As you’ve probably heard by now, the Royals are facing an uncertain future when, after the 2017 season, much of the core that has brought winning baseball back to Kansas City will be up for free agency. I don’t have to remind you of the names, but I will anyway.
That’s nine players who have played a role over the last few years and/or are expected to play a large role in the 2017 season. Some you’ll look at and have no problem waving goodbye to while others might be a little more difficult.
Basically the Royals can go one of three ways with this group. They can work to select the two or three who are most deserving of long-term contracts and get those players locked up. They can try to lock up all of them and compete with the big boys for the highest payrolls in baseball. Or they can let them all go and hope to replace them with younger, cheaper talent.
Obviously they’re not going to sign everyone. Based on asking price, I think these nine players could command more than $350 million in total contracts. That’s too much for that group. Most of the players listed above will likely be overpaid if they reach free agency. That’s just the game that free agency is.
The other two options are much more feasible. I really don’t believe, though, that they’ll let all these players go. For one, they already have at least $43 million or so locked up in 2018 contracts with Alex Gordon, Joakim Soria, Yordano Ventura and Salvador Perez. If Ian Kennedy doesn’t opt out, that’s another $16 million locked into five veterans who could be part of another competitive core. And for another, I don’t believe this organization is interested in tanking even if it’s what might be the smartest play for the long-term.
A big reason for that is the television deal that will be up following the 2019 season. If the Royals want to sign a deal that can increase revenue to the point where it makes a difference, I think they have to remain relatively competitive. They don’t have to win a title every year, but .500+ baseball and a playoff appearance here and there goes a long way. If the Royals dismantle after the 2017 season, I think there’s at least a chance that they become unattractive enough that their television dollars dwindle.
So that leaves us with the option of picking out two or three players who should get an extension to stick with the club beyond the 2017 season. To begin, let’s throw out Young. He’s not getting another contract with the Royals, and on the off chance he does, it won’t even be worth mentioning. I also kind of doubt Vargas is with the team following the 2017 season, but if he pitches well, there might be worse things than having a veteran lefty on what should be a relatively affordable deal.
In order of most likely to be with the Royals following 2017, I have them listed as follows:
Let’s be real. Duffy is number one with a bullet. I wouldn’t be surprised if a deal with him is announced before Thanksgiving. As for the rest, you can quibble with Hosmer and Cain maybe being flipped, but I don’t think the Royals have interest in paying Cain what he can likely get on the open market given his relatively light track record and injury history. Hosmer will likely ask for more than he’s worth and will probably get at least close to it. If either wants to give the Royals a discount in both years and money, they’d both rise up the list, but I think that’s a laughable thought at best.
Another player who I think has a shot at an extension is Kelvin Herrera, the heir apparent at closer. Why I’m including him will be important here.
If the Royals want to keep a few of these players long-term, the time is now. Duffy, Moustakas, Dyson and Herrera are expected to make around $24.7 million in 2017. That’s using the arbitration estimates from MLB Trade Rumors for Duffy, Dyson and Herrera, and Moustakas has a deal in place already for $8.7 million. If the Royals can get an extension in place with these players, they can backload the deal to make their contracts far less expensive for the 2017 season.
For example, Danny Duffy is estimated to earn $8.2 million through arbitration, but if the Royals could sign him to a deal for something around five years and $48 million, they could backload the deal to pay him just $4 million in 2017. After that, they could pay him $8 million, $10 million, $11 million and $13 million with an option for something like $15 million and a $2 million buyout.
A four-year deal for Moustakas could be worth a $52 million to match Chase Headley’s deal with the Yankees. If you pay him $5 million in 2017 and spread the rest out over the next three years and the Dayton Moore Special Mutual Option, that helps out a lot too.
And with Dyson, a contract could look like three years and $12 million. Make it just $1.5 million in 2017 and spread the rest out.
On the Herrera deal, The Royals could do something like four years and $28 million. Give him $4 million in 2017 and then spread the other $24 million out however fit.
The total values and the way they’re spread out isn’t that important, but looking at the 2017 money, that quartet has gone from earning $24.7 million in 2017 to just $14.5 million. Moore had talked about maybe needing to cut payroll, well this would be the way to do it in order to win in 2017. By doing this, though, the extra $10 million could be reinvested into the team by either taking on a bigger contract in the last year or two of a deal or by hitting the free agent market.
That could be the money needed to go out and re-sign Kendrys Morales or pick up Neil Walker or even Dexter Fowler (can you tell I think the Royals really need a switch hitter?).
And it provides another benefit. The Royals exit 2017 without looking at a massive rebuild. They’d have a solid nucleus in place with Gordon, Perez and Moustakas on offense and Duffy, Ventura and maybe Kennedy in the rotation and Herrera anchoring the bullpen. That’s something you can build on.
The hot stove is about to get rolling, so we’ll find out how the Royals handle it soon enough.