The Royals entered the 2018 season with a payroll of roughly $122MM — their fourth straight season with a $100MM-plus payroll — but Fancred’s Jon Heyman writes in his latest notes column that the team is expected to pare that figure back by as much as $30-35MM for the 2019 campaign.
Scaling back the payroll isn’t exactly a shock for a club that has been working to rebuild its farm system, though the cut described by Heyman would be a fairly substantial downturn in on-field spending. Unlike the Marlins, though, who slashed payroll to similar levels this past offseason, the Royals won’t have to orchestrate any type of fire sale to do so. They already saved money by trading impending free agents like Kelvin Herrera, Mike Moustakas and Jon Jay prior to the non-waiver trade deadline (plus Lucas Duda and Drew Butera in August). The Royals are also paying Travis Wood, Joakim Soria and Brandon Moss in 2018 as part of previous trades to shed each of those contracts; all of those obligations will be off the books come 2019.
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After all those subtractions, the Royals have about $69.5MM on the books for the 2019 season by way of guaranteed contracts for Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler. They’ll have several arbitration cases in the form of Brandon Maurer, Nate Karns, Brian Flynn, Cheslor Cuthbert, Jesse Hahn and Paulo Orlando, though some (if not most) of that group could be non-tendered this winter.
It’s unlikely that the Kansas City front office will be able to find a taker for any of the team’s most onerous financial commitments (Kennedy, Gordon), and it seems equally unlikely that the team would sell low on Duffy or Perez coming off lackluster seasons. Perez’s power numbers remain quite strong, but he’s turned in a career-worst .270 OBP to date — third worst among qualified MLB hitters. Duffy, meanwhile, posted a 4.88 ERA through 155 innings in a season that was marred by shoulder issues.
The Royals could organically scale back payroll by as much as $50MM, though it seems reasonable to expect that they’ll invest some funds in second- and third-tier free-agent pickups. They’re not likely to contend next season even with the rampant mediocrity that permeates the AL Central, but GM Dayton Moore has been candid about his desire to improve the on-field product sooner rather than later. To that end, Moore and his staff prioritized near-MLB assets in many of their trades over the past calendar year, landing players like Brett Phillips, Jorge Lopez, Heath Fillmyer, Trevor Oaks and Jerry Vasto. The Royals were also aggressive in the Rule 5 Draft (Brad Keller, Burch Smith) and picked up cast-offs with MLB experience from other organizations (Brian Goodwin, Ben Lively) over the summer.
Adding some low-cost veterans on short-term deals could help to field a more competitive product than the one the Royals trotted out for much of 2018 — and a full season of Adalberto Mondesi won’t hurt, either. Such investments could also present the opportunity to further stock the farm with some upper-level talent prior to the 2019 non-waiver deadline (as was the case with last winter’s Moustakas reunion, which ultimately netted both Phillips and Lopez).