Kansas City Royals Rumors

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

Central Notes: Morales, Finnegan, Castillo, Pirates, Marshall

While it may seem curious to some that the Royals are adding relief arms such as Franklin Morales because of the perceived strength of their bullpen, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes that the bullpen isn’t as deep as the team would like. The Royals are hoping for a return to form from Luke Hochevar, but he’s less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Tim Collins and Louis Coleman each posted FIP marks of 4.80 or higher with poor strikeout-to-walk ratios, and other candidates such as Rule 5 pick Jandel Gustave, journeyman Joe Paterson and reclamation projects Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton offer little certainty. While 2014 top pick and late-season bullpen weapon Brandon Finnegan is an option, the club still wants to develop him as a starter, which likely means more time in the minors.

Here’s more from baseball’s Central divisions…

  • Finnegan, for his part, tells McCullough that he would prefer to open the season with the Royals as a reliever than go back to the minor leagues as a starting pitcher (Twitter link). Of course, it’s not surprising that he’d prefer to remain with the Major League club any way that he can, however, as McCullough points out, it’s also not his decision. Certainly, Finnegan’s long-term value to the club would be increased were he able to make it as a starting pitcher, and he may not have to wait that long for a shot, as Jeremy Guthrie can become a free agent next winter.
  • While some players will admit that a trade suits them best when their path to playing time becomes obscured, Welington Castillo tells Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune that he hopes to remain with the Cubs even after their acquisitions of Miguel Montero and David Ross (Twitter link). Castillo looks to be an expensive and perhaps superfluous third catcher at this stage, and there have been some indications that the 27-year-old may find himself with a new team before Opening Day.
  • Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argues that the Pirates should have found a way to avoid arbitration with Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Vance Worley rather than ending up in hearings that resulted in a savings of a mere $50K. While Cook is accurate that the money saved was minimal, GM Neal Huntington explained via email that the team’s goal was “to simply explain why the club’s submitted salary is a more accurate salary for the player based on other comparable past and current players than the player’s submitted salary.” I’d add that teams feel a sense of responsibility to the rest of the league to manage arbitration salaries, as the arbitration process is based largely on statistical comparables.
  • Reds lefty Sean Marshall has had a minor setback in recovery from his June shoulder surgery and isn’t throwing from the mound yet, he tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. However, Marshall is pleased with how his offseason has progressed and isn’t concerned about having to slow things down a bit. The 32-year-old has pitched just 24 1/3 innings since signing a three-year, $16.5MM extension with Cincinnati, though he was among the game’s elite left-handed relievers the three seasons prior (2010-12).

AL Central Notes: Indians, Tigers, Cabrera

For the third installment of a four-part series comparing the Indians and the division-rival Tigers, Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel spoke to both Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski and Indians GM Chris Antonetti about the way in which their payroll allows them to operate. Dombrowski discussed how the financial muscle provided to him by owner Mike Ilitch allows for an aggressive approach that he didn’t necessarily have when serving as GM of the Expos and Marlins, or even earlier in his Tigers tenure. While a larger pool of resources hasn’t changed his philosophical approach to the game, per se, it has changed his approach to accomplishing his goals.

Antonetti, meanwhile, discussed the importance of acquiring and building around players in the “sweet spot” of their careers, as the Tribe GM termed it — players who are entering, or in the midst, of their peak years (and subsequently are in the early stages of arbitration). The young nature of Cleveland’s core made the team comfortable with adding only Brandon Moss and Gavin Floyd to the roster this winter, Antonetti added. “It’s a group that played its best baseball in the second half, and so as we looked at things, we felt very good about the group of guys we headed into the offseason with,” Antonetti said.

Some more AL Central notes…

  • The Tigers announced yesterday that two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera has been cleared to begin non-impact baseball activities, which include hitting and throwing. Cabrera “will begin a running progression until full weight-bearing is achieved,” per the press release. While the Tigers neglected to give a specific timetable for his return, the release indicated that the club is “optimistic” that Cabrera will be ready come Opening Day. Cabrera underwent surgery in October to remove bone spurs from his right ankle and repair a stress fracture in his right foot.
  • A report earlier this week indicated that the Royals watched Phil Coke throw recently, and Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets that the Royals have not only watched Coke, but also Alfredo Aceves throw. Kansas City is still on the hunt for relief depth, McCullough notes. While Coke makes some sense as a lefty option in the K.C. bullpen, he’s reportedly seeking a Major League contract, whereas Aceves could certainly be had on a minor league deal.
  • When the Braves and Royals engaged in Justin Upton trade talks earlier this winter, Atlanta wanted left-handed prospect Sean Manaea included in the deal, according to Peter Gammons in his most recent post at GammonsDaily.com. The 34th overall pick of the 2013 draft, Manaea was projected by many as a top 10-15 pick before questions about hip and shoulder injuries caused his stock to drop. The southpaw performed well in his first pro season, posting a 3.11 ERA, 10.8 K/9 and 2.7 K/BB rate over 121 2/3 IP in high-A ball. Gammons believes Manaea has a shot at being a late-season call-up this year, and compares him to another heralded left-handed prospect in Carlos Rodon.

Greg Holland Open To Long-Term Deal With Royals

Just over one year ago, Royals righty Greg Holland told Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star that he was open to a long-term deal, and the All-Star closer hasn’t changed his tune even after getting a year closer to free agency. Holland told McCullough yesterday that he hopes the Royals’ interest in an extension is still present, because he remains amenable to working out a new deal to keep him in Kansas City beyond 2016 — his final year of team control.

However, as was the case in 2014, there was little discussion of an extension in arbitration, as the two sides focused primarily on his 2015 salary. (Holland agreed to a one-year, $8.25MM pact.) However, he acknowledged that he understood the Royals had quite a bit of work to do on the free agent market this year, especially when losing a pitcher the caliber of James Shields“And then I feel like that arbitration thing sneaks up on you, so you want to just get something done so both sides can just move on and get ready for spring training,” Holland continued.

A long-term deal for Holland figures to come with a significant price tag. Another strong season could push his arbitration salary upwards of $12MM, and as David Robertson‘s four-year, $46MM contract showed this offseason, teams are more than willing to pay top dollar for premium relievers on the open market. Holland compares favorably with Robertson, Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman as one of baseball’s very best relievers, though he has a longer track record of accumulating saves than Robertson did when entering free agency. In fact, over the past two years, Holland has been statistically superior to Kimbrel, who is believed by many to be baseball’s top closer.

Kimbrel signed a four-year, $42MM contract extension last winter with a club option that could push the deal’s value to $54MM over five years. A long-term deal for Holland may very well have to top that number, as Holland is a year closer to free agency and already earning significantly more than Kimbrel was at the time of his signing.

Needless to say, it’s uncertain whether or not the Royals can afford to spend that type of money on a reliever — particularly when they’re already spending heavily on setup man Wade Davis, who earns $7MM in 2015. Fellow setup man Kelvin Herrera will also begin to see his salary rise, though not substantially until the 2017 season, as he agreed to a two-year, $4.15MM pact this winter.

Holland’s rising price tag has led many to speculate that he could eventually be traded, particularly because Davis’ salaries for the next few seasons are controlled via club options. Kansas City can exercise an $8MM club option for the 2016 season and a $10MM option for the 2017 season. That’s significantly less money than Holland will make, barring some form of injury. Holland told McCullough that he does believe both sides want to work something out, but he acknowledged that baseball is a business, and that the Royals have a lot of money invested in the bullpen as it is. “[I]t’s a fine line to get both sides happy and to feel comfortable,” Holland said.

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.