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What to know about this Royals off-season

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Kansas City Royals spring training John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The World Series is over, and the off-season can officially begin. It should be an interesting off-season for the Royals, who will look to emphasize winning more now as young hitters like Bobby Witt, Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez reach the big leagues in the next year.

Here is what you need to know about this off-season.

Which Royals are free agents?

The Royals have just four players who become free agents today - pitchers Wade Davis, Jesse Hahn, Greg Holland, and Ervin Santana. All are relievers over the age of 32, and are well past their prime. Don’t expect any of them back with the possible exception of Ervin Santana, who wasn’t great, but filled in admirably as a long-reliever who could sop up innings when needed, ending with a 4.68 ERA in 65 13 innings.

Who do the Royals need to add to the 40-man roster?

Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez are two locks to be added to the 40-man roster after their fantastic turnaround in the minors this year. The college players from the 2018 draft class are also eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, and pitchers like Austin Cox, Jonathan Bowlan, and Zach Haake could be added as well.

The 40-man roster is at 35 now that Santana and Holland are free agents (as well as Hahn and Davis who were on the 60-day Injured List). Brad Keller and Richard Lovelady will be activated from the 60-day Injured List to bring it back to 37, although Lovelady could be a non-tender candidate. So the Royals may have some more players they’ll need to trim from the roster to make room for new additions by the November 19 deadline.

Who could be non-tendered by the Royals?

With Hanser Alberto’s release last week, the Royals will likely have eight arbitration-eligible players this off-season - Scott Barlow, Andrew Benintendi, Cam Gallagher, Jakob Junis, Brad Keller, Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, and Ryan O’Hearn. Junis and O’Hearn are the most likely to be non-tendered after disappointing seasons. With the catching depth in the organization, Cam Gallagher could be a long-shot to be non-tendered if the Royals cannot find a trade for him.

The Royals could also non-tender players to make room on the 40-man roster with Lucius Fox, Joel Payamps, Gabe Speier, and Tyler Zuber potential candidates to be taken off the roster, as could Lovelady, who will miss all of next year after Tommy John surgery.

Where do the Royals need to focus on the roster?

The Royals finished third-worst in the league in runs scored and fifth-worst in runs allowed, so there is plenty of room to improve. The starting pitching did improve in the second half with more young arms in the rotation, so perhaps the Royals are set there, although they could use depth after running thin late in the season. The bullpen could definitely use more depth to complement guys like Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, and Jake Brentz. You can see a list of free agents here and Baseball Trade Values has a list of players who could become non-tendered free agents here.

Most of the starting lineup is set to return, particularly after the club re-signed centerfielder Michael A. Taylor. But the Royals could look to shake things up and move on from disappointing players like Carlos Santana, Hunter Dozier, and Adalberto Mondesi, if they can find a taker for any of them. With Bobby Witt, Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez due to come up soon, don’t expect the Royals to acquire many hitters to block them. Melendez could become trade bait with Salvador Perez blocking him at the catcher position.

Will the Royals spend some money this off-season?

The Royals began this season with an Opening Day payroll of $89 million, and right now they are projected to be just a bit lower than that for next season. Will John Sherman spend more on this club? Here’s what he said to Sam Mellinger back in 2020:

“It’s kind of situational,” Sherman said. “It’s hard to really predict what it will take to make sure we can compete. But I would say that we want to do all of those things, and then we’re going to commit to spending the money when it’s the right time when we can compete for championships.

The Royals were seemingly a bit disappointed their timetable for contention was not as fast as they had hoped this season, so perhaps they will inject some money into payroll to get back on track. Sherman may also be trying to build public support for a new downtown baseball stadium, and investing in the club could help those efforts.

Will there be a work stoppage?

Hanging over the entire off-season is the very real possibility of a lockout by the owners. The current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, and owners could decide to freeze transactions at that time and cancel the annual Winter Meetings due to uncertainty as to what the rules will be under a new labor deal. We could actually see a lot of signings this month, as players or teams look for certainty while they can still make moves.

The owners and union are said to be far apart on their positions, with players looking to largely keep the status quo while owners want to significantly reduce the luxury tax thresholds to curb spending, going so far as to offer a salary floor. There has also been talk of amending how free agency eligibility is determined, possibly eliminating service time as a factor. The union has also filed a grievance for $500 million in damages that could be an additional issue. Players argue that owners did not negotiate salary adjustments for the pandemic-shortened season in good faith, dragging their feet to avoid having to pay more in salary.

Still, by having the labor agreement expire in December the two sides have some time to hammer out differences before spring training begins. Of the eight work stoppages in baseball history, three have been owner lockouts, and none of those led to any loss of games. The devastating memory of the 1994 strike still hangs over the sport, and with franchise valuations continuing to rise and the game still landing lucrative TV deals, it would be foolish to wreck that with a work stoppage.

What are some dates to know?

These are all subject to change, if the off-season is halted due to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, or if a new deal is reached that changes free agency or arbitration.

November 7 - Deadline to pick up most contract options

Deadline for clubs to make a Qualifying Offer to free agents

November 8-11 - General Manager’s Meetings in Carlsbad, CA

Free agents may sign with new clubs

November 11 - Silver Slugger Award winners announced

November 15 - Rookie of the Year Award winners announced

November 16 - Manager of the Year Award winners announced

November 17 - Cy Young Award winners announced

Deadline to accept or reject the Qualifying Offer

November 18 - MVP Award winners announced

November 19 - 40-man roster addition deadline

November 30 - Non-tender deadline (moved from December 1)

December 1 - Collective bargaining agreement expires

December 6-9 - Winter meetings in Orlando, FL

December 9 - Rule 5 draft

January 14 - Arbitration figure exchange deadline

January 15 - International signing period begins

January 20 - Hall of Fame class announced

Early February - Arbitration hearings begin

Mid-February - Players report to spring training

February 26 - First spring training game vs. Texas Rangers

March 31 - First regular season game at Cleveland Guardians

April 4 - Home opener vs. Chicago White Sox