Royals Review is not precisely known for its fandom for Royals General Manager Dayton Moore. He seems like a nice person but almost everyone here, and in the wider analytical writing sphere, thinks he makes awful choices because he focuses on the wrong things. I, specifically, mention his wide variety of flaws on an alarmingly regular basis. I bring all of this up so that you understand what it means when you read the next sentence.
Dayton Moore is the best general manager a fan could hope to have for the 2020/2021 off-season.
Kolten Wong, Brad Hand, Adam Eaton, Charlie Morton, and likely many more to come have all joined the ranks of free agents this off-season when there was no reason to expect any of them to do so given their recent performance and expected costs. The point, however, isn’t that suddenly guys the Royals should be targeting are free agents (though they could certainly do a lot worse than adding any or all of those players to the team.) Rather, the point is what this can tell us about how MLB teams are spending this offseason.
Take Brad Hand, for example. First of all, we learn that the Indians - who made the playoffsin 2020 and should be considered strong candidates to do so again in 2021 - do not want to keep their closer with a 2.05 ERA and 1.1 fWAR in one-third of a season and pay him $10 million next year. However, thinking a bit more critically, we can also deduce that the Indians didn’t believe they could trade a closer who had a 2.05 ERA and 1.1 fWAR in one-third of a season and his $10 million contract to any other team for anything. You have to assume they’re right, too, because why would you cut him without first trying to find someone who would trade something for him? We will also learn, in the next few days, whether any other teams are willing to claim Brad Hand’s stats and salary for 2021 to bolster their own bullpen at no additional cost or risk. That salary for only a one-year commitment for a reliever with Hand’s pedigree should be considered a massive bargain. And yet, as of this writing, it is still possible that no one at all will be willing to take it. That’s how we start the 2020/2021 off-season.
We also know a couple of things about Dayton Moore. First, we know that he thinks it’s imperative to grab every win you can. Second, remember back during the season when many teams were cutting costs both by firing front-office employees and by refusing to pay their minor league players or cutting them? The Royals didn’t do that. In other words, the Royals, Dayton Moore, and owner John Sherman were willing to spend money while everyone else was cutting costs because they felt it was the right thing to do. If you combine “Willing to spend money when others won’t because it’s the right thing” with “Winning every game is the right thing,” you get a combination that should excite any Royals fan.
Remember also that the Royals feel they are near competition, so spending money on free agents, in general, should make sense to them. They have very little in the way of financial commitments; according to Spotrac, the guaranteed contracts add up only to only about $40 million and arbitration estimates place the entire 26-man roster at under $70 million total. They are in good competitive and financial position to spread money around to multiple free agents even in a more normal offseason. Beyond their financial flexibility they also have a lot of roster flexibility with guys like Whit Merrifield, Hunter Dozier, and Maikel Franco all able to credibly play multiple positions. So they can go wherever the best deals are to be had without concern for filling a particular position in the field.
Many people spent a good portion of the last part of the season assuming that the next step for the Royals to become a competitive team again would require them to trade from their stable of high-ceiling college pitchers. But after years of teams trending further and further away from spending big money on free agency, the pandemic seems to have given teams the reason - or at least excuse - they need to take another giant step away. Given that, The Royals - who have financial and roster flexibility, value wins above all else, and are willing to spend when it makes sense - should be in a tremendous position to take advantage of the situation presented to them by these strange circumstances.
There is probably a separate conversation to be had about what cutting all of these moderately-priced, recently-productive players means for the long-term health of the sport. But it’s one we’ve already been having for the past few years. Also, the upcoming labor negotiations will tell us a lot more so there is nothing lost in putting it off for another year.
For now, I just want to dream of a 2021 Royals team that suddenly might able to afford to grab enough above-average talent to plug all of the holes in their lineup with money leftover to add depth to both ends of the pitching staff. If the Royals are aggressive and willing to add more players than would typically be practical in a single off-season, they might reasonably be able to compete in 2021, after all.