In rapid fire succession on Thursday, the Royals announced they had come to terms with their three players still on the roster eligible for arbitration. And just like that, the offseason became a little more drab.
Not that there was much drama to be had anyway. All three: Cheslor Cuthbert, Brian Flynn and Jesse Hahn were projected to make between $1 million and $1.7 million. Once the club decided to tender contracts, the differences at the open of negotiations were always going to be easy to overcome.
As written in this space last week, the pitchers were obvious candidates for a contract, Cuthbert less so. By keeping the price below a million, the Royals leverage their meagre offseason war chest, so why not keep him around for another go? We already know what he brings to third base, but competition is healthy. At least that’s what I’m telling myself at this point of the winter.
By avoiding arbitration with their three remaining candidates, the Royals now have nine players under contract for the upcoming season at a total commitment of $72 million.
This is relevant because the Royals stated desire is for their Opening Day payroll to land somewhere in the $90 million neighborhood. That means they have around $18 million left in the kitty to divide among 16 players left to fill out the roster. Per the current CBA, we do know the major league minimum salary will be $555,000.
Let’s just cut the crap and state the obvious: There are going to be a lot of minimum wage earners on next year’s team.
Of course, that’s by design. It’s been written before and bears repeating that it just doesn’t make sense to throw good money at a bad baseball team. Yes, last year’s Royals team was all about bad baseball, never mind how you felt in September. There’s a decent chance they will improve, but really, it’s difficult to not have that good old dead cat bounce following a 104 loss season.
Whit Merrifield played for $24,500 over the league minimum last year and bumping his WARP from 2.5 in his sophomore season to 4.3 last year, should get some sort of reward. But let’s not get carried away. It would be decent of the Royals to reward their best player, but there are plenty of internal pressures from within MLB to keep the gift-giving to a minimum in the short term. The system is the system is the system. Maybe he earns around $600,000 next season.
So those free agent lists that go over 100 deep? If you’re aiming to guess as to who the Royals would bring in to fill out their roster, start in triple-digits and work your way down.
Meanwhile, the Royals chose not to tender four players prior to Friday’s deadline, making all four free agents. All four were expected to sign minor league deals and remain with the team.
The only surprising thing about Bubba Starling these days is when you remember he’s still playing baseball. The Royals added him to the 40-man roster in November of 2015 to keep him protected from that year’s Rule 5 draft. Since then, he’s amassed 800 plate appearances due to injury. It’s just not going to happen for the guy. Keep him around as an organizational guy at this point.
Jason Adam saw a handful of innings in Kansas City last summer and was a nice story as the local kid who makes good. Except he was underwhelming out of the bullpen. In 32 innings, he surrendered 30 hits, nine of which left the yard. His chase rate was average and he was able to miss bats on occasion. It’s just when contact was made, it was generally hard. On a team looking for bullpen help, it’s a bit of a surprise to me they would remove him from the roster, but it makes sense if they’re going to bring him back. Maybe he’s an adjustment or two away from being a cromulent bullpen piece.
He got a cup of coffee in 2017, but Andres Machado boarded the struggle bus at the opening of last season. After getting raked at Triple-A (9.72 ERA and 16 walks in 25 innings), he was demoted to Double-A. He found his footing there, but was still allowing far too many baserunners. He’s currently getting lit up in the Venezuela Winter League (5.27 ERA and 1.902 WHIP in 13.2 innings).
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the non-tender of Samir Duenez. The Venezuelan repeated Double-A last summer and improved offensively, hitting .282/.357/.463 in 80 games. He’s been in the organization since 2013 and has been on the 40-man since 2016. Just 22 years old last year, he could conceivably attract interest to another team on a minor league deal. But sometimes, you stick with the one who brought you to the dance. Besides, it’s not like he’s ready for the majors and the Royals are doing him wrong. They’re simply removing him from the 40-man where he’s occupying space that could be put to better use.
The moves leave the Royals with 36 on the 40-man, which gives them the flexibility to add a player or two via free agency (yeah, right) or, more likely, through this month’s Rule 5 draft. When you’re struggling to keep your team above the 100 loss level, it’s all a numbers game anyway.