KANSAS CITY – Just how the small-market Royals navigate this offseason, after taking a financial beating in new owner John Sherman’s first season at the helm, is the most curious storyline following Kansas City over the next few months.
The Royals have nine arbitration-eligible players, and they have several players, from right-hander Brad Keller to shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, who no doubt are in the conversation for contract extensions. The Royals also have interest in signing free agents closers Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal, both of whom resurrected their careers this summer in Kansas City.
But how can the Royals economically fare in these uncertain times?
“That’s the question we all ask ourselves.,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said Wednesday in a Zoom call. “The economics of the game are challenging. We’re still trying to improve our roster and supplement it.
“We’re still trying to manage through arbitration and how it will unfold. Will they prorate the numbers over 162 [games]? It works in favor of some players and for others it will not. They have yet to determine to see how that works. We have more players up for arbitration than we’ve had in a long time.”
It would seem imperative to keep both in order to keep the offense competitive. But to do so could cost the Royals in the neighborhood of $10 million to 15 million, depending on how arbitration figures will be calculated after a shortened season. Regardless, it likely would be a significant chunk of the 2021 budget.
“We’ve talked about our budget [more so] over a three-year period,” Moore said, “and what our projections will be, the experience level of our players. That naturally will keep our payroll down.
“I’m not really concerned with our payroll, but more about who the players are [that] we have going forward. Do they make sense for our team? I’m confident that if there’s a player out there that fits with this group and our timeline, we’ll be able to be aggressive and try to get them here in Kansas City.”
Other than Holland and perhaps Rosenthal, it wouldn’t appear the Royals, however, will be making any big splashes on the free-agent market.
“Free agency has been proven time and time again a failed way to build your team,” Moore said. “You build your team from the Draft, internationally [and] transitioning young players from your Minor Leagues to the big leagues. We’re in that process right now with some of our players, and we will continue to do that.
“The players that we might bring in will fit in with our style of play and blend in with the players we have now. One of the things we used to talk about in 2012 was if we want Salvador Perez or Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer, or even Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, to develop into championship players, we better look to acquire some veterans with winning experience with success on the field and off the field. You need those great examples in front of them. That is kind of the mindset right now in terms of free agency and trades.”
Moore and his staff are confident that the Royals have emerging young players who will improve the 2021 roster. Fans saw the emergence of young pitchers Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Josh Staumont and Tyler Zuber in '20. There is another wave of young pitchers knocking on the door, including prospects Daniel Lynch (No. 3 per MLB Pipeline) and Jackson Kowar (No. 4).
“When you look back at our system in 2010,” Moore said, “Baseball America came out and said we had the best farm system in baseball. Some said it was the very best farm system in the history of baseball. When you look back, a lot of them never became stars in the Major Leagues. Some of them didn’t even get over a year of service in the Major Leagues. There’s no guarantee. You never have as much pitching or enough talent as you think. The beauty of the game is there’s always a player that will come up that wasn’t on anyone’s radar or was overlooked, or we misevaluated. That’s what makes baseball such a great discussion.
“But I think we have some high-end bats. Khalil Lee is going to get on base and hit with power. He is extremely competitive. Kyle Isbel has as much feel to hit as any young hitter as we’ve had. It’s not fair that a lot of people compare Kyle Isbel to Alex Gordon, but I understand why they do. It’s because of his work ethic and that he hits from the left side.
“And obviously, there is Bobby Witt Jr. He is as talented as it gets and is as special a player as I’ve been around. We expect him to begin the season in the Minor Leagues. We’ll never put limitations on players, but it makes no sense to come out and say he will be part of the Major League team in 2021 when he hasn’t even played a full season in the Minor Leagues. Where he will start in the Minor League is yet to be determined. But I like our position players.”