Despite coming off a 97-loss season, their sixth consecutive losing season, the Royals aren’t expected to be too aggressive this off-season. J.J. Picollo has said the team will pursue a starting pitcher or two and some bullpen depth, possibly a right-handed bat as well. But the team is not expected to be players for major free agents, with Picollo saying “it may not be the right time to invest heavily in this team.”
Such is the life of a small market club. And while other fans may disagree, I tend to agree with this strategy for now - let your young kids develop, try to grab as much young talent as you can, and see where you are a year from now when hopefully you’re in a better position so that signing free agents will actually matter in the standings.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is another path. What if the Royals actually splurged this off-season?
I’m not talking about bringing in one or two free agent starting pitchers to “bridge the gap.” I’m talking about being an active player in the free agent market. It would be a tough sell - their cellar-dwelling status would mean overpaying for players (but hey, we have nice schools here!). But if the Royals are going to be involved in free agency, spending money on one or two veterans won’t make much of a difference. Go big, or go home.
“But the Royals don’t have the money!” Pish posh!
As things stand now, the Royals have a projected payroll of about $70 million. They have actually fielded a payroll as high as $145 million before, in 2017 when they cared about winning ballgames. Forbes estimated their revenues that year at $246 million, last spring they were estimated to be $263 million despite much lower attendance thanks to a larger national TV deal that includes expanded playoffs, new deals with streaming partners like Peacock and Apple+, revenues from patches on uniforms, and that doesn’t include the estimated $30 million each club will receive from the sale of BAMTech.
Now we don’t know what the books look like - it is quite possible the ownership group has accumulated debt as part of buying the team, and/or they could be saving money to contribute to the $2 billion ballpark district they are planning. But with about $65 million from national TV deals, around $50 million from their local TV deal, and around $60-70 million from revenue sharing, the Royals receive around $175 million in revenues before they ever sell a ticket.
So back to that $70 million projected payroll. Let’s say you’re not a fan of keeping Brad Keller, Adalberto Mondesi, and Ryan O’Hearn and could go back in time and cut them loose, and maybe trade Michael A. Taylor, that would bring it down to $55 million. If John Sherman wanted to spend like Big Spender David Glass, that’s $90 million that J.J. Picollo could add to the payroll.
The Royals could go for the high-end talent like the Rangers did last off-season, spending $500 million on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Jon Gray. But that didn’t move the needle much because their team was so bad. If you put all your eggs in one or two baskets and they get hurt, well you haven’t moved the needle. And the Royals have some needs. Let’s try to spread the money around a bit more efficiently.
Jameson Taillon is the strike-thrower the Royals need. Give him a fourth year that other teams won’t offer and sign him to a four-year, $72 million deal. Bring back Sean Manaea on a three-year, $39 million deal. While we’re bringing guys back, how about Matt Strahm, who wanted a chance to start? Have him begin as your fifth starter and if doesn’t work out, send him to the pen. He got two years, $15 million from the Phillies, maybe we give him the same deal and a spot in the rotation.
Add some bullpen depth with Matt Wisler on a two-year, $14 million deal and the versatile Pierce Johnson to a two-year, $12 million deal with some incentives. There are also opportunities in the trade market to pick up contracts other teams are looking to get rid of. Need a right-handed bat? What if the Royals had acquired Hunter Renfroe from the Brewers for three non-top 10 prospects instead of the Angels?
All of those moves added $59 million in payroll for 2023, bringing my imaginary total to $114 million. Plenty of room to make one big splash, so you know what? I’m going to take a seat at the big boy table. Xander Bogaerts. Third base. Eight years. $240 million. You want to show Bobby Witt Jr. you’re serious about winning? Put an All-Star next to him on the infield.
I’ve still managed to keep the payroll below what the Royals spent in 2017. The lineup would look something like this:
LF MJ Melendez
SS Bobby Witt Jr.
3B Xander Bogaerts
DH Vinnie Pasquantino
C Salvador Perez
1B Nick Pratto
RF Hunter Renfroe
2B Michael Massey
CF Drew Waters
With a rotation of Brady Singer, Jameson Taillion, Sean Manaea, Daniel Lynch and Matt Strahm and a bullpen of Scott Barlow, Dylan Coleman, Matt Wisler, Pierce Johnson, and Amir Garrett, does that get you a bit more excited about the season? Doesn’t it take the pressure off your young players? Doesn’t it show them the franchise is committed to winning games? Does it make you want to vote for a ballpark district?
Don’t like those choices? Hey, spend the money how you wish. It ain’t mine, and it ain’t real! But if the Royals are going to get involved in free agency, then go all out and improve the team, don’t tinker at the edges.