If you hadn’t been convinced of it yet, after not-insignificant two-year contracts given to Mike Minor and Carlos Santana—as well as a four-year extension to Hunter Dozier—the Kansas City Royals clearly feel more free spending money than they have of late. The nail in this particular coffin in this particularly strained metaphor was hammered by none other than Royals legend Salvador Perez, who signed a four-year, $82 million extension. Perez’s extension is more lucrative than Alex Gordon’s record-breaking contract, even.
While it seems like there is a lot to analyze in this deal, the analysis here is far less interesting than it would be for pretty much any other $82 million contract. Consider: Should the Royals have re-signed Perez? With Dayton Moore at the helm, and with Salvy’s comfort and history with the Royals, it was inevitable. Will this deal help or hurt the Royals? Well, at a back-of-the-napkin price of about $10 million per Win Above Replacement, Perez would have to accrue 8.2 WAR for the contract to break even. There aren’t a lot of catchers who remain that productive into their mid-30s. Perez would have to vastly outperform his peers in that regard.
Instead, the most interesting part of this deal is what it signifies, which is that the Royals are fully prepared in using the money they have at their disposal. In other words, new owner John Sherman is committed to fielding a competitive payroll.
It has not always been this way. The Royals’ late and previous owner, David Glass, was famous for his stinginess. From 2000 through 2013, Kansas City’s payroll averaged 25th out of 30 teams, and Glass’ squads had precisely two winning seasons to show for it. For instance, the Royals, as run by the Glass family, lost out on an extension to Carlos Beltrán—a superstar who would turn in a borderline Hall of Fame career—because they tried to get him to take $1 million less than a previously agreed upon.
Beltrán wanted to stay. The Royals had a deal negotiated with him - they went around Boras - and had a deal in place for three years for $25 million.....Way under the market deal. They took it upstairs and Dan Glass said “well, get him to sign it for $24 million.”....They took it back to Beltrán and not surprisingly he was ticked off and he broke off negotiations.
But more recently, and more relevantly, the Glass family was content to let the payroll bottom out completely. In 2011, the Royals kicked off opening day with a payroll at $38 million, easily the lowest figure in baseball. Was it good business? Was it a good baseball move? Perhaps, on both parts. The Royals weren’t good at that point, and a payroll of $60 million probably wouldn’t have really moved the needle. However, it was clear that they had the money; the Royals wouldn’t ascend from the bottom third of baseball payrolls until 2015, when their core had already went to the World Series. It was also clear that they refused to use it.
With a new owner, though, things are different. The Royals clearly have the money in the short term, and they dare using it. Prior to the Hunter Dozier extension earlier this offseason, the Royals had less than $2 million total in guaranteed money on the books from 2023 on. The Royals could have continued to bottom out their payroll like they did a decade ago, with a 2021 payroll of less than $75 million and a 2022 payroll of potentially less than $55 million after Danny Duffy and Jorge Soler’s free agency would have freed up over $20 million. They did not. Instead, they went out and spent real money on Minor and Santana, and then extended Dozier and Perez.
Kansas City will continue to have money to work with. Even with nearly every team cutting payroll from last year due to pandemic-related revenue losses, the Royals are likely to have a bottom third payroll again this year. And as previously mentioned, Duffy and Soler will hit free agency and free up $23.5 million in 2022, with salary increases due to Perez, Minor, and Santana only accounting for a total of about $10.5 million.
Drafting, international scouting, and player development are still going to be the main reasons why the Royals succeed or fail. However, a competitive payroll would allow the team to sign supplementary free agents and keep players they want. Contrast this with the Cleveland Indians, who are clearly not even trying. Over the last two years, they have bled payroll to an absurd degree, committing talent seppuku and yielding control over the American League Central for the forseeable future.
Obviously, there is a gradient between “extremely competitive payroll” and “is purposefully trying not to win baseball games when your team is still good because money,” but the Royals are the furthest to the correct side of that gradient than they have been in a while. And, obviously, a strong payroll only goes so far; to the Glass family’s credit, they opened up the pocketbooks after the Royals won a World Series only for baseball operations and the team to dump the money into a fire pit.
Still. Still. To see the Royals using money they have? For players everyone likes, no less? It’s nice to see.