Hot stove? Forget about it. Tepid stove is more like it these days.
Since teams are sitting around twiddling their collective free agent signing thumbs, we’re left to mark time by the mandated deadlines as they pertain to roster construction. Last week, it was adding players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 draft. (Wheeeeeeeee!) This week, it’s the deadline to tender arbitration eligible players contracts for the 2018 season.
A brief refresher (because, otherwise, this would be a really short post) on what this means. Teams must tender contracts to their arbitration eligible players by Friday at 7 PM, or they become free agents. Tendering a contract doesn’t mean team and player have agreed on any kind of deal. It’s merely the team signaling the intent they are willing to reach an agreement with said player. They’ll have a few weeks to hash out terms of a contract. If they don’t, they’ll exchange numbers for the purpose of heading to arbitration which is where things get really fun.
We’re a way off from that marker, though. And despite the lack of movement on the free agent front, his deadline still has the ability to be slightly entertaining.
The Royals have four players eligible for arbitration. Of those, Kelvin Herrera will cost the most to keep on the roster for 2018. Herrera was a Super Two, so this is his fourth and final year of being eligible for arbitration. (Although he basically skipped a year by signing a two-year deal ahead of the 2015 season.)
The algorithm at MLB Trade Rumors predicts a salary of $8.3 million for Herrera. That’s some kind of coin for a guy who plies his trade from the bullpen, but if that’s the actual mark for the right-hander he still wouldn’t be the highest paid reliever on the club (Hello, Joakim Soria at $9 million.) Despite his struggles last season – a career-worst 4.25 DRA, 1.35 WHIP and 0.5 WARP – his peripherals weren’t all-time awful. His 8.5 SO/9 and 3.0 BB/9 were respectable enough for a reliever. He’s probably miscast as a closer (we all remember he was removed from that role at the beginning of September), but has some potential value as a late inning reliever. That all makes his estimate feel a bit high. Arbitration favors the counting stats and his innings pitched and strikeouts were career lows. His home runs allowed was tied for a career high. Then there was that whole thing about not being able to hold the closer role.
The question facing the Royals is can Herrera recover to provide a little over $8 million in value? The bet here is, if we value one WARP at somewhere between $8 and $8.5 million, he can. Herrera averaged around 1.9 WARP in the five seasons prior to the last one, so it’s not difficult to see him as a bounce back candidate. Health permitting and provided he finds a cure for the extreme gopherballitis he was fighting last summer.
This isn’t really a difficult decision. Herrera will be tendered.
Moving on, Brandon Maurer is next in line. He made $1.9 million last year in his first season of arbitration eligibility. As documented, he struggled prior to his arrival in Kansas City and then took his struggles to another level with the Royals. Overall, he was worth -0.6 WARP. Still, he has a 96 mph fastball and features league average swing and miss rates. If the Royals can fix the control issues that plagued him at the end of last year – and the spike in home run rate – he has some intriguing upside.
MLB Trade Rumors predicts a contract in the neighborhood of $3.8 million. That’s a nice neighborhood. The upside and the relative low cost for a live bullpen arm make this an easy one as well. Maurer will be tendered.
Up next, we come to Nate Karns. You’ll remember Karns was acquired from Seattle for Jarrod Dyson. He was supposed to be a reliable back of the rotation starter, but those plans were derailed after only 45 innings when he hit the DL and ultimately underwent thoracic outlet surgery. Look, the Royals weren’t going to win the division with Karns in the rotation the entire year, so maybe if we squint hard enough we can find the silver lining that he should receive just a modest bump in pay as a first year arbitration eligible player. MLB Trade Rumors predicts a bump to $1.4 million for the starter.
The risk here, like with all pitchers, is injury. Aside from his season cut short last year, he’s topped just 150 innings once in a professional career that dates back to 2011. Still, the price is going to be right. Another slam dunk. Karns will be tendered.
Finally, we have reliever and local product Mike Morin, a late season waiver claim from the Angels. Morin found success a couple of years ago on the strength of a quality change-up. That pitch deserted him in 2016. Then, in 2017 his fastball and slider left him as well. And when you’re a reliever with three pitches that have gone missing, you’re left with… Nothing.
MLB Trade Rumors predicts a modest bump for Morin to $700,000. They also listed him as the Royals lone non-tender candidate. That’s possible, but unless the Royals think there just isn’t any way Morin is a major league pitcher, it’s difficult to see them cutting him loose when you figure a reliever making the league minimum would cost around $150,000 less that what he stands to earn next season. At the very least, he seems worth a flier to bring to spring training to see if anything changed over the winter, or if Cal Eldred can help him rediscover the magic of the change. He’s not as definite as the previous three mentioned, but from here it looks like he gets tendered.
Maybe that wasn’t as exciting an exercise as I thought. Somebody light the damn stove.