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Don’t expect the Royals to be too active in free agency

The Royals GM indicates the team may not be spending a lot this year.

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

The Royals are coming off a 97-loss season, their sixth consecutive losing season, one that ultimately cost club president Dayton Moore his job. But if you were expecting new General Manager J.J. Picollo to use free agency as a way to improve the team’s fortunes this off-season, you may be disappointed.

Picollo was on Cody and Gold on 610 Sports this morning to discuss the managerial search and the off-season. Picollo said the team was going to have their first executive-level meeting on the off-season this afternoon, but downplayed the likelihood of free agency being a major part of their plan this winter.

“We’re young, we’re coming off a tough season, it may not be the right time to invest heavily in this team.”

Picollo said that team had to “cross over some barriers before we really dive in” to free agency, and while they had expected that to happen, the season instead was a setback in that regard. He did emphasize that the team would invest in players when the time was right.

“We have to get to a point where we’re performing at a level that we feel good about we’re doing, and then we can go ahead and potentially invest in the free agent market.”

However, Picollo didn’t dismiss the idea of pursuing free agents entirely. While he stressed that the Royals have traditionally not pursued the top-tier of free agents, they would still look to find good fits to add to the roster.

“If there’s somebody out there that sort of fits our range, can perform at a level that we think really helps our club, then you try to sign that player. Then if that means you have to make decisions on other areas on the roster, then you make those decisions at that time.”

These comments echo those of owner John Sherman when he talked to the media following the firing of Moore. While discussing how the team could improve, he said that “for a team like ours, free agency tends not to be the path of choice.” Instead he talked a lot about being more data-driven, talking about teams like the Rays, Guardians, and Athletics as models of organizations that were winning despite playing in small markets, by making smart decisions. Those three teams were among the six lowest payrolls in baseball, all spending less than the Royals, yet the Rays and Guardians still made the playoffs.

The Royals have $32 million in contractual obligations next year, plus they will owe about $32 million if they tender all their arbitration-eligible players, although a few of those are expected to be non-tendered. The rest of the team should cost under $9 million, so the Royals will likely only spend around $73 million if they keep the roster as is, less than the $93 million they spent this year.

While some fans may be irked at the team not making a splash in free agency, it makes sense for where the Royals are in the success cycle. They have a team of young players that is at least a year away, if not more, from even being close to contention. They need to use the 2023 season as a way to determine who will be part of the next competitive Royals team and who will not be, and veteran free agents are not really part of that plan. Free agents do not make bad teams competitive - ask the Texas Rangers who won just 60 games in 2022 and spent half a billion dollars on Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, and Jon Gray, only to improve to 68 wins this year.

Instead, the Royals need to be disciplined and find young talent. That may mean taking on bad salaries in trades attached with prospects, something Picollo may be more willing to do, particularly if he has financial flexibility. But the Royals are not at the same point they were after the 2012 season, when they made the big gamble to land James Shields. This team still has too many questions in their lineup and their pitching staff to go out and make a big splash.

Picollo also talked a bit about the managerial process, saying that they are taking their time and are trying to narrow their list of candidates. He noted that some candidates have already had interviews with other teams, but the Royals had made sure to let any candidates know that they were interested, just not ready to move yet. Reports indicate Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol has interviewed for managerial job openings with the Marlins and White Sox and other candidates have begun the interview process as well.

Picollo indicated that the most important thing he is looking for in a manager, is someone who can communicate.

“I really believe that our search right now will lead us to somebody that is a good in-game matter what your strategies may be, the ability to communicate and collaborate with our staff and our players is really what we’re looking for. A strategy that is not communicated well doesn’t matter. But a poor strategy that is communicated well can work better.”


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