The Royals are interested in adding an experienced right-handed hitter this offseason, general manager J.J. Picollo tells Anne Rogers of MLB.com. The first-year baseball ops leader suggested the team’s defensive flexibility afforded them the ability to scour the market at multiple positions.
“The nice thing is, we have a lot of flexibility with the positional guys. A lot of guys that can play a lot of different positions. It doesn’t pigeonhole us into saying, ‘We need to go get this position,’” Picollo told Rogers. “I think we’re thinking more right-handed bat more so than left-handed. But we want the ability to match up and have the depth on our bench that allows us to make moves late in games.”
Kansas City has Bobby Witt Jr. locked in at shortstop, while Vinnie Pasquantino broke out to seize the first base job. Franchise icon Salvador Perez is locked in behind the plate, and Rogers writes that former top catching prospect MJ Melendez looks as if he’ll be the primary left fielder. Michael A. Taylor is under contract and the in-house favorite for playing time in center field, although it wouldn’t be a surprise if Kansas City floats him in trade talks considering how shallow the free agent market at the position is.
The rest of the position player group is a bit up in the air. Second and third base were primarily manned by rookies Michael Massey and Nate Eaton down the stretch. Both played reasonably well in their first exposure to big league pitching, and Picollo suggested Massey in particular looks as if he’ll get the first crack at the second base job. Nicky Lopez is on hand as a potential second base alternative, while Adalberto Mondesi is controllable for his final season of arbitration but coming off a season mostly lost to an ACL tear. Mondesi looks like a viable non-tender candidate with a projected $3MM salary, but Picollo indicated the club could bring him back as a multi-positional option off the bench.
That leaves third base and right field — where none of Drew Waters, Hunter Dozier, Edward Olivares or Kyle Isbel looks like a slam-dunk everyday player — as areas for a possible upgrade. Picollo noted that an experienced, veteran player would be ideal to help out in a younger clubhouse. Speculatively speaking, Evan Longoria and Justin Turner, each of whom were bought out of club options today, could fit the bill as third base/designated hitter options. In the corner outfield, players like Mitch Haniger, Adam Duvall, Andrew McCutchen and former Royal Wil Myers are available. Haniger would be the costliest of that group, while the latter trio are likely all available on one-year deals.
On the matter of payroll, Picollo tells Rogers next year’s player spending is likely to be similar to 2022 levels. Kansas City opened this year with a payroll around $95MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Roster Recourse projects their 2023 spending at just under $77MM, seemingly leaving some room for Picollo and his staff to augment the roster. Nevertheless, the GM tells Rogers they could consider moving some players off the big league club to free up spending capacity.
“We’re operating right now near capacity with what we want to spend, but that’s where we need to be open-minded in how we can manage and free up some money to change the look of the team a little bit,” Picollo said. “[Owner John Sherman] has told me, ‘Let’s understand where we are as a team right now, and when the time is right for us to add to the payroll, we’ll do that.’ It’s going to ebb and flow a little bit, but with where we’re at as a team right now, adding an extra $20MM isn’t going to put us at the top. There are other things we need to take care of first before we make that push with the payroll.”
Aside from Mondesi and Taylor, that probably leaves starter Brad Keller ($7MM projected salary) and relievers Scott Barlow ($4.9MM projection) and Amir Garrett ($2.6MM projection) as candidates to change uniforms. Keller and Garrett could be non-tender candidates after tough years, but Barlow would be an in-demand entrant to the reliever trade market if Kansas City shopped him. Controllable through 2024, the right-hander is coming off 74 1/3 innings of 2.18 ERA ball with a 26.6% strikeout rate. Barlow has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers two years running, and dealing him could free up K.C. to address a rather thin starting rotation and/or land the righty bat they’re seeking. Picollo didn’t say dealing Barlow was under consideration this offseason, to be clear, but the closer did draw trade interest at this past summer’s deadline.