clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 2024 Royals roster looks immensely better, but what about beyond?

After 2024, many of the recent free agent deals include opt-outs.

Miami Marlins v San Diego Padres Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

Let’s get it out of the way early: the 2024 Kansas City Royals — as the roster stands right now — aren’t likely to make the playoffs. The recent flurry of free-agent additions has sparked the fanbase in ways we haven’t seen in quite some time. Fans are optimistic and whispers of competing as early as next season have already begun. While the roster is vastly improved, I don’t believe it’s good enough right now to make a run at the playoffs. The possibility is certainly there though. Six weeks ago, the notion that the Royals would compete for the division would’ve been laughable. The fact that it is even in the realm of outcomes now is a testament to an incredible job done by general manager J.J. Picollo.

Many of the team’s free-agent deals have included player options. The three-year Seth Lugo contract included a player option for year three. Friday’s Michael Wacha signing featured a two-year contract with a player option for year two, as did Hunter Renfroe’s two-year, $13 million pact. Rewind a few signings and you’ll find that reliever Chris Stratton’s deal included the same player option after the first year of his deal. The front office has spent more than $100 million this offseason but many of those dollars may never be paid out due to the aforementioned player options. Still, the team has added $47 million to the 2024 payroll alone in a clear attempt to play more competitive baseball next season.

The focus on “now” is a welcome development from a team that has been mired in disappointing results for the better part of a decade. Has that focus on the now impacted the Royals' ability to compete beyond 2024? If enough of these player options are declined, Kansas City could very well enter next offseason looking similar to how they entered this one.

What are the Royals’ recent contracts saying about 2025 and beyond?

That is one way to look at the recent signings by Kansas City. They’ve put a band-aid on the 2024 season that they’ll have to then turn around and fix again in 2025. That strategy could still work, assuming the team is willing to spend again next offseason to reshape their 2025 roster. I’m not quite sure that’s the way to look at these deals, however. Michael Wacha and Chris Stratton both have player options for the 2025 season. It adds value to their contracts should they be traded at the 2024 trade deadline. If Kansas City isn’t quite competing where they expected in July, Wacha’s player option could be a value boost if the team acquiring him is convinced he will opt-in to his final year if pitching for their organization.

There’s an easy out on the dollars spent if the Royals don’t compete next season. They can easily reclaim some of that value by trading their newfound talent for prospects. Assuming Stratton and Wacha pitch anywhere near last season’s results, they should be hot commodities on the trade market. That alone is another nice side-effect of spending money on the major league roster. Kansas City’s 40-man roster has quickly gone from two or three tradeable assets with value to now a handful of tradeable assets with value. The positive impacts go far deeper than that.

Think back to a Royals organization without Seth Lugo, Hunter Renfroe, or Michael Wacha. At the same time, think back to the circumstances that led to young arms like Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch IV, and others being thrust directly into a major league starting role. Many of those young arms were forced into less-than-ideal situations because of a lack of depth. Valuable innings of development in the minors were sacrificed because the big-league club simply didn’t have other options. That sacrifice had far-reaching consequences. Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Jonathan Heasley, and [enter whatever other recent Royals rookie] never found consistency in the Major Leagues. They had no true identity upon making their MLB debut and have yet to find one.

The new-look Royals aim to avoid the mistakes of the past

Without more starting pitcher depth, the Royals were poised to repeat the mistakes of the past just a few years later. The starting rotation was dangerously thin last season. Entering 2024 without any substantial additions, it would’ve been thin once again. Upcoming young arms such as Andrew Hoffmann, Mason Barnett, and Chandler Champlain were on track to find themselves in very similar circumstances as that 2018 class of pitchers. Now, instead of being promoted out of pure necessity, the organization can take its time with the next wave of arms to ensure they’re truly ready to go when the time comes.

Instead of forcing young starters into the big league rotation, many of these top prospects can make their debut in the bullpen. They can ease their way into the major league talent pool. As they get comfortable and confident against the highest level of competition, they can stretch out over multiple innings of relief. Then, once the time comes, they’ll be much more prepared for their shot at the rotation. When that time comes should be different for each young arm. Mason Barnett — 2023’s Paul Splittorff Pitcher of the Year Award Winner — could be ready for a crack at the big league rotation to open the 2025 season. Come that time, perhaps Michael Wacha has chosen to opt out of his 2025 option and Barnett can slide right into that role.

Perhaps Andrew Hoffmann will open his 2024 season in Omaha with a bang. He finished last season in Omaha with mixed results but looked to be making large strides in his development. If Hoffmann starts strong and then gets a crack at the big league bullpen in May, maybe he’ll be ready to take a rotation spot by July. It’s all hypothetical, but in that scenario, the Royals could cash in on Wacha’s value at the trade deadline, opening a spot for a younger arm that factors more into their future.

The recent signings make the 2024 roster substantially better. Just as important, they have created a bridge to the next wave of talent. The Royals can allow their young arms to develop at a realistic pace. They can take their time with Noah Cameron, David Sandlin, and others to ensure they hit the ground running when the time comes. That alone makes every dollar spent in free agency worth it, no matter how many games they win next season. The 2024 season will be better due to the talent on the 26-man roster, but the future beyond looks all that much brighter as well.