The Royals announced today that designated hitter Kendrys Morales and right-hander Edinson Volquez have declined their halves of their 2017 mutual options. Additionally, the team has declined its half of the mutual option on right-hander Kris Medlen. All three players will enter the free-agent market. It’s still possible that the Royals could make a $17.2MM qualifying offer to either Volquez or Morales, though Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star tweets that neither is likely. (That’s no surprise in the case of Volquez, though there was a bit more of a possibility in Morales’ case.)
Morales, 33, will enter the offseason with the strongest free-agent case. After an ice-cold start to the season, the switch-hitting slugger caught fire in June and finished out the year with a torrid .302/.364/.547 batting line and 24 homers in his final 404 trips to the plate. While that endpoint is admittedly arbitrary, Morales’ scorching summer demonstrated that he’s still capable of performing at a high level. That he’ll hit the market without being burdened by a qualifying offer should allow him to find at least a healthy two-year deal this winter — likely to serve as a DH and occasional first baseman elsewhere in the American League.
The Royals will have a hole at DH, of course, bur a reunion doesn’t seem to be in the cards given GM Dayton Moore’s statements about the team’s payroll regressing in 2017. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, White Sox and Rangers are among the American League clubs that could have a first base/DH opening in 2017.
Volquez, also 33, had a strong first season in Kansas City (3.55 ERA in 200 1/3 innings) but was unable to replicate that success in the second season of his two-year, $20MM pact with Kansas City. The 2016 campaign, Volquez’s worst since 2013, saw the veteran right-hander limp to a 5.37 ERA with 6.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and a 51.2 percent ground-ball rate. His year was in some ways the inverse of Morales’ 2016 season. The righty got off to a nice start (3.74 ERA through May 29) but saw his season completely collapse from that point forth. Volquez was tattooed for a 6.27 ERA over his final 122 innings, yielding 85 earned runs on 147 hits and 53 walks (plus six hit batsmen) in that time.
Given that dreadful skid, it’s at least somewhat surprising that Volquez was the one who declined his end of a $10MM mutual option, but given the dearth of quality rotation options on the open market this winter, he could still come away with a nice contract. He’s one season removed from a two-year stretch in which he posted a collective 3.30 ERA in 393 innings, and even in a dreadful 2016 season, Volquez logged 189 1/3 frames. Durability pays on the open market, and Volquez’s camp can pitch him as the most reliable source of 190+ innings available in free agency in an offseason market where the headliners include Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova.
Medlen, meanwhile, was signed prior to the 2015 season as a reclamation project on the heels of his second career Tommy John surgery, but his two-year deal ultimately provided little to return on Kansas City’s $8.5MM investment. After tossing just 58 1/3 innings in 2015, Medlen was slowed by a pair of shoulder injuries in 2016 and managed to take the hill for just 24 1/3 frames of 7.77 ERA ball. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Medlen looked to be blossoming into a potential front-of-the-rotation starter with the Braves, but the 2.47 ERA he posted in 335 innings over a two-year span came all the way back in 2012-13. It’s now been three full seasons since Medlen was an effective Major League pitcher, and while some teams figure to look at him as a low-cost roll of the proverbial dice this winter, he may have to earn his roster spot and earn a significant portion of his 2017 salary via performance incentives.