This offseason was already a solid 10 on the crazy meter. On Thursday, it surged all the way to 11.
Mike Moustakas’ deal has a $5.5M salary in 2018 with $2.2 million in performance bonuses. There is a mutual option for $15 million in 2019 with a $1 million buyout.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 9, 2018
Take a moment to unpack the lunacy of what we’re discussing here. Mike Moustakas earned $8.7 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility. It was his last stop before he was awash in the riches of free agency. (It was actually the second year of a two year deal he signed prior to the 2016 season.) His new contract will provide him $5.5 million guaranteed with an additional $2.2 million in performance bonuses. There also includes, wait for it… a mutual option for 2019. The option is for $15 million, but that’s not important or especially interesting. No, what piqued my interest was the buyout of $1 million. So one year after earning $8.7 million, should Moustakas hit all his bonuses he’ll stand to earn… $8.7 million.
What is happening?
This seems like the proper time to mention that Moustakas turned down the Royals’ qualifying offer valued at $17.4 million. No mulligans, please.
You can’t help but feel bad for Moustakas. Coming off what amounts to the second-best offensive season of his career and certainly his most powerful, he figured to score in free agency. The Royals were most certainly banking on him signing with another team so they could pocket a compensation pick in next summer’s draft. It was widely expected he would sign for north of $50 million, which would have netted the Royals a pick after the first round.
When the hot stove failed to ignite and as teams thought to be in the Moose market looked elsewhere, effectively shrinking his market, that pick looked precarious. As time passed, it looked more likely the Royals would settle for a pick after the Competitive Balance Round B, which takes place just prior to the third round. That’s where the compensation for free agents who received the qualifying offer and sign for less than $50 million lands. Having been given a qualifying offer, Moustakas is not eligible to receive a second one.
Whereas the Lucas Duda and Jon Jay signings didn’t impact a major league ready player already on the roster, the same can’t really be said about the deal to retain Moustakas. Cheslor Cuthbert was part of Ned Yost’s gang of 500, mentioned earlier this spring along with Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler as players the Royals were seeking to give 500 plate appearances. That seems awfully unlikely for Cuthbert at this point. However, he’s out of options. Same for Soler. Bonifacio has one remaining but looks to be a lock to make the club. It appears as though the Royals may have handcuffed themselves with this move if they are truly trying to find opportunity for Cuthbert. There’s certainly still a way to get him in the lineup, but it involves platooning at first with Duda and rotating amongst the DH candidates. We’ll see.
This also gives the Royals a bonafide trade chip. Duda and Jay are nice, complimentary players who, while they definitely improve the Royals roster, are not the kind of pieces contenders will shake the farm at to add to their team. Moustakas should be a different story. If he’s healthy (and fit), his affordable contract, power profile and, yes, his championship pedigree, could position him as one of the players in demand at the deadline. The Royals could stand to make out better from bringing Moustakas back in the longterm than if they pocketed a compensation pick.
The Royals now owe around $103.5 million in guaranteed money to 16 players. The additional nine who will fill out the roster will earn around $675,000 each as estimated by Cot’s Contracts. The actual amount will likely be lower, as the major league minimum salary is $545,000 for 2018. Let’s land in the middle at $600,000 on average for the remaining nine which comes to $5.4 million. That brings the payroll for the 25-man roster to around $108.9 million. Then don’t forget Travis Wood, Brandon Moss and Joakim Soria all of whom the Royals are paying not to play for them. Combined, that trio will collect $10.25 million from the Royals. That puts the Royals total payroll at just under $120 million. Quite an outlay for a team embarking on a rebuild.
About that. I’ll continue to cling to the idea this is still a team in transition, but another one-year signing doesn’t delay the rebuilding process in the least. You can bemoan about not playing “the youth” all you like, but that doesn’t change one important fact which is there’s simply not much talent in the upper reaches of the farm system. There may be a steady player or two yet to be uncovered, but there’s certainly not a transformative, impact talent that is necessary to elevate this team back into postseason conversation in the near future. Dayton Moore loathes the idea of tanking more than anything (except apparently, porn) and while he faces a major rebuild that will likely take four to five years, he’s still determined to wring every win he can out of his organization. Maybe that’s the wrong play, but there’s absolutely no guarantee losing today will mean winning tomorrow. He’s putting a respectable product on the field. That’s fine, because the focus is on developing the players from the 2017 draft class and cleaning up in the 2018 version. That’s how this team gets back to October. These one-year deals really do nothing to slow The Process 2.0.
Here’s the bottom line: Friday’s Royals roster is better than Thursday’s. And it’s much better than where it stood a month ago. For the grand total of $12 million guaranteed, the Royals added Moustakas, Duda and Jay. Combined, PECOTA projects them for 2.9 WARP. And no one on the roster was projected higher than Moustakas’s 1.3 WARP. And they’re all left-handed bats! Lineup balance achieved!
Still, it’s difficult or impossible to see contention from this team. The lineup is improved but pitching continues to be a weak link. (Oh, hey! There’s Ricky Nolasco!) The new additions can move the win needle in a positive direction, but there’s still no chance they compete for the postseason. They will, however, be interesting to watch. And as they embark on The Process 2.0, that’s all I ask.