Royals offseason FAQ: What to watch for

November 1st, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- With the end of the World Series near, the offseason is about to get started in earnest. Players will become free agents and clubs will begin to shape their rosters for 2022. 

It’s all going to come up quickly, so here is a Royals FAQ that notes key dates, names and more to know ahead of a big winter:

Which players are free agents? 
After trading Danny Duffy and Jorge Soler, the Royals don’t have any true impact players becoming free agents. Right-handed relievers Wade DavisJesse HahnGreg Holland and Ervin Santana are the Royals’ four expiring contracts. They’ll officially become free agents one day after the World Series ends.

Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers?
No, the Royals aren’t expected to extend the reported $18.4 million qualifying offer to any of their free agents, which teams must do five days after the World Series ends. For those free agents who do get qualifying offers from their teams, they must accept or decline it on the 15th day after the World Series ends.

Which players are arbitration eligible, what’s the impact on the payroll and when that does that have to be decided?
The Royals have nine arbitration-eligible players this winter. The projected total for this group, per MLB Trade Rumors’ algorithm, is $28.3 million if the Royals give all nine a contract.

If the club and the player don’t agree on a salary by the deadline in mid-January, the two sides exchange salary figures for the upcoming season, and a hearing is scheduled in February. Only once under president of baseball operations Dayton Moore have the Royals gone to a hearing with a player, so expect to see negotiated contracts for the players the Royals do keep on the roster.

Outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who is in his third year of arbitration, is projected to be the most expensive in this group at $9.3 million. The 27-year-old figures to be a key part of the 2022 roster, but the Royals could approach him about an extension if they see him as part of their next contending team. Or they could open a roster spot and shed the salary by non-tendering him.

Right-hander Brad Keller (projected to make $5.2 million), infielder Adalberto Mondesi ($3.2 million) and right-hander Jakob Junis ($1.8 million) are in their second years of arbitration. Catcher Cam Gallagher ($900,000), shortstop Nicky Lopez ($2 million), reliever Scott Barlow ($2.4 million) and first baseman Ryan O’Hearn ($1.4 million) are in their first years of arbitration.

Infielder Hanser Alberto, who was going to be in his third year of arbitration this winter, elected free agency after clearing waivers on Oct. 29. The 29-year-old was a Minor League signing last offseason and is projected to make $2.1 million, per MLB Trade Rumors.

To clear another spot on the roster, reliever Scott Blewett was also placed on waivers and became a free agent after clearing waivers on Oct. 29. Without Alberto and Blewett, the Royals are at 38 players on their 40-man roster.

Who might be a non-tender candidate, and when does the club have to make that decision?
Junis and O’Hearn could be non-tender candidates among arbitration-eligible players, which means the Royals wouldn't give them a contract for the upcoming season. First baseman/designated hitter Ryan McBroom, as well as relievers Gabe Speier or Joel Payamps, could be candidates if the Royals need more open roster spots.

The non-tender deadline is Dec. 2, but the more important date to remember is Nov. 19. That’s when clubs must set their 40-man rosters and protect players from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them to the 40-man. You could see a lot of non-tender candidates get designated for assignment on this day to open roster spots.

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
Right now, the Royals' roster stands at 38 players. When the World Series ends, the four impending free agents -- Davis, Hahn, Holland and Santana -- will drop off, and the Royals must add their two remaining players who are on the 60-day injured list (Keller and lefty Richard Lovelady) back onto the roster.

That leaves four spots to work with right away. There will be a whole lot of roster decisions to go when considering who the Royals should add to protect from the Rule 5 Draft.

We already saw some of these decisions made when Kansas City promoted starter Jon Heasley and reliever Dylan Coleman in September, both of whom needed to be protected this winter and have futures in the Majors.

Catcher MJ Melendez and first baseman Nick Pratto are both Rule 5-eligible and are all but locks to be added to the roster this winter. Another safe bet is lefty Austin Cox, the Royals’ fifth-round Draft pick in that college-pitching-heaving 2018 Draft. Right-hander Jonathan Bowlan, the club’s second-round pick that year, is also eligible and could be added; he had Tommy John surgery in June, so any team adding him to the 40-man could put him on the 60-day injured list.

Two tough decisions are going to be outfielder Seuly Matias and right-hander Zach Haake. Both are impressing in the Arizona Fall League in front of scouts right now. Matias has been Rule 5 eligible for a few years, but teams haven’t taken him because of the same questions they’ll face this year: Can he stay healthy, and can his plate discipline improve? Haake was taken in the sixth round in 2018 and dealt with injuries this year, but he’s shown good stuff when he’s on the mound.

More eligible players who could make things interesting include outfielders Rudy Martin, Brewer Hicklen and Dairon Blanco; lefty Josh Dye; and second baseman Maikel Garcia.

Not all will be added, and not all will need to be added. But it’s safe to say there will be a roster crunch this winter.

What kind of help do the Royals need, and will they be active in free agency or in trades?
The Royals have an intriguing offseason ahead of them. Will they make a big move or two to try and put themselves into contention, or will they rely on their young players and see how far they can go?

It would be helpful for the Royals to land an experienced ace to guide their young starters, and there could be some on the trade market that Kansas City could acquire using their strong farm system. The same goes for a big bat; can the Royals rely on Carlos Santana and Hunter Dozier to bounce back and be the stalwarts the lineup needs, or does an outside move need to be made to bolster the offense?

The Royals have the farm system to make moves this offseason. They could have the payroll, too, with six guaranteed contracts and arbitration figures looking favorable. But CEO/chairman John Sherman and the front office could also look past 2022, when some big contracts are coming off the books. Will that be a better window?

Are there any other key dates to know this offseason?
One of the most important dates to know is Dec. 1, when the current CBA expires. Up until this point, deadlines will run as normal under the current CBA. After that, it will depend on the new agreement.

The General Manager Meetings will be held Nov. 8-11 in Carlsbad, Calif. The Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., are not locked in at this point, but if they are held, they would be Dec. 6-9, with the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8.