Kansas City Royals Rumors

Kansas City Royals trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Royals To Sign Eric Hosmer To Two-Year Deal

The Royals have agreed to a two-year, $13.9MM deal to avoid arbitration with first baseman Eric Hosmer, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports (Twitter links). The Boras Corporation client, 25, will still have one more year of arb eligibility remaining before qualifying for free agency in 2018.

Hosmer will earn $5.65MM for 2015 and will take home a $8.25MM salary next season, per another Flanagan tweet. A Super Two last year, Hosmer had filed at $6.7MM while Kansas City countered at $4.6MM. That created a $5.65MM midpoint — an exact match for his upcoming salary — that fell above Hosmer’s $5.2MM projection from MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz.

Though he is entrenched with the Royals, Hosmer still has yet to put together back-to-back productive seasons. In 2013, he slashed .302/.353/.448 with 17 home runs and 11 steals over 680 plate appearances, good for a 3+ win campaign. But he barely cracked the replacement barrier in his 547 trips to the dish in 2014. He rebounded well from a mid-season hand fracture, and was generally much better in the second half, but still ended the year with a .270.318/.398 mark with nine long balls and four stolen bags.

Obviously, the budget-conscious Royals remain believers. While a two-year pact offers some cost certainty and, potentially, some savings, it also takes away the possibility of a non-tender. And the team will be left exposed to the value of Hosmer’s raise if an injury occurs that would have limited his earning power.

East Notes: Hamels, Bradley, Minor, DeJesus, Aceves

ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark polled league executives for their takes on the offseason, and some of the strongest opinions related to the game’s eastern divisions. Collectively, that group liked the Blue Jays’ signing of Russell Martin, but was skeptical of the contracts given to players like Max Scherzer (Nationals) and Hanley Ramirez (Red Sox). Check out the piece for the results on a number of other questions.

  • Regarding the oft-discussed possibility of the Red Sox dealing for Cole Hamels of the Phillies, Peter Gammons of Gammons Daily suggests that circumstances may need to change to force a deal. Any changes to Boston’s internal pitching dynamics could, of course, push it toward a deal. Or, with the Sox uninterested in taking on all of Hamels’s salary, a new willingness by the Phils to eat cash to increase the prospect return could move the needle.
  • One other factor in driving trade possibilities for the Red Sox is the club’s overflowing cup of outfielders. Before deciding how to proceed, the club will look to see where things stand, says Gammons, especially in terms of health.
  • Of note is that the Braves have made clear to Boston that they have “strong interest” in young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. This is not necessarily an active matter, however: Gammons notes that any possible action on that front would occur in the late spring, at the earliest, and David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets his understanding that the expression of interest was made earlier in the offseason, before other moves occurred.
  • Lefty Mike Minor will face a hearing with the Braves tomorrow, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman notes on Twitter. $500K remains at stake between the sides ($5.6MM versus $5.1MM).
  • Rays outfielder David DeJesus tells Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that he has prepared for the possibility of being dealt but hopes to remain with Tampa. DeJesus says he is refreshed and ready after a “long, grueling” go of things last year, though as Topkin writes there appears to be a logjam in front of him in the outfield.
  • Alfredo Aceves, a seven-year veteran of the Red Sox and Yankees, will throw for teams this afternoon, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets. Among those expected to be in attendance are the Giants, Padres, Royals, Brewers, and Reds.

Central Notes: Youkilis, Liriano, Murphy, Tigers

Recently-retired veteran Kevin Youkilis will be joining the Cubs as a special assistant, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports on Twitter. The connection will be obvious for many: Youkilis rose to prominence and made most of his impact on the field playing for former Red Sox GM and current Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

Here’s more from the central divisions:

  • Pirates starter Francisco Liriano held talks with the Red SoxTwinsAstros, and Royals before re-signing with Pittsburgh, the lefty told Dan Zangrilli of 93.7 The Fan (Twitter links). Kansas City went as high as $36MM over three years, said Liriano, who ultimately took home $39MM from the Pirates. Interestingly, Liriano noted that he felt the qualifying offer did not significantly hinder his market.
  • If Brandon Moss and Nick Swisher prove their health this spring, outfielder David Murphy (or another roster candidate) will likely need to be dealt before breaking camp, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. It may be hard to find a taker without eating a good bit of Murphy’s $6MM salary, should that come to pass. For now, this remains an interesting story to watch over the coming months.
  • While the Tigers do have some worrying signs in their large contracts and low-rated farm, they are not yet facing the kind of difficulties that the Phillies have found, Mike Petriello of Fangraphs writes. If nothing else, Detroit still looks to be legitimately competitive at present, and has time to prepare for a soft landing when its window does finally begin closing.

Latest On Phil Coke

Lefty Phil Coke is one of relatively few remaining relievers on the free agent market. Last we checked in, we heard that the Marlins are interested and that Coke still has hope of landing a big league deal. Indeed, as I noted in that post, there are some positive indicators for his ability to contribute. And he does seem to be drawing wide interest. Here’s the latest:

  • Coke has several minor league offers with camp invites in hand, but is still waiting for that elusive 40-man spot, Jason Beck of MLB.com tweets. A deal could be in place by the end of this week, per Beck, which would allow Coke to avoid missing too much spring time.
  • Coke recently threw for the Royals, Beck also reports. Kansas City would look to represent a nice opportunity for Coke: beyond Tim Collins, the club is short on experienced southpaws. And presumably,  K.C. will allow Brandon Finnegan to develop as a starter.
  • The Rangers could well add Coke, per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. Texas is still having conversations with Coke’s camp, but it appears that the pitcher is still asking the team to give him a major league deal.

Heyman On Contracts: Herrera, Holland, Coffey, Middlebrooks

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com provides some finer details on various recently-struck contracts from around the game (links to Twitter):

  • Under his two-year dealRoyals reliever Kelvin Herrera can tack on an additional $250K to his 2016 salary based on games finished in 2015. That is not much, but does give at least some suggestion that he and the team have conceived of the possibility that he could end up in a closing role at some point.
  • Of course, Herrera is not first or even second in the pecking order there. Royals pen mate Greg Holland will handle the ninth until further notice, and his one-year deal to avoid arbitration contains several bonus provisions, including a $100K bump for taking home another reliever of the year award.
  • Todd Coffey‘s minor league deal with the Braves would pay him $800K annually for his time in the majors, if he can crack the roster. Coffey can also earn up to $200K through incentives.
  • The Padres will pay pre-arbitration-eligible third baseman Will Middlebrooks rather well. He will make $540,500 over his time in the majors and $324,300 for whatever time he spends in the minors. Last year at this time, MLBTR’s Zach Links took an interesting look at how teams pay pre-arb players.

Quick Hits: Royals, Hall, Red Sox, Astros

Entering 2015, the Royals possess baseball’s best defense, writes Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth. With stalwarts like Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, and Alcides Escobar, the club can count on preventing dozens of runs next season. On the bench lurks speedy defensive whiz Jarrod Dyson to help track down fly balls. Rounding out Castrovince’s top five defenses are the Orioles, Reds, Yankees, and Cardinals.

  • Baseball is fighting for relevance, writes Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic. While football can claim a larger fandom than baseball, it’s not the job of Commissioner Rob Manfred to reverse that trend. Instead, the league needs to improve its relevance with youth. A lot of attention has fixated on minor tweaks to the game like a faster pace of play. Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall has some more novel ideas for improving the fan experience. He suggests letting the home team take batting practice second to improve player-fan interactions. He also proposes using pre-game fielding practice as a stage for displays of athleticism.
  • The Red Sox have a revamped lineup, new rotation, deeper bullpen, and a $200MM payroll, writes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. The rotation is viewed as a weakness because nobody stands out as a potential ace. However, manager John Farrell believes the current unit will be sufficient. The lineup should provide plenty of fire power and the defense can also help to bail out the rotation. If the rotation is revealed to be a weakness, the club has plenty of prospects to acquire reinforcements.
  • The Astros are looking to win in the present season for the first time in the Jeff Luhnow era, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The club is setting a target for a .500 finish, which does appear to be a viable goal. With several 2014 breakouts and more impactful prospects on the way, Houston appears to be turning the corner on their rebuild. Luhnow points to building chemistry as one important piece of the puzzle. Several roster decisions will be made this spring, most notably in the outfield where Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley will be fighting for jobs.

Joe Blanton Signs Minor League Deal With Royals

10:40am: The Royals have announced the signing, noting that Blanton will be in Major League Spring Training. Heyman adds that Blanton can receive $3MM worth of incentives, and his contract contains opt-out clauses on April 1 and May 15.

10:33am: Veteran right-hander Joe Blanton has agreed to a minor league contract with the Royals, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter links). The 34-year-old CAA client would earn $1MM were he to make the Major League roster, Heyman adds.

MLBTR noted Blanton’s comeback attempt and the bullpen session he was slated to throw for teams back in late January. The longtime Athletics and Phillies hurler hasn’t been in the Majors since 2013, though he does have a history of being a durable innings eater at the big league level. Blanton topped 190 innings in six of his nine full seasons at the Major League level and only has one significant injury — a 2011 shoulder impingement — on his track record.

That said, Blanton’s first and only season with the Angels (after signing a two-year, $15MM deal) was ugly. He worked to a 6.04 ERA in 132 2/3 innings due largely to an inability to keep the ball in the park (2.0 HR/9). Homer problems began to plague Blanton upon moving from the spacious O.Co Coliseum to the more hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park in 2008, but his homer woes were never as pronounced as in Anaheim.

Were he to make his way onto the Royals’ roster, the spacious nature of Kauffman Stadium would likely be of some benefit to Blanton, although it’s worth noting that Angel Stadium in Anaheim is also thought to be a pitcher-friendly environment (though not to Kauffman’s extent).

Blanton has long posted strong strikeout-to-walk numbers and continued that trend even in his difficult 2013 season (7.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9). All told, Blanton has a lifetime 4.51 ERA with 6.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 44.2 percent ground-ball rate in 1567 1/3 Major League innings. The Royals’ rotation currently projects to include Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, Edinson Volquez and Jeremy Guthrie, so there’s little room for Blanton on the big league roster outside of a possible role as a swingman. However, he could also head to Triple-A in hopes of cracking the roster in the event of an injury to (or decline from) one of the current starters.

Royals, Greg Holland Avoid Arbitration

The Royals and closer Greg Holland have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $8.25MM contract reports MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan (on Twitter). Holland had filed for a $9MM salary while the Royas countered at $6.65MM (via MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker). Like fellow elite closer Aroldis Chapman, who avoided arb earlier this hour, Holland settled significantly higher than his midpoint — topping that mark by $425K. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that Holland’s contract calls for a $100K bonus if he is traded.

Holland projected at $9.3MM using the projection model of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, although in an Arbitration Breakdown piece examining Holland and other elite closers, Swartz noted that the model may be a bit overzealous with Holland’s figure due to the lack of accurate historical comps.

The 29-year-old Holland, a client of Turner Gary Sports, turned in his second straight season of a sub-1.50 ERA, pitching to an outstanding 1.44 mark to go along with 13.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 48.1 percent ground-ball rate in 62 1/3 innings of work. Holland saved 46 games along the way and also fired 11 innings of one-run ball in the postseason, striking out 15 against five walks. This was his second trip through the arbitration process, and he’ll be eligible once more before hitting free agency following the 2016 campaign.

Holland was one of two remaining arbitration cases for Kansas City, and Eric Hosmer is now the team’s lone remaining unresolved case.

Royals Finalizing Two-Year Deal With Kelvin Herrera

6:10pm: Herrera will earn $1.6MM in 2015 and $2.55MM in 2016, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets.  Herrera has also passed his physical, Heyman notes, so it’s seemingly just a matter of time before the contract becomes official.

2:51pm: The Royals are finalizing a two-year contract with right-handed setup man Kelvin Herrera, reports Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star (on Twitter). The contract will pay the arbitration-eligible relief ace $4.15MM. Herrera is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council.

Herrera, who turned 25 on New Year’s Eve, broke out as part of an elite trio of relief arms that fueled Kansas City’s juggernaut-like run through the American League Wild Card game, the ALDS and the ALCS. Alongside Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland, Herrera gives manager Ned Yost three lights-out weapons to pitch in high-leverage situations at the end of games.

Last season, Herrera pitched to a pristine 1.41 ERA, averaging 7.6 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 with a 49.2 percent ground-ball rate while lighting up the radar gun with a fastball that averaged 98.1 mph. His strikeout rate dipped substantially from 2013, perhaps due to a stark decrease in the number of change-ups he threw (176 in 2013, 33 in 2014). The decision to scrap the change seems at least somewhat curious, given the 22 percent whiff rate he’s racked up on the pitch throughout his career, but it’s hard to argue with the bottom-line results produced by Herrera.

Herrera had filed for a $1.9MM salary, with the team countering at $1.15MM, as shown in MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker. The midpoint of those figures — $1.525MM — was right in line with the $1.5MM projection of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. However, under his new two-year deal, Herrera will not have to worry about the arbitration process until the 2016-17 offseason. As a Super Two player who was eligible for the first time this winter, Herrera will be controlled through the 2018 season and will be arb-eligible twice more upon completion of this pact.

The Royals’ Quietly Fascinating Offseason

It is difficult these days to associate the Royals with the quiet side of the game. The club just went to the World Series in the most dramatic of fashions, changing the narrative along the way.

And yet, with all the attention-grabbing moves made around the league this winter, Kansas City seems to have been left off the radar once again. Of emblematic significance, perhaps, the two key players exchanged in the franchise’s most notable recent trade — Wil Myers and James Shields — both now play for the Padres.

But Kansas City has been quite active, as it turns out. Only the remade Braves have signed more MLB deals with free agents. After allowing Shields and one-time cornerstone Billy Butler walk as free agents, GM Dayton Moore dropped over $68MM in new guaranteed money on the table through the open market.

Even more interesting is how the team allocated those funds — all to players on one or two year deals:

The overarching theme, obviously, is that Kansas City did not extend its commitments over any significant length of time. In so doing, the team managed not only to keep its (playoff-profit-fattened) 2015 payroll from straying too far out ahead of $100MM, but kept its powder stashed in the future. With $56MM promised for 2016 but only $22MM and then $2MM in the seasons that follow, the Royals have ample flexibility to re-shape their roster and act flexibly as situations warrant. That is especially important, of course, with their significant group of arbitration-eligible players climbing the ladder toward free agency.

So, we know that Moore decided against making a lengthier investment, despite being rumored at times to be pursuing some bigger names. While it may never be known whether he made realistic pursuit of any longer-term free agents, or would have signed them to deals approaching what they did earn, the fact remains that Kansas City will have limited opportunity to regret the guys it did sign.

But what did the club get for its still-significant cash outlay? The signings represent a mix of hole-plugging and upside-chasing boldness that, I suspect, few saw coming.

Let’s start with the less interesting side of the scale. Volquez, Frasor, and Pino are each different versions of the same basic function: filling innings solidly at a fair price. In their own ways, these additions are also just versions of prior years’ signings (Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen) that the team has found useful in recent years. It represents, perhaps, another version of a phenomenon identified by Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan with regard to the Orioles: avoiding the awful.

Next on the scale come Morales and Rios, two veterans coming off of poor years who received fairly substantial, but still-limited, guarantees. Is this Moore acting opportunistically and hoping that these talented players can reach their previously-established ceilings? Or are they simply veterans filling obvious holes created by departing free agents (Butler, Nori Aoki)? Perhaps it is a bit of both.

While the numbers looked to be on the high side for those two bats, their respective deal lengths are obviously critical. Keeping the commitment short, in this case, may have been worth a premium. (Each also contains a mutual option — which are scarcely exercised, generally. They were likely designed mostly to push back money and tweak the risk/reward rather than to present realistic scenarios of being exercised.)

That brings us to the most variable side of the slide: Hochevar and Medlen. The former, a failed starter-turned-ace reliever, cast the mold so ably filled last year by Wade Davis but missed all of 2014 after tearing his UCL. Kansas City did have a chance to watch his recovery before agreeing to a deal, but the $10MM commitment is nevertheless significant for an injured reliever. But if he can return to form, he will supplement and eventually provide a cheaper, cost-certain alternative to one of the team’s much-ballyhooed triumvirate of relievers.

Likewise, Medlen has been an outstanding starter and remains young, but is now on his second replacement UCL and is a total wild card moving forward. That $8.5MM may go completely down the drain, but could also drop a top-end arm in the skipper’s lap for 2016, to go with whichever of the team’s starter prospects have managed to develop and stick by that time.

The biggest question facing the Royals, coming off of a World Series appearance, was and is whether several of the players who took steps forward (especially late) last year can sustain the momentum. For every prognosticator who sees this compilation as a division favorite, there are probably two who view the Royals as a roughly middle-of-the-road team.

You can count me among the those who are not necessarily expecting big things from Kansas City in 2015. But all generally average teams are not created equal. Some teams have a much wider band of reasonably expected performance than others. Some carry much greater long-term risk, and/or concentrate their hopes and fears in just a few, key acquisitions.

Moore has both spread his bet over multiple, varying types of players and, in so doing, tightly controlled the temporal reach of the downside. His strategy has also left the team with a roster that is flexible in its ability to add surprising younger players and/or remove disappointing veterans. (The Astros, Braves, D’backsTigers, and Twins all spent similar amounts of money on quite different mixes of contracts.)

Indeed, it is a grouping of players that allows for continued options over the course of the spring: dealing a reliever if a spike in demand creates an opportunity, extending Alex Gordon or Lorenzo Cain if the price is right, finding a patch or depth piece if there is an injury or an expected regular struggles in camp, etc. And the resulting aggregation ought to allow plenty of creative room in deciding whether to buy, sell, or selectively fiddle at the trade deadline. Regardless, the roster mix should be rather interesting to track over the year to come.