With several established cogs set to hit free agency after next season, the Royals aren’t in position to stand pat this winter, writes FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. It doesn’t appear the team will do that, as it’s willing to listen to potential trade offers for several of its soon-to-be free agents and a couple players who are under control beyond next season, sources told Rosenthal.
First baseman Eric Hosmer is among the prominent Royals who could hit the open market next offseason, though it seems the club will retain the Scott Boras client in hopes of locking him up long term, per Rosenthal. But the expectation is that Kansas City would entertain dealing left-hander Danny Duffy, closer Wade Davis, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, third baseman Mike Moustakas and shortstop Alcides Escobar. The same is true in regards to right-handers Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura.
Including Hosmer, those players are due in the neighborhood of $70MM next season – which is potentially problematic for a club that could cut payroll on the heels of spending a franchise-record $135MM in 2016. The Royals’ break-even point is between $115MM and $120MM, sources informed Rosenthal, who notes that current payroll estimates have them around $148MM.
The most expensive member of the above-mentioned group is Kennedy, who’s set to earn $13.5MM in the second season of the five-year, $70MM contract he inked as a free agent last winter. The Royals already tried to move Kennedy prior to last summer’s trade deadline by packaging him with Davis, but they weren’t able to find any takers. While Kennedy, 31, wasn’t amid an overly impressive season at that point, a strong second half helped lead to above-average numbers overall (3.68 ERA, 8.46 K/9, 3.04 BB/9 in 195 2/3 innings). Considering free agency has so few quality options, it’s possible Kennedy could pique starter-needy teams’ interest. There are obvious downsides to acquiring him, however: For one, he has the ability to opt out of his contract after next season. On the other hand, if the homer-prone Kennedy doesn’t pitch well enough in 2017 to take that route, his employer would owe him a significant amount – $49MM – through 2020.
Unlike Kennedy, the Royals won’t have any difficulty shipping out Davis if they’re looking to make a deal. The late-game ace is owed an affordable $10MM next season and should appeal to clubs that lose out on top free agent closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. The Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Nationals and Marlins are among the potential fits, Rosenthal tweeted Sunday.
As is the case with Davis, a motivated Kansas City probably wouldn’t encounter much trouble moving either Duffy or Ventura – especially considering the aforementioned paucity of high-end free agent starters. The soon-to-be 28-year-old Duffy is fresh off a career-best season, having recorded a 3.56 ERA, 9.32 K/9 and 2.07 BB/9 over 161 2/3 innings from the rotation. Kansas City opened extension talks with him in November, but it’s unknown whether the two sides have made progress in negotiations. Duffy is currently on track to make an estimated $8.2MM via arbitration, per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
Thanks to a 2015 extension, the 25-year-old Ventura is controllable through 2021 – including a pair of club options – at a combined $43.25MM. The mercurial Ventura was far from great in 2016 (4.45 ERA, 6.97 K/9 and 3.77 BB/9), but he maintained his high velocity, recorded a 50.2 percent ground-ball rate, and threw at least 180 innings for the second time in three seasons. As of June, the Royals weren’t willing to part with him, though it seems the door is now open.
Cain is coming off a wrist injury and is set to carry the Royals’ third-highest salary in 2017 ($11MM). Teams that miss out on the two best free agent center fielders, Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond, could certainly look to the 30-year-old Cain as a less costly alternative. He’s arguably superior to both, having accounted for 16.3 fWAR since 2013 thanks to his ability to contribute in the field, at the plate and on the base paths.
Moustakas missed most of 2016 with a torn ACL, which could affect whether teams pursue him. Aside from likely Dodger Justin Turner and Luis Valbuena, the open market is lacking at the hot corner, meaning Moustakas could entice someone on an $8.7MM salary. Free agency is even emptier at shortstop, and that might lead to interest in the defensively adept, fleet-footed Escobar at $6.5MM. Most – if not all – contenders already have answers at the position, however.
Theoretically, the Royals could keep all of their players on expiring contracts and make qualifying offers to them next offseason. But that’s certainly not going to happen, as any player who accepts the QO would likely make in the $18MM neighborhood in 2018. Moreover, acquiring draft picks for those who reject the offer seemingly doesn’t appeal to Kansas City because doing so would mean waiting several years to see if those selections pan out. Trading their free agents-to-be between now and next summer’s trade deadline could enable the Royals to acquire players who are either in the majors or close to contributing at the big league level.