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The Royals go into this off-season coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons, perhaps not unsurprising for a rebuilding team but undoubtedly a frustrating experience for General Manager Dayton Moore. More help seems to be on the way with a group of young pitchers from the 2018 draft class likely ready to make their Major League debuts within the next year, but in the meantime, the Royals may have to rely largely on a pitching staff that ranked third-worst in the American League in ERA.
This will be a year of transition for the Royals, with a new manager in Mike Matheny, Alex Gordon possibly retiring, and a new owner in John Sherman. Sherman has been pretty mum about his plans for the club so we really don’t know if the club plans on spending more money this offseason, or if they’ll cut costs as the team continues their rebuild.
The Royals have saddled themselves with some expensive long-term contracts for Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy, and Salvador Perez, but most of Alex Gordon’s contract will come off the books this year, save for a $4 million buyout. With the Gordon obligation lessened, and Whit Merrifield’s ridiculously below market rate deal, the Royals could have some financial flexibility.
Adding a wrinkle to matters is Jorge Soler’s unique deal. Soler is under contract through 2020 with a salary of $4.67 million. However, his contract allows him to opt-out of his deal. Since Soler is not yet eligible for free agency based on service time, he would go into the arbitration system, where he would stand to make around $8-10 million. After that season, he would still be under club control through 2021, and would have to go through the arbitraiton system again unless the Royals work out a contract with him.
The Royals also have three arbitration-eligible players this year. They will certainly tender a contract to Mike Montgomery, and Cheslor Cuthbert seems likely to be non-tendered. The Royals may decide to tender a contract to Jesse Hahn if they feel confident about his health situation.
Let’s look at the projected 2020 Royals’ payroll if we assume Jorge Soler opts out his deal, and the Royals tender all their arbitration-eligible players a contract, using the MLB Trade Rumors estimated salaries as a guide.
Royals projected 2020 payroll
Player 2020 2021 2022 2023
Ian Kennedy $16,500,000 Free agent
Danny Duffy $15,250,000 $15,500,000 Free agent
Salvador Perez $14,200,000 $14,200,000 Free agent
Whit Merrifield $5,000,000 $6,750,000 $2,750,000 $6,500,000
Alex Gordon (buyout) $4,000,000
Subtotal $54,950,000 $36,450,000 $2,750,000 $6,500,000
Arbitration-eligible 2020 est. 2021 2022 2023
Jorge Soler $10,500,000 Arbitration Free agent
Mike Montgomery $2,900,000 Arbitration Free agent
Cheslor Cuthbert $1,800,000 Arbitration Arbitration Free agent
Jesse Hahn $900,000 Arbitration Free agent
Remaining 17 players at $600,000 $10,200,000
Total payroll $81,250,000 $36,450,000 $2,750,000 $6,500,000
Source: Cot’s Contracts
Keep in mind, teams also have about $15 million in player benefit costs, and millions throughout the year in salaries to players on the 40-man roster, but not on the active roster.
Based on player salaries, the Royals project to have a payroll nearly $20 million below last year’s Opening Day figure. That would give them some room to pursue some lower-level free agents, perhaps some pitching depth or an outfielder to replace Alex Gordon if he retires.
But considering how well the Royals have fared in free agency the last few seasons, they may just lay low this winter. Adding free agents may also block younger players the Royals will want to get a look at as they build their team back up. We also don’t what Sherman intends with payroll. If his ownership group took on debt to purchase the club, they may have to cut costs for a few seasons.