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A look at the Royals’ payroll picture in 2024 and beyond

What does all this spending mean for the future?

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Royals - yes, your Kansas City Royals - have been one of the biggest spending teams this off-season. They have spent more on free agents than the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Angels, and Cubs combined.

The moves have significantly upgraded the roster, and took a payroll that was projected to be around $66 million next year, and brought it to over $100 million, according to Cot’s Contracts, higher than nine other clubs.

The Royals now have ten players under contract for next year - Salvador Perez, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Jordan Lyles, Hunter Renfroe, Chris Stratton, Garrett Hampson, Josh Taylor, and Jake Brentz. The newer contracts have some flexibility - Wacha, Renfroe, and Stratton each have a player option for 2025, and Lugo has a player option for 2026.

Taylor signed last month, and although arbitration-eligible players like him once had non-guaranteed contracts, that provision has changed with the new labor deal and his deal is now guaranteed. Brentz also signed a guaranteed deal, a two-year contract last year so he could rehab from Tommy John surgery with the hopes of returning this year.

The Royals still have five unsigned players eligible for arbitration this off-season - Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Nick Anderson, Kyle Wright, and Carlos Hernández. Next off-season, three more players will likely become arbitration-eligible - Bobby Witt Jr, Kyle Isbel, and Daniel Lynch IV. The year after that, up to six more players could become arbitration-eligible - Cole Ragans, Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez, Michael Massey, Drew Waters, and Nelson Velazquez.

I tried to give my best estimates as to what the next few payrolls could look like with the current roster. To estimate salaries for players under arbitration, I used the general rule that players get 30 percent of market value in their first year, 50 percent in their second year, and 70 percent in the third year (and if they get a fourth year, I estimated 80 percent of market value). The following table shows payroll for the next few seasons with numbers in bold showing guaranteed contracts and numbers in italics showing salary estimates.

Royals estimated payrolls 2024-27

Player 2024 2025 2026 2027
Player 2024 2025 2026 2027
Salvador Perez $20,000,000 $20,000,000 $2,000,000 Free agent
Michael Wacha $16,000,000 $16,000,000 Free agent
Seth Lugo $15,000,000 $15,000,000 $15,000,000 Free agent
Jordan Lyles $8,500,000 Free agent
Hunter Renfroe $5,500,000 $7,500,000 Free agent
Brady Singer $5,250,000 $8,750,000 $12,250,000 Free agent
Will Smith $5,000,000 Free agent
Chris Stratton $3,500,000 $4,500,000 Free agent
Kris Bubic $2,300,000 $3,833,333 $5,366,667 Free agent
Garrett Hampson $2,000,000 Free agent
Nick Anderson $1,750,000 $3,500,000 Free agent
Kyle Wright $1,300,000 $2,500,000 $6,000,000 Free agent
Carlos Hernandez $1,200,000 $2,000,000 $2,800,000 $3,500,000
Josh Taylor $1,100,000 $1,700,000 Free agent
Jake Brentz $1,050,000 $1,750,000 $2,450,000 Free agent
Daniel Lynch IV $760,000 $1,200,000 $2,000,000 $2,800,000
Kyle Isbel $760,000 $1,400,000 $2,300,000 $3,000,000
Bobby Witt Jr. $760,000 $10,500,000 $17,500,000 $24,500,000
MJ Melendez $750,000 $760,000 $2,400,000 $4,000,000
Vinnie Pasquantino $750,000 $760,000 $4,200,000 $7,000,000
Michael Massey $750,000 $760,000 $1,800,000 $3,000,000
Drew Waters $750,000 $760,000 $1,200,000 $2,000,000
Cole Ragans $750,000 $760,000 $4,500,000 $7,500,000
Nelson Velazquez $750,000 $760,000 $2,700,000 $4,500,000
Maikel Garcia $745,000 $760,000 $770,000 $3,000,000
Freddy Fermin $745,000 $760,000 $770,000 $1,000,000
James McArthur $745,000 $760,000 $770,000 $1,200,000
Pre-arb player $740,000 $740,000 $740,000 $740,000
Pre-arb player $740,000 $740,000 $740,000 $740,000
Pre-arb player $740,000 $740,000 $740,000 $740,000
Pre-arb player $740,000 $740,000 $740,000 $740,000
Hunter Dozier $9,250,000
Total $110,675,000 $109,933,333 $89,736,667 $69,960,000

Obviously the salaries for arbitration-eligible players can vary wildly from these numbers based on performance and health. For example, the numbers for Bubic, Wright, and Anderson could go up significantly once they establish they are healthy. Players like Cole Ragans and Nelson Velazquez could also get paid much more if they prove last year’s performance was no fluke.

Also, the payroll figures would go down if the players the Royals signed as free agents this year end up opting out in future years. Hopefully Michael Wacha has a fantastic year, but if he does, he could very well end up leaving the Royals in 2025 and they never pay that $16 million player option. There are also various incentives for different players that could end up adding some money.

By these estimates, the Royals already project to have a $100+ million for 2024, although again, that is contingent on some players not opting out. Beyond that year, the Royals would really only have the $13.5 million club option on Salvador Perez that has a $2 million buyout, and the $15 million player option on Lugo. But by then they’ll have to pay serious money to guys like Brady Singer and Vinnie Pasquantino, and looming over all of that is the potential salary of Bobby Witt Jr., which could be the highest ever in club history, despite his status as an arbitration-eligible player. All of that could mean a payroll near $100 million before adding pieces to replace departing free agents.

Will ownership commit to multiple years of spending? John Sherman has talked about winning on a “sustainable basis.” That does not necessarily mean skimping on payroll, although it would require management to be “transactional” and make trades that hurt. Or maybe ownership does dedicate the team to a higher level of spending in anticipation of greater revenues once they move into a new ballpark. Maybe this year was the last club in Royals history to have an Opening Day payroll under $100 million.

The moves this year may or may not work out, but if anything else they have given Royals fans hope. And perhaps that is one lesson for ownership to take away from this month’s spending spree.