The 2017 Winter Meetings will take place in Orlando in two weeks, but that doesn’t mean action can’t start up a little bit on the hot stove. We’ve already seen one move with the Rangers agreeing to a deal with Doug Fister, which could break the seal on the action around baseball prior to the meetings starting. Unfortunately, the Royals have put themselves (at least publicly) in a position where they’re in a bit of a holding pattern. By basing their plans on whether or not they can bring back Eric Hosmer, they’re leaving themselves open to the market on some players who could really help them passing them by.
So I don’t think you’ll see them looking at free agents to cover first base like Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Yonder Alonso or Adam Lind. If the Royals aren’t comfortable leaving that position to some combination of Hunter Dozier, Brandon Moss and Cheslor Cuthbert, I hope that doesn’t come back to bite them. What I do think you’ll see is the Royals dabbling in the relief market over the next couple weeks. I think you’ll see activity, at least in terms of discussion, on both additions and subtractions.
I believe the Royals will discuss deals for their two highest paid relievers, Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria, early, which makes a lot of sense. As free agency is in the early stages of this season, these relievers on the open market are still in the high demand phase of their search. The Royals would be wise to offer up Soria and Herrera as a much cheaper, much shorter investment alternative. Both pitchers are signed for just one more season. Herrera is estimated to earn $8.3 million in arbitration while Soria will be paid $9 million (and has a $1 million buyout on his 2019 mutual option). The market for Bryan Shaw has been hot and heavy. I expect he’ll sign this week and that’s when the Royals should pounce.
I don’t think they’ll get a huge haul back for Soria, but I think many would be surprised what Herrera would return. It wasn’t very long ago that he was one of the best setup men in baseball. While relievers can lose it at seemingly a moment’s notice, some team will bet on Herrera and his upper-90s fastball finding what made him great for the majority of his big league career. This seems like a move Alex Anthopolous might like to make to help stabilize the Braves bullpen as he begins to put his mark on the team. Whoever acquires him isn’t giving up a top four or five prospect in all likelihood, but I think the Royals could find someone who will slot firmly in their weak top 10.
While many might believe the Royals shouldn’t waste their time and money on a free agent, I can’t imagine they just rely on what they have in house right now. I’ve already talked about bringing back Mike Minor, which I believe they’d really like to do if they can work something out. Some others to watch for include some really uninspiring names, but the Royals will likely be in search of the almighty veteran presence to help out a young group of relievers. There are plenty who could see a minor league deal, but Luke Gregerson, Tommy Hunter and Sergio Romo are three names to keep an eye on early in free agency.
The waiting game the Royals appear to be playing is almost certainly going to cause them problems in building their 2018 roster. It may very well be that Dayton Moore and Company have a bigger plan in place if they are able to retain Hosmer. Perhaps they’re banking on selling him on the years beyond 2018 rather than an immediate return to winning. And if that’s the case, I suppose I can understand that. The Royals have enough internally that they don’t need to make any additions and can use the 2018 season to evaluate what they need.
Once they’ve done that and lose, they’ll see about $36 million leave their payroll and find themselves one year closer to a new television deal. Maybe just maybe they could find themselves ready to play in the most star-studded free agent class in awhile. As I’ve talked about before, while they almost certainly can’t compete for the top tier free agents, they may be able to sneak in and fight for some second tier players they typically wouldn’t have a chance to sign. Just about every position goes at least three or four deep with legitimate starters in next year’s free agent class, so sure, I guess I could buy that.
Even if that’s the plan, I don’t think it’s a risk worth taking for this team because there are just too many variables that make that nearly impossible to truly plan for. But that’s where we are right now. In the interim, it appears the Royals will continue their quest to work on implementing multiple plans that run contradictory to each other. And that includes being in the market for veteran, non-descript relievers. So get excited because that’s our best hope for news any time soon.