Baseball has a new champion (congrats to the Rangers!), and that means the off-season is officially underway. The Royals have a lot to do to improve a team that tied a club record with 106 losses, plus they will have to convince a skeptical public to give them funding for a new ballpark. General Manager J.J. Picollo has said the team will push forward and have “got to get better.”
Here is what you need to know about this year’s Royals off-season.
Which players become free agents?
As of today, players not under contract with at least six years of service time officially become Major League free agents, including three Royals - infielder Matt Duffy and pitchers Zack Greinke and Brad Keller. Greinke has not indicated whether or not he intends to pitch again in 2024 for a 21st season. The Royals seem likely to move on from Duffy, a veteran utility infielder, and Keller, who struggled to throw strikes and was out for much of the year due to injury.
This will be a relatively weak free agent class, although Shohei Ohtani will be an attractive prize at the top of the market. The 29-year-old underwent elbow surgery in September and will only hit in 2024, but the two-way star should command one of the largest contracts in baseball history. Other top free agents include third baseman Matt Chapman, outfielders Cody Bellinger, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernández, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler, and pitchers Sonny Gray, Josh Hader, Jordan Montgomery, Aaron Nola, and Blake Snell.
Outfielder Michael Conforto and pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez and Marcus Stroman can also become free agents if they opt out of their deals, which they are expected to do. Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto will also be an attractive free agent who could command as much as $200 million. You can see a complete list of free agents here.
The Qualifying Offer will be $20.325 million this year. Teams must make a Qualifying Offer by November 6, and it cannot be made to a player that did not spend the entire season with the club, a player that opted out of his deal, or a player that negotiated it out of his contract (like Gurriel). Players must accept or reject the offer by November 14. If the Royals sign a player that rejected a Qualifying Offer, they would forfeit their third-highest selection, which for the Royals would be their second round pick (after their first round pick and their competitive balance round A pick).
Who could be non-tendered by the Royals?
The Royals were set to have eight arbitration-eligible players, but they cut ties with Taylor Hearn last week. That leaves decisions to tender contracts to Kris Bubic, Taylor Clarke, Carlos Hernández, Edward Olivares, Brady Singer, Josh Staumont, and Josh Taylor. Injuries to Bubic, Staumont, and Taylor, and ineffectiveness by Clarke make them all candidates to be non-tendered. Edward Olivares could also be an interesting decision as his offense has not been enough to carry his poor defense and baserunning. You can see what MLB Trade Rumors projects each player to get through the arbitration process. The team has until November 17 to tender each player a contract and negotiate a new salary, or non-tender the player, making them a free agent.
Which players must be added to the 40-man roster?
Players must be added to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft by November 14. Players are eligible for the draft after four seasons in the minors if they signed at age 19 or later, or after five seasons if they signed younger than age 19. After some roster shuffling and the free agency of three players, the Royals currently have 33 players on their 40-man roster, but will need to activate eight players from the 60-day Injured List by November 6 - catcher Freddy Fermin, first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, and pitchers Kris Bubic, Jake Brentz, Austin Cox, Daniel Lynch IV, Josh Staumont, and Josh Taylor.
The Royals will have to decide who to add to the roster, with outfielder Tyler Gentry and pitchers Christian Chamberlain and Will Klein the most likely to be added. The Rule 5 draft will be held on the final day of the Winter Meetings, on December 6.
What will the Royals do this off-season?
Picollo has stressed improving the pitching staff, saying they will move on from pitchers who are not ready to contribute. His 2024 rotation will feature Cole Ragans, Brady Singer, and Jordan Lyles, with two more spots to be filled. The bullpen will also likely be overhauled after finishing with the second-worst ERA in baseball. Picollo also suggested adding a bat to the outfield, but seemed satisfied with the infield and liked how the offense came on in the last two months of the season.
As far as how much the Royals will spend, Picollo didn’t indicate a number, although he noted that $30 million is coming off the payroll next year. The Royals are currently projected to have a payroll around $66 million with the players they have. Picollo has hinted at making more trades, and there were reports this summer they had discussions with teams about moving Salvador Perez to a contender, with a recent report indicating the White Sox are considering trying to land the All-Star catcher.
What are some dates to know?
November 6 - Deadline for clubs to make Qualifying Offers, free agents can begin signing with other clubs, most options and opt-out decisions must be made
November 7-9 - General Manager meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona
November 14 - Last day to add players to the 40-man roster for the Rule 5 draft, deadline for free agents to accept or reject Qualifying Offers
November 14-16 - Owner’s meetings in Arlington, Texas. Owners will vote on whether to allow the Athletics to relocate to Las Vegas at that meeting, with approval from 22 of the other 29 owners needed.
November 17 - Last day to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players
December 1 - Competitive balance picks are awarded. The Royals will be in Round A this year.
December 3-6 - Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee
December 5 - The 2024 draft lottery is held. The Royals are tied with the A’s and Rockies for best odds for the #1 pick with an 18.3 percent chance and can pick no lower than the #8 pick.
December 6 - The Rule 5 draft is held
December 15 - The international signing period ends
January 12 - Arbitration-eligible players exchange salary figures with clubs
January 15 - International signing period begins
January 24 - Hall of Fame inductees announced
January 29 - February 16 - Arbitration hearings are held. The Royals won their only case last year, defeating Brady Singer.
Mid-February - Players report to spring training in Surprise, Arizona
February 23 - First spring training game against the Texas Rangers
March 28 - Royals regular season opener at home against the Minnesota Twins