Spring training is just a few weeks ago, but many top free agents remain unsigned. The contracts signed after the start of January are typically far less than the amount observers expect, as players settle for less money in the hopes of getting into camp in time. This could provide terrific value for teams that still have some money left in the budget to spend.
Could the Royals be that team? The team finally has a ballot measure to put before voters for a new stadium - a splurge on a big name could have a bigger impact than any campaign ad. David Lesky at Inside the Crown has heard “rumblings” the Royals might have “something big up their sleeve.” With the rest of the Central Division teams largely standing pat this off-season, another big move could really catapult the Royals into contention in a weak division.
Who are some players they could consider?
Cody Bellinger is a bit of a dream scenario, as there does seem to be a good deal of interest in the 28-year-old, just not at the $200 million number he is asking for. Bellinger in was non-tendered in 2022 after two disastrous seasons, but rebounded quite nicely with the Cubs, hitting .307/.355/.525 with 26 home runs, and earning a Silver Slugger Award. He would be a nice bat at the top of the lineup and could patrol centerfield instead of Kyle Isbel or Drew Waters. Bellinger declined a Qualifying Offer, meaning the Royals would have to forfeit a second round pick to sign him, but a one-year contract or a multi-year deal with an opt out after one year like the one Carlos Correa originally received in Minnesota could make some sense.
Matt Chapman is the name Lesky has heard come up the most, and he would make a lot of sense for a team like the Royals. He is a terrific defender, coming off his fourth Gold Glove season. He is not terribly old, celebrating his 31st birthday this April. He has big power, with four 24+ home run seasons (plus 10 home runs in 37 games in the shortened 2020 season). On the flip side, his home run total fell to 17 last year, and he’s a low average hitter who strikes out a lot. Like Bellinger, Chapman declined a Qualifying Offer.
Whit Merrifield may have burned his bridges in Kansas City, but as a player he actually makes a fair amount of sense. The Royals are looking for positional versality (albeit a left-handed hitter), and Merrifield could spell Michael Massey at second against tough lefties and play center as well. Whit was an All-Star last year, but his numbers are clearly in decline, he has had an OPS+ below 100 in each of the last three seasons. Still, he provides speed and he shouldn’t warrant more than a one- or two-year deal.
Justin Turner is mostly at DH this year, a slot that will likely be filled by Nelson Velázquez and/or MJ Melendez. But those players can also slot in the outfield at times, and Turner can be a right-handed bat at first to allow Vinnie Pasquantino to sit against lefties, or fill in at third, with Garcia moving to second, or even fill in at second base himself. There are questions of how much the 39-year old has left in the tank, but he hit 23 home runs with a .345 on-base percentage last year.
Gio Urshela, like Chapman, is a terrific defender at third with a right-handed bat. Urshela has far less power, but a much higher average and could thrive in Kauffman Stadium with his high contact approach - he struck out just 15.7 percent of the time last year.
Others: Adam Duvall, J.D. Martinez, Tommy Pham, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler
The starting pitchers
Trevor Bauer is available, so we should at least talk about him. The 33-year-old was one of the best pitchers in baseball in his prime, and won a Cy Young Award as recently as 2020. But he didn’t pitch at all in 2022 and spent last year in Japan due to allegations from two women that he assaulted them. He settled with one, but still faces a lawsuit from an Arizona woman that accused him of sexual assault. The Royals simply can’t afford bad publicity right now, so don’t expect a Bauer signing.
Mike Clevinger could prove to be an upgrade over Jordan Lyles, who stands to be the fifth starter as things stand. The 33-year-old has battled injuries, but made 24 starts last year with a a.377 ERA. His strikeout rate is way down from his prime, but he was still fairly effective. He also faced domestic abuse allegations, but was not punished by MLB after voluntarily agreeing to submit to evaluations.
Jordan Montgomery seems most likely to return to Texas, but he remains unsigned with just a few weeks until spring training. He had his best season last year with a 3.20 ERA in a career-high 188 2/3 innings, earning a ring with the Rangers. Many big market teams are pursuing the lefty, so he shouldn’t have a shortage of offers, and is likely out of reach for the Royals.
Blake Snell is coming off his second Cy Young seasons, so you wouldn’t expect him to be unsigned in the third week of January. But he comes with some injury risk and had a big spike in his walk rate, leading the league with 99 free passes. He reportedly is looking for $200 million, an asking price that may be scaring teams away. With his injury past and the kind of season he just had, he really needs to cash in now, so a short-term deal seems unlikely. Snell also declined a Qualifying Offer and would require forfeiture of a draft pick.
Julio Urías led the league in ERA in 2022, but struggled last year and was arrested on September 3 when he was witnessed getting into a physical altercation with his wife. He was placed on administrative leave the rest of the season and could be subject to a suspension this year. The 27-year old lefty is talented, but this could potentially be his second suspension under the domestic abuse policy, and his career is in doubt.
Others: Michael Lorenzen, Hyun Jin Ryu, Brandon Woodruff