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The Royals gave millions of dollars to bad players and somehow it didn’t work out

How about that!

Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez (11) tags out Kansas City Royals first baseman Lucas Duda (9) on a fielder s choice in the sixth inning at Progressive Field.
Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez (11) tags out Kansas City Royals first baseman Lucas Duda (9) on a fielder s choice in the sixth inning at Progressive Field.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

In Major League Baseball free agency, the idea is to give good players money and avoid giving bad players money. Some players will command more than others, of course. But no team is obligated to spend any money in free agency; furthermore, no team is obligated to sign specific players. If you don’t think they’re good or, more accurately, not worth the money, then you don’t have to sign them. Simple as that.

This past offseason, the Kansas City Royals did not sign any free agent to a deal longer than one year. That much is admirable and the correct decision. However, the Royals decided to give free agent money to bad players instead of good ones.

If this sounds snarky to you, I apologize. That’s not really the intent here. Rather, I’m trying to—in my best direct, Zack Greinke-esque approach—simply explain that the Royals decided to pay money on bad players instead of good ones. It did not turn out well, which should have been obvious in the offseason but wasn’t.

Over the offseason, the Royals signed the following players:

Royals Free Agent Signings

Name Salary (Millions) Result
Name Salary (Millions) Result
Billy Hamilton $5.25 Likely August DFA
Chris Owings $3.00 DFA
Brad Boxberger $2.20 DFA
Martin Maldonado $2.50 Traded
Wily Peralta $3.25 DFA
Jake Diekman $3.00 Traded
Lucas Duda $1.25 DFA
TOTAL $20.45

As you can see, the Royals spent over $20 million on these seven players. Four were so bad that the Royals had to cut them in the middle of the season, a fate that Billy Hamilton will likely suffer, too. Including Hamilton, that’s about $10 million in salary for players who weren’t even good enough to earn playing time on a probable 100-loss team.

But were these players good recently? To calculate this, I’m going to use a weighted average of Wins Above Replacement for these players’ three most recent seasons, giving 50% weight to 2018, 30% to 2017, and 20% to 2016. For the hitters, I am using Fangraphs’ version. For the pitchers, I am combining both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference, as they calculate things differently enough to warrant considering both if it’s reasonably easy to do so.

Weighted WAR, 2016-2018

Name wWAR
Name wWAR
Billy Hamilton 1.6
Chris Owings -0.1
Brad Boxberger -0.2
Martin Maldonado 2.2
Wily Peralta 0.0
Jake Diekman 0.4
Lucas Duda 0.4

Martin Maldonado and Billy Hamilton were reasonable signings, especially after Salvador Perez’s injury in Maldonado’s case. But otherwise, the Royals paid almost $13 million to five players who had been nothing more than replacement level guys for a while. Four of them were released in the middle of the year.

This is to say nothing of the opportunity cost involved in signing these free agents. Kansas City signed Lucas Duda and kicked Brian Goodwin to the curb. This year, Goodwin has hit 15% better than league average for the Los Angeles Angels by wRC+, a figure that would be fifth on the Royals—better than Alex Gordon, Cheslor Cuthbert, Adalberto Mondesi, Ryan O’Hearn, and Duda himself. Goodwin is 28 and won’t be a free agent until 2023. Meanwhile, Duda has likely played his last game in Major League Baseball.

And that $13 million could have been adeptly used by a smarter or more forward-thinking front office to use in an Ian Kennedy trade. As Shaun Newkirk pointed out, the Royals were in a great position to both offload salary and get a nice prospect in perhaps their only chance to get value from Kennedy’s contract. The Royals declined to do so, instead electing to pay Kennedy over $20 million to close games for a bottom-five MLB team.

Add the opportunity cost from lost playing time by potential in-house options, too. Richard Lovelady spent most of 2019 in Omaha for no real reason. Brett Phillips fixed his swing in late May but has somehow yet to step onto a big league field for equally nonexistent reasons. It took until mid July for the Royals to finally decide if Bubba Starling would be of any value.

Should the Royals have foregone any free agents? No. Notably missing from this list is Homer Bailey. But Bailey’s salary was merely the league minimum. There are fringe big league guys available for basically nothing on every team and guys like Bailey who are also available on minor league deals.

The moral of the story is this: don’t pay millions to crappy big league players. It’s a waste of money, a waste of time, and a waste of resources. While the Royals signing, say, Brad Boxberger wasn’t going to realistically impact the result of the season, these kind of signings do add up over time, and it’s one of the worst qualities of the current Royals administration.