- Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star explores some potential trade scenarios for the Royals, noting that the team’s desire to shed payroll could result in moving a player who has been central to the team’s previous run of success. However, Dodd also reports that to this point, Kansas City “has shown little inclination to trade one of its central players,” so the listed scenarios are predominately speculative in nature. Among the soon-to-be free agents are Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Wade Davis, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar — each of whom will hit the open market following the 2017 season.
2:23pm: Bloom has turned down an opportunity to interview with the Diamondbacks, reports Piecoro. Dodgers executive Alex Anthopoulos did the same earlier this week, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman relayed Saturday.
9:58am: Rays VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom and Royals’ assistant GM J.J. Picollo are believed to be candidates for the Diamondbacks’ general manager position, league sources tell Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. The two executives join a lengthy list of names previously linked to the D’Backs job, including Ned Colletti, Kim Ng, Ray Montgomery, Peter Woodfork and internal candidates Bryan Minniti and Mike Bell.
Both Bloom and Picollo have been connected to multiple front office openings in recent years, even getting consideration for the same job on more than one occasion. Both were interviewed for the Twins GM job just last month, and both were contenders to become the Phillies’ new general manager last offseason before the team hired Matt Klentak. (Picollo was an early favorite for the Philadelphia job, though it was Bloom who ended up making the Phillies’ final three list of candidates for the position, along with Klentak and A’s assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz.) Bloom was also interviewed by the Brewers last offseason before they hired David Stearns as their new general manager.
Unlike the other known candidates, Bloom and Picollo don’t have any previous connection with the D’Backs themselves or other NL West teams, so they would bring a fresh perspective to Arizona’s baseball operations department. Bloom has spent his entire 11-year career in baseball with Tampa Bay, while Picollo has spent the last decade in the Royals’ front office and the previous seven years working for the Braves. Both are also younger executives (Picollo is 45 years old and Bloom is just 33) and thought to be more analytically-minded, which would also represent a change in direction for the D’Backs. The previous front office, led by Tony La Russa and since-fired GM Dave Stewart, was rather openly old-school in their approach, with an analytics department headed by a first-time baseball ops hire.
Following their World Series victory in 2015, the Royals headed into 2016 with a similar core in place, re-signing Alex Gordon and Chris Young and inking Ian Kennedy and Joakim Soria as their only main additions. After an 81-81 season, GM Dayton Moore acknowledges that the team might have to try something different to prepare for 2017, as Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star writes.
“Last year, we pretty much stood pat,” says Moore. “We didn’t make a lot of changes to our team. And that didn’t work too well for us.”
Making big changes, though, will be tricky, for reasons Dodd points out. A number of key Royals players, including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Wade Davis, Danny Duffy and Jarrod Dyson, will be eligible for free agency after next season, and Moore wants to give the Royals another shot to win a championship with his existing core. And Dodd had previously reported that the Royals expect their payroll to drop in 2017, even though their current obligations for next season (including contracts likely to be tendered to arbitration-eligible players) already approach their 2016 payroll total.
Something has to give, or so it would seem. The team could trade a player to clear salary, such as Cain, Davis or Kennedy. But to do so would solve one problem while creating another, since all of those players are helpful. The team also must look past 2017, possibly offering extensions to some players who will be eligible for free agency.
“We won’t be able to sign them all,” Moore says.
What’s clear is that part of the Royals’ plan for getting back to the postseason will be to depend on key players returning to their previous levels of performance. That list could perhaps include Gordon, who hit just .220/.312/.380 in the first year of his new contract; Moustakas, who missed most of the year with a torn ACL; and Hosmer.
“We have a lot of All-Star caliber players that we think can get back to their accustomed level,” says Moore. “We’ll count on that. But we also recognize the need to maybe mix it up a little bit.”
The Royals are planning to decline their $10MM mutual option on right-hander Edinson Volquez in favor of a $3MM buyout, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The decision on Volquez is at least partially driven by a desire to decrease payroll from the 2016 season’s franchise-record mark of $144MM, he writes. Not surprisingly, the Royals are planning to exercise their $10MM option on closer Wade Davis and their $6.5MM club option on shortstop Alcides Escobar, Heyman adds.
There was a point at which some pundits pegged the 33-year-old Volquez as a potential qualifying offer candidate, but that always seemed like something of a long shot, and the veteran’s poor performance down the stretch likely eliminated any such notion on the Royals’ part. Volquez finished up the season with a 5.37 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and a 51.9 percent ground-ball rate in 189 1/3 innings, but his performance over the final three and a half months was notably worse than that ultimate ERA would indicate. Volquez’s ERA sat at 3.90 after a solid two-and-a-half-month stretch to open the year, but he labored to a 6.58 ERA over his final 104 innings. In that stretch, he surrendered 76 earned runs on 134 hits and 43 walks with just 72 strikeouts.
Ups and downs are nothing new for Volquez, who burst onto the scene as an All-Star and Rookie of the Year candidate in 2008 before trailing off to a roughly league-average starter in the two subsequent seasons and eventually dropping to the point where he was released by the Padres in 2013. Volquez, like many others, had a career renaissance in Pittsburgh in 2014, earning him a two-year, $20MM contract with the Royals that spanned the 2015-16 campaigns. While he delivered in the first season of that deal — 3.55 ERA in 200 1/3 innings — the second season was, clearly, not as successful. He’ll now hit a woefully thin free-agent market for pitchers and seek another resurgence — likely on a one-year deal.
As for Davis, Heyman writes that there’s a belief the Royals will at least entertain trade scenarios for the All-Star this offseason. That’s not a shocking development, as Davis’ name came up in trade rumors for much of the month of July before a forearm strain landed him on the disabled list through the non-waiver deadline. Trading Davis, of course, would be difficult, as the Royals would want to extract full value while other clubs may be wary about a pitcher that battled forearm issues on multiple occasions in 2016. Dealing Ian Kennedy would be an alternative means of shedding payroll, he notes, but from where I sit it’s difficult to envision dealing Kennedy even after a strong finish to the season. Kennedy’s contract is teeming with downside, as any acquiring club would likely would be faced with the risk of Kennedy opting out after just one season if he performs well but would be stuck with him at four years and a total of $62.5MM by virtue of his backloaded contract.
The Royals “aren’t anxious” to trade any of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas or Escobar, Heyman adds, so Dayton Moore and his lieutenants will need to come up with some creative means in which they can trim some payroll. Kansas City does have Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Luke Hochevar coming off the books, but those subtractions will be canceled out by what figure to be substantial arbitration raises for Hosmer and Danny Duffy as well as built-in contractual raises for Kennedy, Cain, Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Joakim Soria, Yordano Ventura, Mike Minor, Chris Young and Salvador Perez.
The Royals’ payroll will “regress” in 2017, according to GM Dayton Moore, as Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star reports. While Kansas City still intends to push to put a winner on the field after a disappointing, .500 campaign, it will face significant monetary restraints in finding ways to improve.
Dodd provides an extensive breakdown of the organization’s financial situation. The club carried approximately $135MM on its payroll on Opening Day of 2016, and is currently lined up to land near that team-record number as things stand (with arbitration raises factored in).
That kind of outlay, Moore suggested, is not likely. “This  payroll was put together with going deep in the postseason [in mind],” said Moore. “That didn’t happen. Again, I’m accountable for that. It’s not going to look very good on the spreadsheet when the bill comes due.”
Looking ahead, it seems, there’s little chance that Kansas City will further bump that spending. If anything, it seems, the inclination may be to find ways to save. “[W]e’ll have to re-evaluate that, probably reorganize, take some steps back,” Moore explained. “We’re going to have to look internally and [in] trades,” he went on to add. “We won’t be adding money. That’s for darn sure.”
That will make for a challenge as K.C. seeks to return to contention. Certainly, better health and better play from key veterans could make a significant difference. But Moore cited an interest in bolstering the back of the pen and boosting the offense, which could require identifying the right internal talent and pursuing what Moore referred to as “creative” trade scenarios. He largely rejected the idea of adding salary in free agency after making some rather substantial outlays last winter.
Certainly, the totality of the comments seem to suggest that some change could be afoot. Key players such as Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, and Alcides Escobar are entering their final seasons of team control. While praising the organizational core, Moore said that the front office “also recognize[s] the need to maybe mix it up a little bit.”
Improving on offense will be a particular challenge given that the Royals may soon bid adieu to Kendrys Morales, their most productive hitter in 2016. He’s unlikely to pick up his side of a $10MM mutual option, and while the club could theoretically slap a qualifying offer on him, that would represent a big risk given the aforementioned financial constraints.
Moore suggested that it’s still an open question how things will play out with Morales, but it seems difficult to imagine a way to accommodate his return. “We’ll just keep all of our options open,” Moore said. “But he’s a player that we’re very proud of. He’s a big part of our success. We would love to have him back. I just don’t know if it will work at this point in time.”
The Royals’ defense of their World Series title ended today as the club finished with an even 81-81 record. Here are some season-ending notes as K.C. looks ahead to a rebound year in 2017…
- Lorenzo Cain won’t hit for the next two months, but he tells Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star (Twitter link) that he otherwise expects a normal offseason training routine. Cain reiterated that his bothersome right wrist won’t require surgery. The outfielder missed almost all of September with the bad wrist, capping off an injury-plagued season that saw Cain play just 103 games. The health problems undoubtedly contributed to Cain’s .287/.339/.408 slash line over 434 PA, a below-average showing give how well he performed in the previous two seasons. Cain is a free agent after 2017, so a return to good health and good form will be very lucrative for him.
- Right-hander Dillon Gee will undergo thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star writes. The procedure usually carries a recovery time of 4-6 months, so Gee could be ready for the start of Spring Training. Gee signed a minor league deal with the Royals last winter and posted a 4.68 ERA, 6.4 K/9 and 2.41 K/BB rate over 125 innings, working as both a starter and a reliever. He has another year of arbitration eligibility before hitting free agency following the 2017 campaign.
- Paulo Orlando has emerged as a bit of a late bloomer in the Royals’ eyes, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan writes. The outfielder just delivered his best offensive season at age 30, though manager Ned Yost would like to see Orlando develop some more power. Some other holes exist in Orlando’s game (a 2.7% walk rate, and perhaps an overall inflated slash line due to a .382 BABIP) but he has put himself into the conversation for at least a part-time outfield role in 2017.
- Cheslor Cuthbert is on his way to the Instructional League to get some second base work, GM Dayton Moore told FSKC’s Joel Goldberg (Twitter link) during the pregame show of today’s Royals broadcast. Though Cuthbert had a solid rookie season, he could be fighting for a roster spot next year since the Royals will have Mike Moustakas returning at third base, and Raul Mondesi, Christian Colon and Whit Merrifield all in the mix at second. Learning to play multiple positions, of course, is an obvious boost to Cuthbert’s chances. He has appeared in a handful of games at second in the majors and minors and also played some first base, beyond his primary third base position.
Royals manager Ned Yost would have interest in the team retaining reliever Peter Moylan, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com writes. “He’s a great teammate. Great in the clubhouse. Great in the bullpen. Great on the field,” Yost says. The 37-year-old Moylan looked like he might be entering a new phase of his career in 2015, when, after having Tommy John surgery, he signed a two-year minor-league deal with the Braves with the idea that he would coach while he was recovering. He did return to the mound last season, though, and this year he’s pitched 44 2/3 effective innings in the Royals’ bullpen, posting a 3.43 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 while thriving against righties. Here are couple more notes on potential AL free agents.
The Royals are on the cusp of mathematical elimination from the postseason, causing many fans to shift their focus to the club’s chances in 2017. With that in mind, a few notes on the reigning World Series champions…
- MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan discusses a number of 2017 roster decisions in his latest Royals Inbox, including multiple questions on Cheslor Cuthbert’s role next season. The 23-year-old has had a solid rookie season at the plate in Kansas City, slashing .277/.322/.415 with 11 homers. However, with Mike Moustakas set to return to the club next year after having suffered a torn ACL earlier this summer, Cuthbert won’t be getting everyday at-bats at the hot corner. Flanagan also writes that Cuthbert isn’t likely to move to second base, either, as the Royals plan to have internal options Raul Mondesi, Christian Colon and Whit Merrifield compete for that gig. Defensive prowess will be the most heavily weighted factor in that position battle next spring, per Flanagan, who writes that each of the three candidates he listed is considered to be a better defensive option than Cuthbert. All of that, it seems, would leave Cuthbert without a regular role on next year’s Royals, so perhaps his ultimate fate will be returning to Triple-A to try to hone his skills at the hot corner (Flanagan points out that Cuthbert has had issues consistently making accurate throws and issues charging balls as well). Moustakas, after all, is a free agent following the 2017 campaign.
- Also included in Flanagan’s column is a look at next year’s right field mix, where both Billy Burns and Jarrod Dyson will be considerations. The Royals, he notes, love speed and contact-oriented players, and both Dyson and Burns fit that mold well. While there’s the potential for some redundancy there, Dyson doesn’t figure to be overly expensive from an arbitration standpoint this winter, and Burns won’t be arbitration eligible this offseason. As such, it doesn’t seem like the Royals need to make a “one or the other” type of decision, and Kansas City could also simply carry both on the roster, as the switch-hitting Burns would give manager Ned Yost some matchup options.
- Yahoo’s Jeff Passan writes in his latest 10 Degrees column that the Royals will “almost certainly” make a qualifying offer to Kendrys Morales on the heels of his impressive summer power surge. I examined the possibility of that scenario last week when looking at Morales’ free-agent stock, noting that it’s a risk for the Royals, considering Morales’ history with the qualifying offer system. After being burned by a QO on the heels of a nice season with the Mariners in 2013, a now-older Morales strikes me as a likely candidate to accept. The downside of Morales on a one-year deal worth about $16.7MM isn’t crippling, but it’s an overpay in a market that has become less rewarding for players with such pronounced defensive limitations. Passan, too, notes that Morales may accept a QO if tendered such an offer by Kansas City.
- While the Royals are restricted on the international market this year thanks to last summer’s spending spree, assistant GM Rene Francisco tells Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star that he’s still happy with the talent the Royals have been able to bring in for relatively marginal bonus figures. “I think we did good with what we got,” the AGM said. “We gave $50,000 here, $100,000, $75,000, $150,000 — we just kind of spread out the money.” And, as Dodd points out, the Royals have a history of landing premium talent for rather unremarkable bonuses. Salvador Perez, Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera were each unearthed by the Royals’ international scouting department and signed for bonuses south of $100K. Kansas City will also be barred from signing players for more than $300K in the 2017-18 signing period.
- In the coming offseason, the Royals will discuss how best to use righty Joakim Soria and lefty Matt Strahm, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan writes. Soria signed a three-year deal last winter and has had an uneven first season in his return to Kansas City, posting a 4.12 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9. It sounds like he’ll be back in the Royals’ bullpen next year, although the team isn’t sure in what capacity. “[W]e’re going to be very active trying to make sure our bullpen gets back to what it has been. Joakim can be a big part of it,” says GM Dayton Moore. “I know it hasn’t been the type of year that he expected.” Strahm, in contrast, has had an outstanding rookie season in the bullpen, allowing just two runs while striking out 26 batters in his first 19 big-league innings. Strahm spent part of the season as a starter at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, though, and the Royals say they’ll continue to consider him as a starter and that it isn’t guaranteed he’ll break camp with the team.
We’ll keep tabs on today’s minor moves right here:
- The Marlins announced that right-hander Bryan Morris has been outrighted to Triple-A New Orleans. Morris was designated for assignment two days ago after missing the majority of the season due to back surgery. Because of the Major League service time he’s accrued — four-plus year — Morris will be able to elect free agency this winter and hand-pick the best environment and the best offer from interested teams. The 29-year-old (30 next March) has a 2.30 ERA in parts of three seasons with the Fish and a 2.80 career ERA in 215 innings between Pittsburgh and Miami. He’s also sporting one of the league’s best ground-ball rates (58.4 percent) among pitchers with at least 200 innings dating back to the 2013 campaign.
- The Royals have released righty Chien-Ming Wang, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports on Twitter. Wang had been designated on Saturday, and with the minor league season in the books, that all but assured that the veteran would end up being released. It’s remarkable, really, that the once-excellent starter was able to last as long as he did in the big leagues this year given all the arm troubles and failed comeback attempts already in his past. Now 36, Wang managed to put up a 4.22 ERA with 5.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 to go with a 49.3% groundball rate over his 53 1/3 innings in his first major league action since 2013. This was also his first season as a full-time reliever.