peralta, which they seem likely to pick up. Technically they could decline the option, pay him his buyout, and go through the arbitration process, but it seems unlikely they would gain much by doing so. Peralta seemed to fare well as closer last year, although he did have a 4.73 FIP and walked over six batters-per-nine innings, so it is possible the Royals simply decline the option, non-tender him, and move in a different direction.
Jesse Hahn injured his ulnar collateral ligament in spring training and missed the entire season. He opted not to go through Tommy John surgery, preferring a less invasive procedure late in the year that could make him ready by the start of next season. However Hahn has been injured a lot in his short career, making just 22 starts over the last three years. Arbitration-eligible players can be released in spring training with the club only on the hook for a fraction of the salary. The Royals could take that opportunity to give him a chance to prove his health, or they could non-tender him and bring him back on a minor league deal with no guaranteed money.
Nate Karns has been an enigma, showing flashes of solid stuff, coupled with inconsistency and a myriad of injuries. He missed the entire second half of the 2017 season and had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, then was placed on the disabled list just before Opening Day this year, missing the entire season with an elbow injury. Like Hahn, the injury history may be too great for the Royals to risk guaranteeing any kind of money to Karns.
Cheslor Cuthbert has lost much of the last two seasons to injury, wasting a perfect opportunity to show what he can do in a rebuilding season. He is out of options and will be 26 by next season, so his chances may be dwindling. Hunter Dozier did not lock down third base this season, and there are few other options in the minors, so Cuthbert could buy himself one more season. But the Royals will have to decide if they see him as part of the future.
Brian Flynn is probably the most likely of this bunch to be tendered a deal. Flynn proved himself to be a serviceable reliever, able to fill any role. His ERA and FIP are not great, and his peripherals are downright poor, making him a decent candidate to regress badly. However the Royals will need guys to fill out the pitching staff and the 28-year old left-hander has likely done enough to put himself in that conversation.
If the Royals pick up the option of Peralta and decline the option on Jason Hammel, as expected, they will have $72 million committed to six players in 2019. The remainder of the roster will cost at least $10-15 million plus whatever they decide to pay these arbitration-eligible players. The Royals will reportedly seek to cut payroll to $85-90 million, according to reporter Jon Heyman.