The headline of this might not be true by the time you read it, but as of yesterday morning at least, the Royals had spent more on free agents than any other team in baseball. Sure, they’ve allocated less than $20 million so far, but that’s still more than anyone else, and we should celebrate that for as long as its true. Or maybe we should mock the game for it. I actually don’t know. Either way, the Royals are at least being active and after non-tendering Maikel Franco (first suggested here in September, yes I’m taking a victory lap because I so rarely get these things right), they figure to be even more active moving forward, which I’ll get to down in the notes here in a little bit. Regardless of what happens, this is the most interesting offseason the Royals have had in at least four years since the winter of 2016/2017 and maybe even the year before that. Interesting doesn’t always mean we like what they do, and it’s not always a better final product than boring, but it’s way more fun in these cold winter months at the very least.
- I want to start with the signing of Michael A. Taylor because I haven’t really talked much about that one either here or on Twitter. What I said on Twitter was that if the deal was for him to be the fourth outfielder who gets 200-250 plate appearances, I can buy that and be okay enough with it. He and Nick Heath are the only true center fielders on the 40-man roster right now, with maybe Khalil Lee sneaking in there. The Royals value that, and I do get it since the Kauffman Stadium outfield is so big. If the Royals are serious about giving Franchy Cordero a real shot, I don’t mind Taylor as a platoon-ish partner for him. I want Cordero getting PAs against lefties to see what he can do against them, but he’s also struggled in his brief career against them while Taylor has been passable. My concern with Taylor is that his defense isn’t what it was a couple years ago and he’s slowed down a decent amount, but he’s still a better center field option than either Cordero, Whit Merrifield or Edward Olivares who all profile better defensively in a corner (or at second for one of those three who I will not name specifically). So if Taylor is used that way, fine. But I fear he won’t. And on top of that, I don’t know why the Royals felt the need to jump out and give him a big league deal in a winter when guys like David Dahl (keep reading for more on him) are non-tendered because they’re going to make too much money. This is classic Dayton Moore in targeting a guy and not worrying about the rest of the market. In some ways that’s actually sort of admirable, but in others, it’s to the detriment of the team. No, $1.75 million isn’t going to make or break any payroll, but I just don’t understand why they jump to give that to him. And remember that 200-250 number I mentioned? I’d be surprised if he doesn’t blow way past that. I think he’s considerably better than guys like Chris Owings and Billy Hamilton, but smelling a skunk with the windows closed is better than with them open but that doesn’t make the smell pleasant.
- While I wasn’t surprised in the least by the Franco non-tender, when talks begin to swirl around Jorge Soler as a non-tender possibility, that was surprising. The Royals have been talking for a bit now about wanting a middle of the order bat, and to get rid of the biggest middle of the order bat they have would seem pretty incongruous with that statement. Well thankfully they didn’t non-tender Soler, instead signing him for about $8 million. As I mentioned recently, he could be a nice piece of trade bait later in the off-season, but for now, the Royals have one guy opponents need to fear. But thinking about that other bat, I have to wonder if they have someone in mind at either first or third base with the way they’re talking about Hunter Dozier being able to move back to third if needed. So who are those possibilities? Cover your eyes because they’re mostly not so pretty. At first, it’s CJ Cron, Mitch Moreland, Renato Nunez, Carlos Santana and maybe Eric Thames, I guess. At third, it’s I guess possible they bring back Franco on a cheaper deal or go with Jedd Gyorko, Jake Lamb or Travis Shaw. They could also look to corner outfield to make Taylor a fourth outfielder like we all hope. In that case, there are some options there. David Dahl, who I mentioned above, was non-tendered for some reason and would be a great fit to take over for Alex Gordon. The issue is that puts a non-center fielder in center field, but Whit Merrifield could move to second and then you can live with Taylor in a lineup without Nicky Lopez, I suppose. There’s also all the names we’ve mentioned before - Michael Brantley, now Adam Duvall, Robbie Grossman, Nomar Mazara, Joc Pederson, Jurickson Profar, Yasiel Puig, Hunter Renfroe, Eddie Rosario and the addition of Kyle Scwharber. How many of those guys are true middle of the order bats? I’d argue Michael Brantley, Eddie Rosario, Carlos Santana and Kyle Schwarber could fit that bill. I wouldn’t be that upset with Mitch Moreland, I guess, but unless they’re swimming in a deeper free agent pool, I’m having a hard time finding the fit they want. One thought I can’t get out of my head is that the Reds might want to clear payroll and either Mike Moustakas or Eugenio Suarez could be a target in a trade.
- Maybe it’s the holiday season talking, but I do see a path where the Royals are really just a pretty solid team all around, which probably doesn’t get you a whole lot other than a little more enjoyable brand of baseball to watch, which is nice. Boy that was a long sentence. Anyway, I can see the potential for a pretty deep lineup that can’t afford an injury, a solid rotation and a good bullpen. There are plenty of ifs, but if Cordero can stay healthy and live up to his potential and the Royals signed, let’s say, Carlos Santana (really replace him with your favorite bat listed above), you could be looking at a lineup of Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Soler, Santana, Salvador Perez, Dozier, Cordero, Taylor and Lopez. The bottom needs some serious work, but one through seven, there’s actually a decent amount to like about that if Santana could bounce back. I really think they still bring in another veteran starter (does anyone remember if Michael Wacha and Mike Matheny got along in St. Louis? No reason.) and bring back one of Greg Holland or Trevor Rosenthal in the bullpen and move Danny Duffy there. Again, there are definite questions, but it’s pretty easy to see how they could be pretty solid in every facet of the game. Even with the Twins in transition and the Indians as well with the likely trade of Francisco Lindor, I still don’t think it makes the Royals better than fourth best in the division right now, but again, it’s at least better baseball to watch.
- And to get back to the non-tender deadline and some of the decisions the Royals made, they are down to just 36 on the 40-man roster, which gives them a little breathing room. And they’ve done so with four catchers still on there and Scott Blewett. Some teams will carry four catchers on their 40-man, but the Royals typically don’t. And with Cam Gallagher a more than suitable backup and Sebastian Rivero new to the roster and Meibrys Viloria out of options, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Viloria is gone before the start of the season. They could trade Gallagher, I suppose, and I wouldn’t be too surprised, but I’d bet on Viloria being gone if they do make a move. They also left Scott Blewett on the 40-man and one of the Ryans might not be long for that roster either, so that’s two or three more spots that could easily come available soon enough. There’s room for some moves. I also thought it was interesting that in all the announcements, we didn’t hear a thing about Adalberto Mondesi and Brad Keller. They obviously will be tendered a contract, but it brings up the idea that the Royals, along with every other team apparently, are a file and trial team. So now there’s a second deadline for them to find a deal or maybe even an extension over the next few weeks. If they get to January 15 and haven’t reached a deal, we might see things get ugly with those two. I would kind of expect one or both to get some sort of extension in that timeframe, whether it buys out free agent years or just provides some cost certainty during their arbitration years, but that’s something to keep an eye on for the next few weeks.