This off-season could be a year of transition for the Royals, with a new owner, a new manager, and possibly some new players on the field after back-to-back 100+ loss seasons. New owner John Sherman will take over a team that has already shed some of its big financial obligations, and have just $60 million on salary obligations for contracts in 2020, compared to an Opening Day payroll of $100 million in 2019.
Those salary obligations don’t count players eligible for arbitration, who will have to negotiate new deals with the Royals, but not with the benefit of the free agent market. Those teams will instead have only the leverage of the arbitration system to get the Royals to pony up. The Royals have gone to an arbitration hearing just once under Dayton Moore, defeating reliever Brandon Maurer in 2018.
MLB Trade Rumors has released their projections for salaries for arbitration-eligible players this year. The projections are based on a model based on service time, statistics (generally more traditional, rather than analytical stats), and past salaries. This year, the Royals have just four players eligible for arbitration that are not currently under contract. MLB Trade Rumors projects their salaries to be:
- Mike Montgomery – $2.9 million
- Cheslor Cuthbert – $1.8 million
- Jesse Hahn – $900,000
- Jacob Barnes – $800,000
MLB Trade Rumors does not have official service time figures yet, so some players may not yet be eligible for arbitration.
The Royals would have to decide whether or not to tender these four players a contract, or non-tender them and let them go. Montgomery seems like a forgone conclusion to be tendered a deal, as he was acquired from the Cubs this year as a long-term rotation option. Jesse Hahn finally made his Royals debut in September, nearly two years after they acquired him. If the Royals think he is healthy, his expected salary is low enough that perhaps they tender him and hope he shows enough to be a solid option next year. Cuthbert seems likely to be non-tendered, rather than be offered a deal near his projected salary, but perhaps the Royals could bring him back on a lesser deal. The Royals took a flyer on Barnes, but he didn’t impress much in a limited audition and seems likely to be non-tendered if he ends up being eligible for arbitration.
These figures don’t include Jorge Soler, who is eligible for arbitration but is technically still under contract. Under the terms of his unique deal, Soler can opt-out of his deal, which would allow him to go into arbitration. This seems likely, as he could earn substantially more money through arbitration than the $4 million he would be owed under his contract. Through arbitration, Soler could probably expect $8-10 million in salary next year. Regardless of whether he opts out or not, he would then have to go through the arbitration processafter the 2020 season, and would be eligible for free agency following the 2021 season unless the Royals sign him to an extension.
Assuming the Royals tender all four players a contract at around those projected salaries, and Jorge Soler earns between $8-10 million next year, the club is projected to have a total payroll around $80-85 million next year.