The Free Agent Market And The Royals


This is uncharted territory. Of at least the last two seasons. What to do, what to do. We are officially in the Royals news cycle where Sluggerrrr being up for something called the Mascot Hall of Fame qualifies as notable.

The World Series is set and starts sometime this week, I would assume. It’s difficult to pay attention when you’re not invested as a fan. When you are cancelling long-set plans so you can drop several hundred dollars┬áto attend a baseball game, perspective gets kind of warped. This fall, you actually keep up with the leaves falling on the lawn and maybe watch a little more Premier League soccer than you did in the last couple of Octobers.

Baseball has done itself no favors by jettisoning the networks for cable. I didn’t catch much, but the TBS broadcasts were awful. The FS1 games are better from a pure television standpoint, but there are still days when I have to be reminded that channel actually exists. This is baseball’s 21st century conundrum. They have increased the size of the playoffs such that they have an enormous October inventory. The converse is that no single network wants to surrender that much airtime for something that doesn’t attract a wide national audience. For some reason, six-hour college football games are more attractive. Sure, there will be series like the upcoming one where there is a brilliant narrative and a team with a beleaguered national following like the Cubs. Except that’s far too infrequent to sell to the power brokers that program the nets. So when there’s cool League Championship baseball, it’s relegated to a channel people don’t even know they have.

(And let’s be fair. When you’re changing channels, searching for FS1, sometimes you stumble across whatever home they’re making over or selling on HGTV and can you believe the wallpaper? It’s easy to get sidetracked.)

Do you remember Dayton’s past October Surprises? For a couple of years, he always seemed to strike the first move, sometimes coming almost immediately after the final out of the World Series. Mike Jacobs in 2008 is an example. These early moves were always something of a head-scratcher. On one hand, it was understandable that Moore would try to get out in front, take advantage of the inertia of October, and make an early move. On the other hand, Mike Jacobs? Sometimes it makes sense to let the market kind of take shape before you jump into the shallow end of the pool, head first.

This free agent market figures to be one of the more bizarre in recent memory. I know the Royals allegedly aren’t in the market. Alas, Moore tends to make that argument every year. Now when they roll that line out in October or November of 2017, maybe I’ll buy that. This winter? Perhaps. But not really. Not yet, at least.

Here’s the issue: The class of 2016 free agent cupboard is bare. Look at the starting pitchers. There are two guys who are hitting the market after earning more than $20 million last year: CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver. How happy are the Angels right about now? When the top pitching names are Ivan Nova, Rich Hill, and Jeremy Hellickson, you are looking at a starting pitching market that could charitably be described as “bleak.”

The market for bats isn’t much better. There are certainly intriguing names like Josh Reddick or Carlos Beltran. Each will be getting different deals representative of the current stages of their career. You also have the thunder like Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Mark Trumbo. These guys were never on Moore’s free agent radar and with good reason.

Here’s what we know about the free agent market: While it may be devoid of marquee names, teams have money to spend. And spend money, they will. Nobody is going to look at the list of free agents and decide not to play the game. Baseball budgets don’t work like that. You don’t pocket cash today to spend tomorrow. No, you spend today and you spend tomorrow.

Free agency has always been a foolish game. You’re spending on past performance and hoping like hell the player you’re buying can somehow hold on to his prime for just a few more seasons. Moore from his early days as general manager recognized this was not a way a team like the Royals could build. Yes, Gil Meche cost a lot of cash, but he was the youngest free agent starting pitcher in that particular market and his peripherals indicated there was still some upside to be found. Omar Infante on the other hand? The Royals are paying him to not be in Kansas City. Wouldn’t you like to have that $8 million back in the coffers? Sometimes the lure is too great as to resist. Even though you know you should.

How does this year’s free agent market impact the Royals? It’s far too early to tell, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Moore and company find a platoon bat for the outfield or maybe another bullpen arm in what passes for the bargain bin. But most of the action will take place centered around other teams. And this year, more than others, that will be okay.

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