Kansas City Royals Rumors

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

Central Notes: White Sox, Royals, V-Mart

Rebuilding is no longer a word the White Sox want to be associated with, Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune reports. “We sit here on the one hand realizing that we have the prime of Chris Sale‘s career ahead of us, the prime of Jose Abreu‘s career ahead of us and wanting to make sure we’re in a position to capitalize and win within that window,” Hahn said. “We want to win, we want to win again quickly and we want to win again repeatedly in the coming years. … We still have work to do to continue that process.” At the same time, Hahn emphasized today that the team has to avoid the “dangerous allure to wanting to make a splash,” as Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports in the course of an interesting look at the team’s options.

Here’s the latest from the AL Central after a busy news day:

  • The White Sox are currently focused on acquiring a right-handed starter, bullpen additions, and a left-handed hitter, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. While the club has in the past looked into dealing for backstops such as Jason Castro of the Astros and Yasmani Grandal of the Padres, that does not appear to be the priority at present, per Rosenthal. Nevertheless, Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com indicates on Twitter that the team does have present interest in Castro.
  • Hahn said today that Chicago is interested in multiple relief acquisitions, as MLB.com’s Phil Rogers reports“We don’t feel the need to go out and get a so-called proven closer,” said Hahn. “We certainly want to have multiple upgrades, and if some of those upgrades give us viable back-end options, that’s great.”
  • Word is that the Royals will meet with the representatives of lefty Brett Anderson this week, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports on Twitter. GM Dayton Moore declined to confirm or deny that or any other meetings. I picked Anderson to go to Kansas City in the MLBTR free agent prediction contest, and think he makes sense for a club that has some added cash to spend on an upside play.
  • The Royals have told Raul Ibanez that they would be interested in employing him in a non-playing capacity, tweets McCullough. Ibanez, of course, is in the hunt for the Rays’ open managerial position, and perhaps it is still to early to rule out a return to an active roster as well.
  • Victor Martinez is at the top of the Tigers‘ list of priorities, writes Paul Hagen of MLB.com, as GM Dave Dombrowski made clear that the team will make every effort to re-sign the DH. The team is still interested in outgoing free agents Max Scherzer and Joba Chamberlain, per Dombrowski, but he said the club is sitting back while both assess their markets.

 


Yasmany Tomas Rumors: Tuesday

Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas will celebrate his 24th birthday on Friday, and it will surely be a happy one given the lucrative contract on the horizon.  Yesterday, agent Jay Alou explained the Phillies’ standing in the Tomas derby, telling reporters including Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, “There are several teams that I could say are frontrunners, but yes (the Phillies are one of them).”  Surprisingly, the Phillies have yet to make a formal offer, but Alou says, “It will all get going soon.”

Today’s Tomas rumors…

  • Tomas is drawing interest from the Orioles, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Rosenthal also notes on Twitter that the chase for Tomas is still heating up, with two teams set to visit him in the Dominican next week and others still weighing pursuit.

Earlier Updates

  • The Royals have entered the Tomas sweepstakes, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Royals don’t feel that Tomas has the same type of advanced hitting skills that countryman Jose Abreu brought to the division-rival White Sox, but they have a need for a right fielder and feel his defense is at least adequate. The Royals like Melky Cabrera as well but Tomas would allow them to preserve their first-round pick, whereas Cabrera received and rejected a qualifying offer from Toronto.
  • The Phillies, Padres and Giants have each seen Tomas three times, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. He also reports that agent Jay Alou rejected an eight-year offer (though he doesn’t specify the value), preferring a five to seven year term to get Tomas onto the open market again around his age-30 season. The Mariners also like Tomas but aren’t expected to outbid other clubs, according to Heyman.
  • Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Rangers aren’t likely to sign Tomas. Starting pitching is said to be the team’s top priority, and sources tell Wilson that the Rangers have informed Alou that their resources will be dedicated to that goal.
  • How about the $100MM figure that has been bandied about for Tomas?  “I don’t know where that came from, but he’d be happy and I’d be happy,” says Alou.  In my September profile of Tomas, I posited a seven-year, $105MM contract.  More recently, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports went with eight years and $100MM, an agent who spoke to Heyman said seven years and $93MM, and a GM said eight years, $100MM.  Eight years is an interesting call, because that would mean Tomas would be giving up a potential valuable free agent season.  Seven would be more aligned with typical MLB service time for a top prospect, who can put in just shy of seven years before reaching free agency if called up a few weeks into the season.
  • Yesterday, Jorge Arangure Jr. had an excellent profile of Tomas for Vice Sports.  In it, Arangure said Tomas will likely choose a team from the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners, and Padres, who have all scouted the player several times.  Tomas’ Dominican-based trainer Raul Javier, asked when the player would sign, replied, “Very soon.”

Royals Meeting With Billy Butler Today

The Royals will meet with Billy Butler‘s agents from the Legacy Agency today to discuss the possibility of re-signing their DH, reports ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). However, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star gets the sense (Twitter link) that the Royals aren’t interested in going beyond a two-year deal to retain Butler, whose $12.5MM club option was declined in favor of a $1MM buyout.

Butler has spent his entire career with the Royals and owns a lifetime .295/.359/.449 batting line. However, his offense took a step back in 2013, and he graded out as a below-average hitter (95 OPS+) in 2014. I doubt that two years is of too much interest to a 29-year-old free agent, although the market for Butler is more limited than it is for most players, as he figures to only draw interest from AL clubs, and those with full-time DHs obviously won’t be a factor in his market.



Phillies Notes: Byrd, Howard, Tomas, Rollins

They’re trying to blow the whole thing up.  Everyone is for sale,” a rival executive tells CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury about the Phillies’ offseason plans.  The Phils will listen to offers on any player, though Cole Hamels and Ken Giles would require the most in return.  The rival exec wasn’t sure if the Phillies would find that desired price for Hamels, though he predicted that Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd would be moved this offseason.  “Detroit and Cincinnati are two teams to watch on Byrd,” Salisbury writes.

Here’s some more from the City of Brotherly Love…

  • The Royals have had internal discussions about acquiring Howard if the Phillies cover most of the $60MM remaining on Howard’s contract, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports.  Kansas City sees Howard as a possible replacement for Billy Butler at the DH spot.  UPDATE: The Royals’ interest in Howard is overblown, a source tells Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com.
  • The Phillies haven’t yet made an offer to Yasmany Tomas, agent Jay Alou told reports (including Salisbury).  Alou said that he and GM Ruben Amaro spoke today and negotiations are ongoing between the two sides.  Alou cited the Phils as one of “several teams that I could say are frontrunners” for Tomas, and noted that the Phillies had seen the outfielder work out a second time since his private workout for the club in September.
  • Amaro hasn’t spoken to Jimmy Rollins about the shortstop waiving his 10-and-5 rights to facilitate a trade to another team, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports.  “If it is ever the right time, I will have the conversation, but Jimmy will be the one who decides where he is going,” Amaro said.
  • A trade of Domonic Brown for Jeremy Hellickson would make sense for both the Phillies and Rays, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News opines.  Lawrence makes it clear that he is just engaging in idle speculation about this proposed deal, as there is no evidence the Phillies are the NL team reportedly close to acquiring Hellickson.

Mutual Interest Between Royals, Ervin Santana

The Royals have been in contact with right-hander Ervin Santana, who “is said to be very receptive to a return,” CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports.  Santana is a fan of Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, among others in the K.C. organization.

After a tough 2012 season with the Angels, it was a move to Kansas City in 2013 that revived Santana’s career.  He posted a 3.24 ERA and 3.16 K/BB rate in 211 innings for the Royals that season, though thanks to a qualifying offer tag and perhaps some unrealistic expectations in free agency, Santana had to settle for a one-year deal with the Braves for 2014.

Santana is seeking a five-year contract this winter, Heyman reports, and the righty has more of an argument for that long a commitment given his strong performance with Atlanta.  Since he rejected the Braves’ qualifying offer, the team that signed Santana would have to give up a 2015 draft pick — in the Royals’ case, it would cost them the 24th overall selection.  That said, since James Shields also rejected his QO and seems likely to sign elsewhere, the Royals will receive a compensation pick between the first and second rounds.

Essentially, signing Santana would cost the Royals a drop of roughly ten spots or so in the 2015 draft, which the club might decide is worth it to reinforce the rotation.  MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes projected Santana for a four-year, $56MM deal, which would normally seem steep for the Royals, yet I suspect they could be willing to spend a bit more freely this winter in the wake of their great postseason performance.


Minor Moves: Jurrjens, Wang, Delcarmen, Burriss

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…

  • Baseball America’s Matt Eddy has published his latest round of Minor League Transactions, and within the piece he notes that the Rockies have re-signed Jair Jurrjens to a minor league deal. Additionally, the Royals have re-signed Cuban lefty Noel Arguelles, Jordan Norberto re-signed with the Rays and Russ Canzler is back with the Phillies. Each of these is a minor league deal.
  • The Braves have signed right-hander Chien-Ming Wang to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training, according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (on Twitter). The Braves are known to be seeking rotation depth, and Wang should provide just that. The former Yankee totaled 172 2/3 innings at the Triple-A level in 2014, posting a 4.12 ERA with 73 strikeouts and 57 walks.
  • The Nationals have re-signed right-hander Manny Delcarmen and infielder Emmanuel Burriss to minor league deals with invites to Spring Training, according to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson (Twitter links). Burriss, 30 in January, hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2012 but batted .300/.377/.412 in 510 Triple-A plate appearances for the Nats this past season. The 32-year-old Delcarmen hasn’t seen big league action since 2010, but he, too, had a strong season at Triple-A Syracuse for the Nats in 2014. Delcarmen posted a 3.13 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 60 1/3 innings of relief.

Ten Teams Showing Interest In Torii Hunter

At least ten teams have reached out to express interest in Torii Hunter, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today, and the free agent’s most aggressive suitors are in the very familiar AL Central. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Royals, Twins, Tigers, Cubs, Giants, Rangers and Mariners have all shown some early interest in Hunter (Twitter links). Hunter’s preference is to remain in Detroit, he adds, but his fate may be tied to that of Victor Martinez, as the Tigers likely can’t re-sign both.

Though Hunter turns 40 next July, he still enjoyed a productive season at the plate in a fairly pitcher-friendly home environment, hitting .286/.319/.446 with 17 homers in 586 plate appearances. His defensive game, however, appears to have slipped as Defensive Runs Saved pegged him at -18 runs and Ultimate Zone Rating agreed (-18.3).

Given his age, I’d think Hunter’s priority would be signing with a team he expects to contend in 2015 rather than maxing out his contract or perhaps making a sentimental return to his former Minneapolis stomping grounds.


Nori Aoki Seeking Three-Year Deal

Free agent outfielder Nori Aoki is looking for a three-year deal, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). He’s currently drawing interest from both the Reds and the Royals, although Kansas City at the moment is said to be more interested in Torii Hunter, Heyman adds.

Aoki batted .285/.349/.360 in his lone season with the Royals and played a key role from a defensive standpoint as the team made its way to the World Series. However, he’s seen a precipitous drop in his power since coming to the Majors. After hitting 10 homers as a rookie with the Brewers in 2012, he hit eight in 2013 and just one in 2014. His isolated power dropped from .144 in 2012 to .084 in 2013 and .075 in 2014, although a portion of the most recent dip could at least be attributed to moving to the spacious Kauffman Stadium.

The Reds are in need of a left fielder and are said to also be targeting Mike Morse, while Kansas City has been linked to a reunion with Aoki on more than one occasion. However, there wouldn’t be room for both Hunter and Aoki in K.C., so it seems that for the time being, Aoki is on the back burner as GM Dayton Moore looks to add some punch to his lineup in the form of the veteran Hunter.

MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently profiled the 32-year-old Aoki and suggested that he could land something in the range of two-year, $16MM contract.


Quick Hits: Epstein, Butler, Billingsley

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts told Mully and Hanley of 670 The Score (via Levine) that he is interested in having extension talks with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. The 40-year-old executive joined the Cubs just over three years ago on a five-year deal. Here’s more from around the big leagues.

  • The Royals are not ruling out the possibility of bringing back DH Billy Butler, reports Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. While Kansas City obviously did not value him at his $12.5MM option, and had hoped to give some DH time to Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez, Mellinger says that Butler’s play down the stretch and in the postseason has changed the club’s thinking. Of course, his .770 OPS over the season’s last 62 games was hardly world-beating production for a bat-only player, but it did hint that his previous excellence at the plate may still be found. Mellinger theorizes that Kansas City could be willing to guarantee Butler eight figures on a two-year deal, though the lifetime Royal would probably need to forego better offers to stay — which he did say was a possibility earlier in the year.
  • Free agent righty Chad Billingsley has changed his representation to Octagon’s Steve Hilliard, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). He had been a client of Dave Stewart, who of course has given up the business as part of his new career move. Billingsley, still only 30, has missed virtually all of the past two seasons with multiple elbow surgeries. In spite of his health struggles, Billingsley should draw plenty of interest as a buy-low candidate.

Free Agent Profile: James Shields

In December 2012, the Rays traded James Shields, Wade Davis, and Elliot Johnson to the Royals for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard.  Myers was regarded as one of the best prospects in the game at the time, so the Royals paid a huge price to add Shields atop their rotation.  Big Game James anchored the Royals’ rotation for two years, living up to his reputation as a workhorse and posting a 3.18 ERA for his new club.  Now, Shields enters free agency for the first time in his career.

Strengths/Pros

Shields has never been on the disabled list in his nine-year career and has served as the ultimate rotation workhorse.  Since 2007, Shields has averaged 231 innings and more than 34 starts per season, including the postseason.  This year for the Royals, Shields tallied 252 innings across 39 starts.  He tied for sixth in baseball with 227 regular season innings, and led the American League in 2013 with a similar total.  From 2013-14, Shields’ 455 2/3 regular season innings ranks second in all of baseball.

James Shields

Shields’ ability to go deep into games is a bullpen-saver, a trait that the pitcher finds very important.  This year in the regular season, he averaged 6.68 innings per start, which ranked 13th in baseball.  He was even better in the three years prior, averaging 7.06 innings per start.  Shields tied for the MLB lead with 27 quality starts in 2013, and tied for 10th with 24 this year.

It’s not just about the innings with Shields, of course.  He’s also a very good pitcher.  He has a 3.18 regular season ERA over the past two seasons, which ranked 23rd in baseball and 10th in the AL.  He was worth 8.2 wins above replacement in that time, 14th in MLB.  If we calculate WAR using Shields’ actual runs allowed, he jumps up to 9.9, basically a tie for the seventh-best figure in baseball.  Whether or not Shields fits your definition of an ace, he’d be the best starting pitcher on a lot of different teams.

How does he do it?  One key attribute is Shields’ stellar control.  He allowed only 1.7 walks per nine innings this year, 14th among qualified starters.  2013 aside, Shields has generally hovered around 2.3 walks per nine.  These days, he relies primarily on a four-seam fastball, a cutter, and a changeup.  Shields has generally been known for possessing one of the game’s best changeups, and the numbers bear that out at least for 2011-13.

For someone like Jon Lester, his fastball velocity is trending downward, as you’d expect as a pitcher enters his 30s.  Shields, on the other hand, started his career working around 90 miles per hour and steadily increased to the point where he averaged a career-best 92.4 miles per hour in 2014.

Weaknesses/Cons

Shields has been one of the better pitchers in baseball over the last four seasons.  But where will he slot in over the next four or five?  The average American League starting pitcher this year posted a 7.35 K/9, 2.71 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9, 43.2% groundball rate, 3.92 ERA, and 3.89 SIERA.  Shields posted a 7.14 K/9, 1.74 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, 45.2% groundball rate, 3.21 ERA, and 3.59 SIERA.  He was undoubtedly above average, owing to his control and innings total.  But he had a below average strikeout rate, and he wasn’t anything special at preventing home runs.  His vaunted changeup seemed to go missing for the first two-thirds of the season, and he didn’t look good in the playoffs, posting a 6.12 ERA and allowing 36 hits in 25 innings.

American League starters have stranded about 72.5% of baserunners over the past two seasons, while Shields has stranded 77.1%.  From 2006-12, Shields’ LOB% was 72.6%.  If we assume his true talent is close to that of the league and the first seven years of his career, we might say he’s been lucky to have left so many runners on base while pitching for the Royals.  That may account for much of the difference between his 3.68 SIERA and 3.18 ERA.  Shields’ 3.68 SIERA from 2013-14 ranked 34th among qualified starters and is comparable to fellow free agent Ervin Santana (3.70, 37th).

Shields’ strikeout rate bounced around in the 8.1-8.8 per nine range from 2010-12, but he’s at 7.43 per nine over the past two seasons.  He’s not missing a lot of bats relative to league average these days, and he allowed nearly a hit per inning in 2014 despite no anomalies with his batting average on balls in play.  The Royals were baseball’s best defensive team for each of Shields’ years with them, and leaving that defense could hurt him on balls in play.

Shields has been mostly a flyball pitcher outside of 2012, and in the first seven years of his career with the Rays he allowed 1.14 home runs per nine innings.  That came down to 0.85 per nine with the Royals, who play in a ballpark known for suppressing home runs.  Shields might be a bad fit for a place like Yankee Stadium or Minute Maid Park.

Shields turns 33 years old in December.  Max Scherzer will play most of next season at age 30, and Lester will pitch at age 31.  Aside from Jake Peavy and Hiroki Kuroda, all the second-tier starting pitchers are also younger.

Shields was one of four starting pitchers to receive a qualifying offer, and all of them figure to decline on Monday.  Potential suitors such as the Marlins, Yankees, or Giants would have to forfeit their first-round draft pick in 2015 to sign him.

Personal

Shields was born in Newhall, California and resides in Rancho Santa Fe, CA with his wife and two daughters.  He was offered a full scholarship to Louisiana State University out of high school, but chose to sign with the Rays instead.

You might be familiar with Shields’ cousin, former White Sox, Phillies, and Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand.  Rowand gave cousin Jamie a wake-up call of sorts when the pitcher was in the minors.  “I was being kind of lazy and just trying to let my talent take over,” Shields told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune in 2008.  The pitcher moved to Las Vegas for early morning training with Rowand and remembered his cousin telling him, “I’m going to show you how big leaguers really work and how to stay healthy every season and do what it takes to succeed in this game.”  Shields owes a lot to his family, crediting older brother Jeremy for teaching him the changeup that set his career back on track following surgery for a benign cyst in his shoulder in ’02.

James and his wife started the Big Game James Club in 2010, an initiative inviting foster children to Tropicana Field.

Market

Starting pitching is plentiful this winter, but Shields is the third-best starter and shouldn’t require the six or seven-year commitments Jon Lester and Max Scherzer will.  He’s a durable, veteran leader who soaks up innings and has ample postseason experience, if not a strong record in that arena.  The Royals will attempt to re-sign Shields, but otherwise the Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Twins, Astros, Angels, Giants, Mariners, Rangers, Braves, Marlins, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Dodgers, White Sox, and Tigers may be looking for starting pitching in some capacity.  However, it’s not likely all of those teams will be willing to make the kind of commitment it will take to sign Shields.

It’s been suggested Shields is off the Yankees’ radar, and likewise outside of Arizona’s comfort zone, financially speaking.  Shields has been rumored as a potential fallback option for the Cubs, should they fail to sign Lester.  The Red Sox are an oft-cited suitor, though Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote in September that Shields would be “off the list” if he requires a five-year deal.  Boston reportedly topped out at an insulting four-year, $70MM offer to Lester in Spring Training, which would make a five-year offer exceeding $90MM to Shields seem inconsistent.

Expected Contract

Shields was drafted by the Devil Rays out of high school in the 16th round in 2000, and he never ranked among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects.  He broke into the Majors at age 24.  After impressing in his first full season in ’07, he signed a four-year, $11.25MM deal with the Rays that contained three club options.  He ended up earning about $40.5MM for seven seasons, the last two of which would have been free agent years.  Shields can hardly be blamed for locking in his first fortune at age 26, but now he finally has freedom to choose where he signs and to sign for his full market value.

Shields should not have a problem securing multiple four-year offers.  It is that fifth year, covering his age-37 season, that will be a sticking point for some clubs.  To find a free agent starting pitching contract of four of more years that included someone’s age-37 season, you have to go back six years to Derek Lowe‘s deal with the Braves.  That remarkable four-year contract covered Lowe’s age 36-39 seasons and was almost immediately regrettable.  That was the offseason the Yankees signed C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, leaving Scott Boras clients Lowe and Oliver Perez as the most desirable starters.  This free agent market is not set up that way, but I think Shields’ reputation as a workhorse will net him that fifth year.  For a deeper look at where Shields fits in with historical free agent comparables like C.J. Wilson, John Lackey, and A.J. Burnett, check out Jeff Todd’s excellent piece from March.

In some offseasons, Shields would have been the best available starter, but this winter he must contend with Scherzer and Lester.  Shields’ average annual value depends on how he is viewed.  Some teams might see him as Scherzer/Lester lite, justifying a $20-22MM salary.  Others could view him as Ervin Santana plus, suggesting $18-19MM.  That’s a fairly wide spread, but I’m going with a five-year, $95MM deal for Shields.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.