The Royals’ rebuild won’t be a lengthy endeavor if general manager Dayton Moore has his way. The veteran front office exec addressed the media today and covered a number of offseason-related topics (links via Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star and Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com), making clear that the Royals don’t plan to tank in an effort to improve their farm system.
“I think when you create a mindset that we’re rebuilding, you somehow build in or make an excuse that’s it’s OK to lose baseball games,” said Moore. “It’s not. … That’s our responsibility — to win games.”
That said, Moore also emphasized that restoring his minor league system to its once-elite levels is the team’s top priority. Several years of picking at the back end of the first round and trades for some veteran players (e.g. Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto) have contributed to a depleted Kansas City farm system. The balance of striving for continually increased levels of competition while also seeking to bolster the farm won’t be easy to strike, though, especially not with so many teams throughout the league aggressively gunning for one extreme end of the spectrum or the other.
The Royals are reportedly looking to cut payroll by as much as $30-35MM from their recent record levels of spending, leaving little in the way of budget room for free agents. Much of that payroll paring will be organic, it should be noted. The Royals already saved money by during the 2018 season by shipping out impending free agents like Kelvin Herrera, Mike Moustakas, Jon Jay, Lucas Duda and Drew Butera. In 2018, Kansas City was also on the hook for all of Travis Wood’s salary despite having traded him to the Padres in 2017, plus part of their prior obligations to the also-traded Joakim Soria and Brandon Moss.
At present, Jason Martinez of Roster Resource and MLBTR projects the Royals at $90.325MM on the books for the 2018 season, including arbitration projections from MLBTR’s Matt Swartz and also including pre-arb players. The Royals seem likely to non-tender Brandon Maurer ($3.1MM projection) and could conceivably cut loose any of Nate Karns ($1.375MM projection), Cheslor Cuthbert ($1.1MM projection), Brian Flynn ($1MM projection) or Jesse Hahn ($1.7MM projection). Jettisoning that whole group would result in an estimated $8.275MM worth of salary off the books, which could create some flexibility to add roster help while still remaining in their reported target range of $85-90MM.
If there’s an area the Royals will add, be it via free agency or via trade, it seems likely to be the bullpen — an area in which Moore bluntly said his team “need[s] better options.” Kansas City relievers posted a disastrous 5.04 ERA on the season as a whole, adding in the lowest K/9 mark of any big league bullpen (7.31), the sixth-highest BB/9 (4.15) and the sixth-highest HR/9 (1.28).
[Related: Kansas City Royals depth chart]
As for the lineup, Moore said he doesn’t expect much turnover, as the team is “prepared to go forward” with in-house options for the most part. To some extent, that’s understandable. Catcher Salvador Perez, upstart shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and second baseman Whit Merrifield are all quality options at their positions. Ryan O’Hearn obliterated right-handed pitching in his late-season promotion and could be paired with Hunter Dozier in a first-base platoon. Alex Gordon rebounded to some degree and is locked into left field with a $20MM salary. The Royals will want to get looks at Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin and Jorge Bonifacio in the outfield, and Jorge Soler hit well when healthy in 2018.
On the whole, that doesn’t paint an especially promising outlook, though Moore expressed confidence in the manner in which his team finished. Of course, much of the team’s 20-14 record in its final 34 games looks attributable to multiple series against lackluster Twins and Tigers clubs, plus a series against the Orioles and another against the White Sox. It’ll be up to a large group of unproven players to deliver on Moore’s show of faith. If the Royals are to somehow achieve the goal of simultaneously improving on the field and in the farm system, they’ll need numerous players to step forward in the same manner that Mondesi did in 2018, as Moore’s comments don’t indicate that there’s much hope for outside help on the horizon.