The Royals have won their arbitration hearing against right-hander Brandon Maurer, tweets FanRag’s Jon Heyman. He’ll earn a $2.95MM salary as opposed to the $3.5MM sought by Maurer and his agents at Frye McCann Sports (link to MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker). Maurer still takes home a raise of $1.05MM in his second trip through the arbitration process, and he can be controlled through 2019 before reaching free agency.
The 27-year-old Maurer was facing an uphill battle in an arbitration hearing, given the 6.52 ERA he sported on the season — including an 8.10 mark with the Royals after being traded over from the Padres. However, the arbitration process rewards saves and holds, and Maurer did lock down 22 saves while serving as the Padres’ closer in addition to six holds on the year. He also remained healthy, taking the ball in 68 games, and he averaged roughly a strikeout per inning as well. All of those components were undoubtedly considered by the arbitration panel, but ultimately Maurer’s run-prevention numbers appear to have been too much to overcome.
That said, there’s reason for optimism and a turnaround in 2018. Maurer’s 59-to-19 K/BB ratio in 59 1/3 innings was strong, he averaged 96.6 mph on his fastball, and he was plagued both by a bloated BABIP (.361) and an abnormally low strand rate (61.1 percent). Maurer has long had problems in stranding runners, but the 2017 season was an extreme case even by his standards. Clearly, the Royals believe there’s a decent chance for him to right the ship as well, or they could have simply non-tendered him in December or found a trade partner for him in recent months.
Maurer will return to a bullpen that has had its share of turnover this offseason, as Joakim Soria, Scott Alexander and Ryan Buchter have all been traded elsewhere. Closer Kelvin Herrera remains a trade candidate even as Spring Training gets underway, though perhaps the Royals would prefer to see him rebuild some value and shop him this summer, considering his lackluster 2017 campaign.
Who will fill in the relief ranks behind Herrera and Maurer is almost impossible to determine with any certainty at this juncture. Candidates include Wily Peralta, Jesse Hahn, Brian Flynn, Kevin McCarthy and Rule 5 picks Burch Smith and Brad Keller, in addition to non-roster veterans Blaine Boyer and Seth Maness.