The Royals signed Mike Minor as a starter with shoulder issues. He now approaches free agency as a reliever with a “proven” ability to close games. I think it’s safe to say the Royals didn’t get what they expected from him on his two-year deal but they probably got more value than they were banking on. With a $10 million mutual option and a $1.5 million buyout that’s all but certain to be declined by at least one side, they now have a decision to make.
Relievers are becoming more and more valuable every season, and the postseason only works to highlight that. Because of that, last offseason was a record year for how much money was allotted to relievers. Mark Melancon, for example, broke the record for the largest deal ever given to a reliever, and within a month, he was third on the list. Now, Minor isn’t Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen or even Melancon, but he put together a very good season that should get him paid handsomely in free agency, especially given the way he finished the year.
For those who don’t remember, Minor pitched in 65 games, threw 77.2 innings and posted a 2.55 ERA. On the surface, it looks good. Beneath the surface, it still looks good, which is always the question with relievers. He struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings. He walked just 2.5. He gave up only five home runs in a time when middle infielders without great power were putting up four-home run games. He kept runners off base and runs off the board. His DRA was a very, very good 2.86. He was a monster against lefties, but held righties to a .223/.281/.383 line, so he can be used against everyone.
So what kind of contract can he expect? Let’s take a look at some other relievers who signed contracts last season.
|$7 million, $1 million buyout
|$6 million, $1 million buyout
|$7 million, $1 million buyout
|Travis Wood (sorry)
|$8 million, $1.5 million buyout
The vibe I get here is that the general cost for a good reliever is somewhere between $5 million per year and $8 million per year. Let’s add in a little inflation and say it goes up to $9 million. Minor had a better year than all of those listed above, but obviously hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2014. No matter how good he was last year, there is a little concern about that. The name I want to look at from the list above is Brett Cecil because I think that’s a good general feeling for what Minor could get. While Cecil struggled at times in his first year with the Cardinals, he could be a pretty good comp.
From 2013 to 2015, Cecil pitched in 189 games spanning 168.1 innings and posted a 2.67 ERA with 11.5 strikeouts per nine and 3.4 walks. He was legitimately excellent. And he even saved a few games in that time, just like Minor at the end of last season. He fell off a bit in 2016, but was much better after he returned from an injury in late June before signing his deal with the Cardinals. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out great for them just yet, but that’s sort of the framework.
Another name to look at, given the time off is a former Royal in Ryan Madson. As you remember, Madson was excellent for the Royals in 2015 with a 2.13 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts per nine, 2.0 walks per nine and a 2.74 DRA. That sounds pretty familiar to me. Madson signed a deal for three years and $22 million with the A’s prior to the 2016 season, so that’s also pretty well in line with what the relievers listed above are getting.
So basically what I’ve established here is a fair deal for Minor given his success in 2017 and track record of past signings is that I think he can expect a deal for three years or so worth somewhere between $20 million and $27 million.
With that knowledge, I’ll finally get to my conclusion. The Royals should give it to him if they choose not to continue to try and compete. Is that a lot of money for a reliever on an 80-win team? Sure it is. But given the price of relief pitching, it’s the going rate and should theoretically give them a nice trade chip over the next couple seasons if he pitches as well as most believe he can and the Royals don’t live up to what they hope they can be.
When you look at the 2018 bullpen with Minor involved, you see a very good mix of lefties and righties including Kelvin Herrera, Scott Alexander, Joakim Soria and Ryan Buchter (remember, he was the good Padre). With Minor in the ninth, the bullpen seems to fall much better into place than it did at any point prior to his move to the closer’s role very late in the season. Add in Kevin McCarthy and maybe even Brandon Maurer as your sixth and seventh options, and suddenly, the bullpen looks like a strength once again.
As I’ve said all along, I think “going for it” is the wrong move for the Royals, but if they’re going to make moves with eyes on competing, they need to find a way to retain Minor to help bring the bullpen back to something even resembling what we’d grown accustomed to in Kansas City. It’s how you win in baseball these days.