The Royals have been relatively active over the first month of the offseason, inking one of the four free agent position players to sign so far this winter and trading for two pitchers ahead of the non-tender deadline in November. Still, the front office has plenty of work to do if the team is going to improve upon a 56-106 record in 2024. On Monday, Royals general manager J.J. Picollo spoke with members of the media at the Winter Meetings to discuss the team’s plans for the remainder of the offseason.
Most notably, Picollo revealed that he has at least $30MM to spend in free agency (as relayed by Jaylon Thompson of The Kansas City Star). That could bring the team’s 2024 payroll just over $100MM, a total the Royals have not surpassed since 2019. What’s more, the executive suggested he could spend beyond that estimate for the right players.
Presumably, Picollo will use most of his budget to improve a pitching staff that finished second-last in the AL in ERA, SIERA, and FanGraphs WAR last season. He specified that he would like to acquire one starting pitcher and two relievers, one of whom would hopefully step into the closer’s role.
While Picollo didn’t identify any particular targets, he stated on MLB Network Radio that the Royals “can be competitive” in the price range several free agent starting pitchers have already signed for. Presumably, he’s not referring to Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray, but instead the next tier down. That means pitchers like Kyle Gibson, Kenta Maeda, Luis Severino, Nick Martinez, and Lance Lynn, all of whom signed for an annual average salary in the $11MM to $13MM range.
During his appearance on MLB Network Radio, Picollo also touched on the non-monetary side of free agent negotiations. Factors beyond money are particularly relevant for a rebuilding team like the Royals, as they try to convince free agents they are an attractive destination despite their recent string of losing seasons. “When you’re recruiting free agents they want to know what your plan is,” he said. “So our process has got to be pretty deep and thorough because we’re really selling those players on what we can do for them.”
One name on many fans’ minds is Zack Greinke, who became a free agent following the 2023 season. According to Picollo (and as relayed by Thompson), the Royals are still waiting to hear if the six-time All-Star plans to retire this winter. While he isn’t the star he used to be during his first run with Kansas City, Greinke has been a reliable innings eater for the Royals over the last two seasons, pitching 279 1/3 innings with a 4.38 ERA. Given his popularity within the organization, his solid performance over the past two years, and the team’s lack of pitching depth, one would think the Royals would be interested if Greinke decided to pitch again in 2024, but Picollo stopped short of confirming as much.
He did, however, confirm that MJ Melendez will continue to play the outfield next season. The 25-year-old was once one of the top catching prospects in baseball, but he transitioned to a full-time outfield role this past season. His defense never stood out behind the plate, where he was blocked in the Royals organization by Salvador Perez anyhow. With the emergence of backup catcher Freddy Fermin, and with the way Melendez improved at the plate after he stopped catching in 2023, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the Royals are going to keep him in the outfield going forward.
Finally, Picollo revealed that first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino is ready to return to normal baseball activities over the winter after missing the final four months of the 2023 season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. According to Thompson, the team will provide further information on his status during today’s media session.