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Kansas City Royals Rumors
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.
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.
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:
- Edinson Volquez, SP: two years, $20MM
- Kendrys Morales, DH: two years, $17MM plus mutual option
- Alex Rios, OF: one year, $11MM plus mutual option
- Luke Hochevar, RP: two years, $10MM
- Kris Medlen, SP: two years, $8.5MM
- Jason Frasor, RP: one year, $1.8MM
- Yohan Pino, SP/RP: one year, unknown amount
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’backs, Tigers, 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.
The Brewers announced today that a mild right hamstring strain will cost All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy four to six weeks of action in Spring Training. Obviously, that news brings into question whether or not Lucroy can be ready for Opening Day with the Brewers. As Adam McCalvy of MLB.com writes, however, Lucroy recently had a platelet-rich plasma injection in his hamstring to speed the recovery process and believes he will be ready come Opening Day. The team does have a serviceable backup in Martin Maldonado, should Lucroy’s recovery take longer than expected, but even missing a few weeks of Lucroy’s bat and elite glove could be a significant detriment in what figures to be a highly competitive NL Central Division. (For more on Lucroy’s defense, check out this excellent article by Rob Arthur of Baseball Prospectus detailing the effect of pitch-framing not only on called strikes but on expanding a hitter’s swing profile.)
Here are a few more notes from the game’s Central divisions…
- Cuban right-hander Raisel Iglesias, signed by the Reds to a seven-year, $27MM contract last summer, has a legitimate chance to end up in Cincinnati’s rotation, writes John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer in looking at 10 pertinent questions facing the Reds as Spring Training approaches. Scouts in the Arizona Fall League and manager Bryan Price all raved to Fay about Iglesias’ AFL performance. “Four pitches with command — that spells out starting pitcher, especially when it’s plus-stuff across the board,” Price said. “He was 93-97, so the velocity is there. The action on his fastball is there, much better changeup than I anticipated seeing and two quality breaking balls and a good feel.” If Iglesias can indeed crack the rotation, that could be a significant boost to a team that saw both Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon depart via trade this winter.
- Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN writes that he has been asked by Twins fans, and wondered himself, why Minnesota didn’t go on a Padres-like tear to restructure their roster into a win-now club. While Mackey concedes that Minnesota’s deep farm system makes it possible to have done something similar, he points out that the Padres had a lower payroll to start with than the Twins and even after their flurry of moves are now on par with Minnesota. Additionally, San Diego’s method comes with plenty of risk, as Justin Upton looks to be a one-year rental, and the team has taken the risk that Matt Kemp‘s arthritic hips will hold up, and James Shields‘ productivity will continue through age 36. Mackey looks at recent winter remakes by the 2008 Tigers and Mariners, the 2012 Marlins and 2013 Blue Jays and notes that none have been successful (though Detroit eventually emerged as a perennial contender). Ultimately, he concludes, his preference is for a long-term, sustainable run at success with a deep farm system, such as the one currently possessed by the Twins.
- Twins VP of player personnel Mike Radcliff and several scouts were on hand today to watch Cuban right-hander Yadier Alvarez in the Dominican Republic, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. Just 18 years old, Alvarez was clocked between 93 and 97 mph and received positive words from Fangraphs prospect/scouting guru Kiley McDaniel earlier today.
- Though the Royals will miss Shields’ arm in their rotation, he gave them exactly what they needed at a time they needed it the most, writes MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan. Shields helped instill a winning culture in the Royals’ clubhouse, bringing a “swagger and a level of confidence that we didn’t have before,” GM Dayton Moore explained to Flanagan. Shields created a belief among his teammates that they could win on any given night and orchestrated elaborate victory celebrations. Not only that, but he became a role model for young arms such as Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. “He was a tremendous help to me,” Duffy told Flanagan. “You learn so much just talking to him.” In addition to those intangible benefits, of course, the Royals got two years of excellent production and the No. 33 pick in the 2015 draft.
Yankees starters Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia are generating positive reports, team pitching coach Larry Rothschild tells Mark Didtler of the Associated Press (via the LoHud Yankees Blog). Tanaka has “felt good” while going through a normal winter progression, says Rothschild. The pair’s progress this spring will be critical for the Yankees. If Tanaka’s partially torn UCL or Sabathia’s balky knee are problematic, the club would seem a prime candidate to add pitching.
- In the final analysis, the Royals‘ run with James Shields was an example of the team “beating the system,” according to Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. By selling high on Wil Myers to add Shields, Kansas City added the arm it needed before cashing him in for a new first-round pick through the qualifying offer system.
- The Red Sox and Orioles have at least begun looking into the idea of playing a spring game in Cuba this year, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports. While it appears unlikely that will happen in such short order, it certainly hints at how quickly things could move in that arena.
- Signing players to big extensions is obviously risky, and rarely works out in the way that many expect when a deal is struck. But that does not mean that they fail to deliver good value, or that teams are irrational in reaching them, Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus writes.
The Royals should employ “selective memory” regarding their successful 2014 playoff run, writes Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. During the Wild Card game, the Royals were just a few outs from elimination against the Athletics. A series of improbable events led to a remarkable comeback victory. Without that first win, Ned Yost would be a punching bag in the media due to questionable decisions, Mike Moustakas would have entered the offseason with another disappointing season on his resume, and Lorenzo Cain would have failed to gain national acclaim. The postseason success also allowed the Royals to bolster their payroll, which should help in 2015.
- The Reds have two more arbitration players – Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman, writes Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. The club continues to talk to agents of both players in an effort to find a middle ground. Per GM Walt Jocketty, “we’re going to keep working on it this weekend and see if we can make some progress.” Both players have fairly substantial differences in their submitted figures. Frazier asked for $5.7MM compared to the club’s offer of $3.9MM in his first season of eligibility. Chapman’s camp submitted for $8.7MM while the Reds countered at $6.65MM. MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projected a $4.6MM payday for Frazier and $8.3MM for Chapman.
- The Reds are “pretty much done” with free agent signings, reports Sheldon. Cincinnati inked reliever Burke Badenhop earlier today and signed former closer Kevin Gregg to a minor league deal. Jocketty left the door open, saying he’ll see if “something pops up,” but it’s unlikely.
- Patience allowed the Indians to acquire and develop three of their semi-homegrown stars, writes the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto. Michael Brantley was a player to be named later in the 2008 CC Sabathia trade. It took him six seasons to breakout at the major league level. In 2010, Corey Kluber was acquired in a three team trade. As we know, he also took awhile to reach his ceiling. Catcher Yan Gomes is another important trade acquisition for the club. Cleveland sent pitcher Esmil Rogers to Toronto in exchange for Gomes and Mike Aviles. All three players never ranked among the top 100 prospects in the game, and they’re all under club control through at least 2017.
Earlier today, Danny Valencia became the first player of the offseason to win an arbitration hearing. While some players are already heading to trial, others are working with their respective teams to avoid a hearing. We’ll keep track of today’s minor arbitration settlements here, with all projection references pointing to those of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz…
- The Royals and left-hander Danny Duffy have settled on a one-year, $2.425MM contract, reports Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com (on Twitter). Duffy, who had filed at $3MM versus the team’s $1.75MM offer, settled $50K above the midpoint of those two figures (as depicted in MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker). That figure comes in $175K south of his $2.6MM projection. The 26-year-old Duffy thrived in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, totaling a 2.53 ERA with a 113-to-53 K/BB ratio in 149 1/3 innings. He’ll be eligible twice more before hitting free agency after the 2016 season as he enters his age-28 season. The Royals still need to resolve cases with Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer and Kelvin Herrera.
We learned last night that the market for James Shields was taking shape, with multiple offers on the table and an expectation that the righty would be signed by the end of the week. Today figures to deliver plenty more reporting on the best remaining free agent, and we’ll keep tabs on it here.
- The Cubs have entered the fray and are “kicking the tires” on Shields, reports David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com. Kaplan, too, hears that Shields is expected to choose a team by the end of the week, and the Cubs are among those he is considering. Kaplan tweets that the Cubs have been waiting to see where the Shields market ended up before getting too involved. He adds that Shields has interest in Chicago, with his relationship with manager Joe Maddon being a factor.
- Shields’s agent, Page Odle, has indicated to some clubs that his client is “getting close to resolution,” according to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (via Twitter).
- While it remains unclear exactly where they stand, the Marlins “remain in talks” involving Shields, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. As he writes, the club is more interested in a three-year deal than in going to four, with its pursuit complicated by payroll projections and the undecided situation of Dan Haren.
- If Miami is in, several other at-least-hypothetical landing spots appear to be out: The Cardinals prefer to plug Carlos Martinez in the rotation rather than signing Shields, tweets Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Rangers have not modified their intentions to avoid major free agent pitching investments, according to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan (via Twitter). And the always-unpredictable Athletics are not involved, per a tweet from Heyman.
- Two more west coast teams, the Giants and Angels, are also not currently in the running, Heyman reports (Twitter links). San Francisco had been in conversations in the four-year, $80MM range with Shields earlier in the offseason, per an Olney tweet, but ended up pursuing (and signing) Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong when they were rebuffed.
With more than 30 players still needing to settle arbitration situations (as of Tuesday morning, that is), word of agreements should continue to steadily pour in over the weeks. All of the outstanding situations — as well as those that have already been settled — can be monitored using MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker. For today’s minor agreements, we’ll keep track of them in this post as well, with all projections coming courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz…
- Miguel Gonzalez has agreed to a $3.275MM contract to avoid arbitration with the Orioles, Heyman tweets. That number lands just $50K over the sides’ filing mid-point, and less than $500K shy of the projected figure. Any way you cut it, it’s a handsome first-year arb-eligible payday for the 30-year-old righty, who took a circuitous path to establishing himself as a solid big league starter. As the arb tracker shows, Baltimore now needs to resolve just two cases: Zach Britton and Alejandro De Aza.
- Also avoiding arbitration with the Royals was outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who will earn $2.725MM next year, according to Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com (Twitter links). Cain can also earn $25K for reaching 505 plate appearances and would pick up $50K with an All-Star selection. Cain had a breakout season last year, putting up about five wins above replacement on the back of a .301/.339/.412 slash, 28 steals, and outstanding center field defense. He had filed at $3.6MM in his first year of arb eligibility, with the club countering at $2MM. MLBTR/Matt Swartz had projected Cain to earn $2.3MM, but he lands slightly above that — aided in part, no doubt, by his quality postseason work.
- The Royals and Mike Moustakas have agreed to a $2.64MM contract for the 2015 season, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Moustakas, who had filed at $3.1MM compared to the team’s $1.85MM filing number, will come in a bit north of the $2.475MM midpoint between those figures. The 26-year-old Moustakas hit just .212/.271/.361 in 2015, though he did manage 15 homers and also tacked on five more in the postseason. His salary will fall just $60K shy of Swartz’s $2.7MM projection, though Heyman tweets that Moustakas can boost his salary a bit, as he’ll earn an extra $10K upon reaching 550 plate appearances.
- As the Arb Tracker shows, the Royals still have four remaining cases: Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy and Kelvin Herrera.
The White Sox rank at the very top of the list of offseason winners compiled by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. GM Rick Hahn ticked through many of the team’s questions this winter and should have a competitive team to show for it, says Heyman. Of course, despite plenty of praise, there are still some non-believers out there. They can point to this year’s PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus, which see Chicago as a 78-win team. Also of note from PECOTA, which is rather down on the division on the whole: the Tigers are tabbed as a .500 club, while the Royals project to win just 72 wins after appearing in the World Series last year.
More from the south side and the AL Central:
- The White Sox are a much improved team heading into the 2015 season, but much of the optimism surrounding the club relies on the contributions of right fielder Avisail Garcia, writes Fangraphs’ Neil Weinberg. Perception appears to be that Garcia can handily outperform the just-designated Dayan Viciedo, but Weinberg cautions that we shouldn’t readily accept that as fact. Garcia’s stats to date tell a similar tale to that of Viciedo — modest on-base percentage with some power and below-average base-running and defensive skills. While Garcia’s track record is clearly smaller, the two are excellent statistical comps even when looking at their production through the age of 23. Weinberg notes that scouts have long questioned whether or not Garcia would be able to resist bad pitches and make enough contact to succeed, and the assumption that he will outperform Viciedo is based largely on perceived ceiling as opposed to likely outcomes.
- Newly-designated White Sox slugger Dayan Viciedo should generate plenty of interest, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports writes. The American League West offers the best matches, Morosi argues, with the Mariners, Athletics, and Rangers all potentially making sense as landing spots.
- Despite some apparent suggestions, the Twins are not interested in free agent second baseman Rickie Weeks, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets. That is not terribly surprising, given that the right-handed-hitting Weeks does not play short and would presumably have needed to serve as a backup to two right-handed hitters in Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe.
- Ichiro Suzuki‘s representatives (who he shares with Twins skipper Paul Molitor) tried to generate interest in the veteran from Minnesota, but the club never saw a fit, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. As Berardino explains, Ichiro and Molitor — both incredible pure hitters — share an interesting relationship.