The Royals have already been elinimated from post-season contention this year, and barring major changes this off-season, may as well be eliminated from post-season contention for next year as well. Regardless of their chances, they will still field a team next year, and based on contract numbers from Cot’s Contracts, it won’t be a cheap team either.
Royals payrolls have gone up dramatically in the last seven years, as the team went from also-ran to contender. But even as the team has slunk back down to cellar-dwelling status, payroll has remained high. Despite efforts to cut costs, the Royals still fielded a $123 million Opening Day payroll this year, 20th-highest in baseball and higher than those of contenders like the Brewers, Athletics, Phillies, and Braves.
Royals’ payrolls 2012-2018
What has thwarted Dayton Moore’s ability to reduce payroll more are the long-term deals committed to when the team was still trying to contend. And some of those deals will continue to hamper their ability to reduce costs next year. As of now, the Royals have over $69 million committed to six players next year, more than half of that going to two players - Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy. They also have a $3 million club option on Wily Peralta that seems likely to be picked up.
Royals’ guaranteed contracts in 2019
|Alex Gordon||$20,000,000||$4,000,000||2020 mutual option with $4M buyout|
|Ian Kennedy||$16,500,000||$16,500,000||Free agent|
|Wily Peralta||$3,000,000||Free agent||2019 club option with a $25k buyout|
|Jason Hammel||$2,000,000||$12M mutual option with $2M buyout|
The Royals will likely turn down the $12 million option on pitcher Jason Hammel, requiring them to pay his buyout. Lucas Duda, Alcides Escobar, and Drew Butera are all eligible for free agency this winter.
The Royals have six arbitration eligible players, all of which could be non-tender candidates. Brandon Maurer made just under $3 million this year, and despite his recent stretch of effectiveness, it seems likely the team will part ways with him rather than pay him millions of dollars. Nate Karns and Jesse Hahn will both likely miss the entire season, but they may still both be eligible for a salary over a million next year if the Royals tender them a deal. It seems more likely the team non-tenders both, perhaps looking to re-sign them on a non-guaranteed deal.
Brian Flynn has been useful as a long-reliever type, and could see his salary rise to near a million bucks. Cheslor Cuthbert had a disappointing injury-filled season, but has enough promise that the team will likely bring him back with a deal under a million. It may be the end of the road for Paulo Orlando, however, as the team will probably non-tender him, perhaps bringing him back on a minor league deal.
If only Flynn and Cuthbert are tendered, their salaries combined with the salaries of other pre-arbitration players to fill out the roster like Whit Merrifield, Jorge Bonifacio, Adalberto Mondesi, Brian Goodwin, Jake Junis, and Brad Keller will total around $12 million. That would put the Royals’ payroll, without major changes, around $84 million for 2019.
Even if the Royals did want to cut even more salary, it is hard to see how they could. Gordon and Kennedy have immovable contracts. Danny Duffy isn’t quite as attractive as he once was with some injury issues and an inconsistent season. Salvador Perez still has a lot of value, but the Royals are almost certainly not going to trade him.
Perhaps the Royals go the other direction and begin adding salary to the roster again. Here is a list of players likely to be eligible for free agency this winter. Could Dayton Moore add a first baseman to anchor the lineup? Would he add a starting pitcher to tutor the young arms? Or perhaps add a closer to give them a chance to hold onto victories?
The Royals have said their break-even point on payroll is $115 million, but that was with an assumption of 2 million in annual attendance, a number that they will certainly not meet next year. Given the way Dayton Moore has talked about free agency, calling it a “flawed” way to build a team, it seems unlikely he will make a big splash. But with more financial flexibility next year, don’t be surprised if he adds a few veterans to supplement the roster. Heck, Alcides Escobar could be back.
I hope the Royals use some of that financial flexibility in a different way. Clubs were very tight with money last season. The Royals could take advantage of that frugality around the league by offering to take on bad contracts from other clubs, so long as those teams dished out prospects as well. You see this in the NBA all the time - cap space is an asset. Baseball operated almost like it had a salary cap last year - the Royals can sell off some of their cap space for future assets. It is a strategy a few clubs have already employed - the Braves agreed to take on the contract of Bronson Arroyo from the Diamondbacks a few years back, when he was combined with pitching prospect Touki Toussant. Toussant became a top Braves prospects and made his Major League debut a few weeks ago.
When you lose well over 100 games, the front office has a lot of work to do to dig out of that hole. The Royals should have financial flexibility to help out next year. How they use it will help determine how quickly the rebuild takes.