One run and done? Royals have tough choices in coming offseason
The 2014 World Series is in the books, and while the champagne and tears are still drying, it's worth a quick look at what comes next for the two teams, whose virtues and foibles we've become so familiar with over the past month. Earlier today I took a quick look at the Giants, so it's time to turn to the Royals, who are in uncharted territory when it comes to keeping a successful core together.
Tasked with doing so will be general manager Dayton Moore, whose blueprint for rebuilding the Royals, though slow to be fully realized, has produced the franchise's first back-to-back winning seasons since 1988-89. He won't be heading back to Atlanta, where he spent more than a decade in scouting and player development before being hired by the Royals in mid-2006, and where the Braves still have a GM opening. What remains to be seen is how much money he'll have to work with in K.C.; the team's payroll was a franchise record $92.2 million this year, and while they can expect a boost in revenue via increased ticket sales, owner David Glass didn't get to be a billionaire by waving his checkbook around.
The Royals have $48.25 million in commitments, according to Cot's Contracts, but that covers just eight players, including two option buyouts. They have 11 players eligible for arbitration, many of whom will receive substantial raises, and will have two key holes to fill due to free agency.
The first of those is in the rotation, given that James Shields is likely bound for a big free-agent payday and a possible return to the AL East. While the Royals can hope that Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy can increase their workloads to around 200 innings apiece while remaining healthy and effective, they'll need at least a quality mid-rotation starter to offset the loss of the 227 innings of 3.21 ERA work that Shields provided. Expect Moore to make the 32-year-old righty a $15.3 million qualifying offer so as to net a draft pick when he signs elsewhere.
The second is at designated hitter, where the team is almost certain to turn down Billy Butler's $12.5 million option in favor of a $1 million buyout. Butler has been in the organization since he was a first-round draft pick in 2004 and is just 28 years old, but he's coming off his worst season since 2008, having hit just .271/.323/.379 with nine homers en route to -0.3 Wins Above Replacement. It's not out of the question that he stays via a less expensive deal, but given that the lineup could use more firepower, it's no given, either.
Moore has one other club option to address: that of Wade Davis, who after struggling in the rotation in 2013 put up one of the great seasons in relief history this year, with a 1.00 ERA and 13.6 strikeouts per nine in 72 homerless innings. His $7 million option is the first of three in a row; the other two are valued at $8 million and $10 million. For a team on a tight budget, that's no trivial expense, but so long as he pitches at an elite level, it's a no-brainer to stick with him.
Additionally, Nori Aoki will be a free agent. The 32-year-old rightfielder made around $3 million, including incentive bonuses, and hit .285/.349/.360. Even with a solid raise, he could still fit into the Royals' budget as well as the late-inning outfield rotation with Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson that made for one of manager Ned Yost's most effective stratagems. Then again, his spot in the lineup represents another chance to upgrade for more punch.
Among the team's other free agents, none were huge contributors to their pennant-winning season, and all are reasonable bets to move on. Luke Hochevar missed it entirely due to Tommy John surgery, which he underwent on March 18. After being pummeled for a 5.45 ERA as a starter from 2008-12, Hochevar enjoyed a breakout season as a reliever in 2013 (1.92 ERA, 10.5 K/9) before going under the knife. He made $5.2 million while sitting out the season, and while it wouldn't be a surprise to see him sign an incentive-based deal to stay, he's probably headed elsewhere, particularly as a Scott Boras client.
Midseason acquisitions Scott Downs and Jason Frasor didn't receive much in the way of high-leverage work after joining the Royals, nor did they earn much in 2014 ($3.75 million and $1.75 million, respectively); given the presence of the Kelvin Herrera-Davis-Greg Holland hydra, Kansas City isn't going to be the place where they find greater fame and fortune. Josh Willingham has already announced his plan to retire at age 35, and it's safe to assume that 42-year-old Raul Ibanez, who hit just .167/.264/.285 this year, is headed in that direction as well. The latter could surface as the Yankees' next hitting coach, according to rumors.
A significant chunk of the Royals' money is going to to be absorbed in raises for arbitration-eligible players, including seven first-timers. Cain, Duffy, Dyson and Herrera are the key ones; Moore could look to sign some of them to longer-term extensions as he did Butler, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez. Mike Moustakas is also a first-timer, but after four years of hitting a combined .236/.290/.379 — and even worse than that this year — it's difficult to envision the team making a substantial commitment to him.
While Moore hasn't yet shown the will to cast aside Moustakas, a former No. 2 pick, 25-year-old Christian Colon, a No. 4 pick himself, is apparently ready after hitting .311/.366/.433 at Triple A Omaha and playing 23 games for the Royals. He and Omar Infante (who's under contract through 2017) both have experience at third base as well as second, offering an in-house alternative to the Moose.
Among the other arbitration-eligible players, Louis Coleman and Erik Kratz are first-timers; Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Eric Hosmer, and Holland all second-timers; and Jayson Nix is a third-timer. Hosmer (who made $3.6 million this year) and Holland ($4.675 million) are the key ones who could receive more substantial extensions; the former is a Boras client, but he's also a Super Two whose career to date has been uneven at best and who won't reach free agency until after the 2017 season.
As for Yost, via a two-year extension he signed in March 2013, he's under contract through 2015. Having piloted the Royals to those back-to-back winning seasons and to the team's first pennant in 29 years, he's almost certain to receive an extension at some point in the not-too-distant future. Bunts and all, he's earned it.