When the Royals traded Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis, they were settling themselves up to win in 2013 and 2014. Now, Shields is a free agent, as are Billy Butler and Norichika Aoki, and the Royals have to decide just how much they’re willing to spend to keep their World Series team relatively intact.
The Royals’ payroll this year was $92 million, and a bunch of the incumbents are due raises. Here most of what’s coming off the books:
Shields: $12 million
Butler: $8 million ($1 million buyout of $12.5 million club option)
Luke Hochevar: $5.21 million
Aoki: $2.5 million
Josh Willingham: $2 million ($7 million salary was acquired in August)
Aaron Crow: $1.475 million (arbitration eligible, likely traded or non-tendered)
Jason Frasor: $800,000 ($1.75 million salary was acquired in July)
And what’s staying on:
Alex Gordon: $10 million to $12.5 million
Jeremy Guthrie: $8 million to $9 million
Jason Vargas: $7 million to $8.5 million
Greg Holland: $4.65 million to $8 million – arbitration
Omar Infante: $5 million to $7.5 million
Davis: $4.8 million to $7 million (club option)
Eric Hosmer: $3.6 million to $5.5 million – arbitration
Lorenzo Cain: $550,000 to $3.5 million – arbitration
Alcides Escobar: $3 million to $3 million
Mike Moustakas: $550,000 to $2.5 million – arbitration
Danny Duffy: $530,000 to $2.3 million – arbitration
Salvador Perez: $1.5 million to $1.75 million
Tim Collins: $1.3625 million to $1.6 million – arbitration
Kelvin Herrera: $520,000 to $1.5 million – arbitration
Jarrod Dyson: $530,000 to $1.1 million – arbitration
That’s $51.6 million going up to approximately $74.75 million among the returnees, plus the minimum salaries of guys like Yordano Ventura and Brandon Finnegan. If you take those 15 guys and add in 10 minimum salaries, you’re already at $80 million.
Fortunately, that’s a pretty well rounded group of returnees. It includes four-fifths of a rotation, the league’s best bullpen and seven members of the lineup. I am assuming that the Royals keep the bullpen intact. It’s not ideal for a small-market team to pay $15 million to two relievers in Holland and Davis, but those guys aren’t typical relievers. If the Royals could trade Holland for a quality young starter or right fielder, that could be worth doing. But they shouldn’t simply dump either over payroll concerns.
With that group, the Royals would enter next season with an extreme lack of depth, but they could conceivably just sign a cheap DH and compete in the AL Central.
Ideally, though, the Royals would push their payroll up to around $100 million-$110 million and either re-sign Shields, which should take $18 million-$20 million per year, or bring in a quality replacement. Let Butler test the market, and when he finds it’s not so much to his liking, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Royals are able to re-sign him for $6 million-$7 million. My guess is that Aoki is in line for a two-year deal in the $15 million range, which is probably too steep for Kansas City. The Royals could save money by signing Chris Denorfia to share time with Dyson in the outfield.
Will it happen? The World Series run makes it a whole lot more likely. If the Royals had lost the wild card game, I’m pretty sure the intention would have been to cut payroll slightly. After all, they really stretched it to get to $92 million. It was $10 million more than they had ever spent before, and they had to manuever to stay down that low (they released Emilio Bonifacio after offering him arbitration, they converted $3 million of Guthrie’s salary into a 2016 buyout and they backloaded the deals given to Vargas and Infante).
Now, after the events of October, the Royals need to seize momentum. I’d like to think that many of the dollars they spend this winter will make it back to them in increased attendance. Keep the fans excited and ownership will be rewarded.