Payroll may be trimmed, changes made to 2017 Royals

NOVEMBER 2017 – Is a payroll cut in order for the Royals? It’s been a great ride, but things are changing…

Kansas City fans have watched Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar grow up before their eyes.

They’ve witnessed Wade Davis transform from a so-so starter to a dominant closer. They’ve viewed the maturation of Danny Duffy from inconsistency, sent to the bullpen to becoming the Royals best starter in 2016. They fell in love with the game-changing speed of spare outfielder Jarrod Dyson.

That gang will not be together much longer. All the above are eligible for free agency after the 2017 season.

After World Series appearances in 2014-15, if the Royals are to make it back to the postseason in the near future then next year appears to be their best opportunity.

No way, zilch, de nada, zero that the Royals will be able to keep all of them. Two, maybe three, at the most, will remain with the Royals in 2018. Possibly it will be one or even none.

The Royals opened last season with a players’ payroll of $131.5 million, the highest in franchise history, up from $113 million for Opening Day 2015. And do not forget, the Royals began the 2011 season with a $38 million payroll, so it has escalated quickly and rightly so due to the club’s success.

With arbitration eligible players, including Hosmer, Duffy and Kelvin Herrera, the payroll almost certainly would increase in 2017 if owner David Glass opts to keep this group of players together for one more chance to get back to the World Series. Going for the gold, however, means paying out the gold, which Glass may be reluctant to do after an 81-81 record.

General manager Dayton Moore acknowledged the payroll would “regress” after topping out at $137 million to conclude the season.

“We’re living above our means,” Moore said. “The payroll was put together to go deep in the postseason. That didn’t happen. I’m accountable for that. It’s not going to look very good on the spreadsheet.”

Right-hander Ian Kennedy and left fielder Alex Gordon will take up $39.5 million of the 2017 payroll. The Royals will owe bullpen arms Joakim Soria, $8 million, and Chris Young, $5.75 million, next year.

Gordon is coming off an injury-plagued season, hitting .220 with 40 RBIs and 35 extra-base hits. Soria went 5-8 with a 4.05 ERA and allowed 10 home runs in 66 2/3 innings. Young, who had off-season surgery, was 3-9 with a 6.19 ERA, allowing 28 home runs and 104 hits, plus 43 walks, in 88 2/3 innings. The Royals paid a lot for that trio with little results.

If the Royals are indeed to reduce payroll, trades of high dollar talented players will have to be finalized.

“Last year we pretty much stood pat,” Moore said. “We didn’t make a lot of changes to our team. That didn’t work out well for us.”

So changes during the offseason may occur.

The Royals certainly will not be able to afford to keep right-hander Edinson Volquez, who beat the New York Mets in the season opener, and designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Both are free agents. Volquez faded, finishing with a 10-11 record and 5.37 ERA in 34 starts. He won only two of 15 starts after the All-Star break, while allowing 102 hits and walking 35 in 78 innings.

Morales struggled early, but wound up with a team-leading 30 home runs as the designated hitter. His power production will be sorely missed if he moves on.

“We would love to have him back,” Moore said. But at what cost? If the Royals make him a qualifying offer that would likely be more than $17 million for one year, which Morales might refuse to seek a multi-year contract.

“You’re always looking for versatility,” Moore said. “If you’re locked into the DH, that hinders that.”

The Royals will look internally first to fill gaps. Many in the organization believe Paulo Orlando will not be able to duplicate his .302 batting average last season, plus he lacks sufficient power, five home runs, to be a corner outfielder. So they could look elsewhere for a right fielder. Or they might put Cain in right, moving him from center.

Second base remains a mystery with four internal candidates – Raul Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, Christian Colon and Cheslor Cuthbert.

Mondesi has yet to prove he can hit big league pitching, .185 batting average with 48 strikeouts in 135 at-bats. He is immensely talented, but at age 21 needs more time with Triple-A Omaha to upgrade his offense. The Royals are better off if Merrifield is a utility player with his versatility permitting him to play multiple positions adequately. Colon, a former first-round pick, had big moments in the 2014-15 postseason, but has not shown enough to warrant an everyday job. Cuthbert did an admirable job, hitting .274 with a dozen home runs and 28 doubles, filling in at third for the injured Moustakas at third base. Whether he can play second base adequately remains to be seen. The Royals sent him to the Instructional League in October to tutor him at second base for 10 days.

Omar Infante, who was the starting second baseman when the 2016 season started, was released in midseason, but the Royals still owe him $10 million for 2017. OUCH!

Moore said he wants to improve the bullpen, which was once the Royals’ strongest point. Davis, however, went on the disabled list twice in 2016 with a forearm strain, which put a strain on the rest of the bullpen. Plus, setup Luke Hochevar needed surgery again. The failures of Soria and Young have been documented above.

Barring trades, the Royals will enter next season with Duffy, Kennedy, Yordano Ventura and Jason Vargas, who did not return until September after elbow surgery in 2015, in the rotation. The fifth slot is to be determined, so adding a starter remains a possibility. The free agent market for starting pitchers is weak.

The next few months should be captivating for the Royals as Moore puts together the 2017 roster.

Article by Alan Eskew.

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