- At one point, Hunter Dozier of the Royals had that kind of lofty billing. But the eighth overall pick of the 2013 draft has seen his star fade over the years. As MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan writes, the organization now seems to see Dozier mostly as a first baseman, which doesn’t necessarily boost his long-term value outlook as he prepares to open the season at Triple-A. That said, the organization is obviously focused primarily on finding a path for Dozier to contribute to the majors. That won’t happen out of camp, but the 26-year-old remains one of the Royals’ better-regarded prospects. Injuries robbed him of a full 2017 season, though he did impress with a .296/.366/.533 overall slash in the upper minors in the prior campaign.
The Royals would still like to add help in either the rotation or the bullpen, tweets USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, but their payroll is elevated to the point where they have very little room for further additions. As such, a reunion with still-lingering free agent Greg Holland seems “extremely remote,” Nightengale adds. Over the past couple of weeks, the Royals have signed Lucas Duda ($3.5MM), Jon Jay ($3MM) and Mike Moustakas ($6.5MM) in a late trio of additions, pushing their payroll up into the $122MM range.
- Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters Sunday that he’s considering giving third baseman Mike Moustakas some looks at first base this spring, though he hasn’t talked to the player about it yet (Twitter links via Rustin Dodd of The Athletic and Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com). If Moustakas actually does see action at first during the season, it could open up playing time for third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, Dodd points out. The re-signing of Moustakas figures to lead to a smaller-than-expected role for Cuthbert, though Yost said this week (via Dodd) that he’d like for Cuthbert to rack up at least 400 at-bats this season. Cuthbert encouraged as a rookie back in 2016, when he amassed 510 trips to the plate and hit .274/.318/.413, before experiencing a massive drop in PAs (153) and production (.231/.275/.322) last year.
Before he re-signed with the Royals on Thursday, third baseman Mike Moustakas did not receive any other offers during his lengthy stay on the free agent market, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets. The Angels reportedly offered Moustakas a three-year, $45MM contract, but that’s not the case, according to Buster Olney of ESPN (Twitter link). It was an especially difficult trip to free agency for the 29-year-old Moustakas, who will make $5.5MM – $3.2MM less than last season – despite enjoying one of his best campaigns in 2017. Moustakas discussed his time on the market Saturday, telling Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com and other reporters that it was “frustrating.” Nevertheless, “it feels great” to be back with the Royals, he said.
- There has been “brisk” trade interest in left-hander Danny Duffy, a Royals official tells Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Cafardo expects interest in Duffy to increase, though he writes that Kansas City wants “major prospects” back for the 29-year-old. That’s not surprising from Kansas City’s perspective, as Duffy is arguably its best trade chip. Duffy, whom the Royals extended in 2017, is under contract through 2021 at a reasonable total ($60MM), including $14MM in 2018. He tossed 146 1/3 innings of 3.81 ERA/3.46 FIP ball with 8.0 K/9 against 2.52 BB/9 in 2017.
Major League Baseball has announced an 80-game suspension without pay for Royals outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, Joel Sherman of the New York Post was among those to report (Twitter link). Bonifacio tested positive for Boldenone, a performance-enhancing substance. His ban will open up roster space for third baseman Mike Moustakas, whom the Royals just re-signed.
In response to Bonifacio’s suspension, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said (via Rustin Dodd of The Athletic): “This obviously [is] a very disappointing situation for the Royals, our fans and Jorge. He is an incredible person who simple made a mistake. Jorge will have our full support as he deals with the consequences.”
The 24-year-old Bonifacio, formerly a well-regarded prospect, is coming off his first major league season. Across 422 plate appearances, the right-handed hitter slashed .255/.320/.432 with 17 home runs to essentially grade as a league-average offensive performer (99 wRC+). He also saw 808 innings in the outfield, mostly in right (743), and ended up with minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved and a plus-o.3 Ultimate Zone Rating.
Coming off a respectable rookie campaign, Bonifacio was the front-runner to start in right for the Royals on Opening Day, but the team will now have to make other plans for the first couple months of 2018. The club just signed veteran Jon Jay, who figures to join long-tenured Royal Alex Gordon in occupying starting spots. Other outfield options on the 40-man roster include Jorge Soler, Paulo Orlando, Hunter Dozier, former top prospect Bubba Starling (who’s dealing with an oblique injury) and perhaps second baseman Whit Merrifield, whom the Royals have tried in the grass in recent weeks. Kansas City also has Michael Saunders, Cody Asche and Tyler Collins on hand as experienced big leaguers who are in spring training as non-roster invitees.
In the event they’re not content with their in-house selections, the Royals could once again venture to free agency, where they’ve been active recently with the signings of Moustakas, Jay and Lucas Duda. There are some proven (albeit flawed) outfield options available via that route, with ex-Royals Melky Cabrera and Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, Jose Bautista, Jayson Werth, Andre Ethier and Matt Holliday among them. Infielder Neil Walker is also unsigned, and although he’s not an outfielder, he’d upgrade the Royals’ position player group in the wake of Bonifacio’s ban. The Royals showed interest in Walker recently.
FRIDAY: Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports tweets that Moustakas has passed his physical and is officially back with Kansas City.
THURSDAY: The Royals have struck a one-year deal with third baseman Mike Moustakas, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (Twitter links). Jon Heyman and Robert Murray of Fan Rag had reported earlier that the Scott Boras client was nearing a deal to return to Kansas City.
The contract will guarantee Moustakas just $6.5MM — far shy of expectations heading into the winter. That comes in the way of a $5.5MM salary for the coming season and a $1MM buyout of a $15MM mutual option for the 2019 campaign. Moustakas can also earn up to $2.2MM via incentives for the coming season, per Passan. The bonuses begin at 225 plate appearances and would be maxed out at an achievable 450, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today and Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star (Twitter links).
Clearly, Moustakas expected more when he turned down a $17.4MM qualifying offer from the Royals at the outset of the offseason. And for good reason: the 29-year-old was viewed by many as one of the best players on the open market. Indeed, MLBTR predicted the 29-year-old would secure an $85MM guarantee over a five-year term.
As things turned out, the market just never developed for Moustakas. Potential landing spots dried up throughout the winter as organizations signed other players, found cheaper alternatives, or decided largely not to add to their MLB rosters.
Meanwhile, the Royals spent much of their own offseason trimming costs and waiting to see if they could coax back Moustakas’s long-time corner infield mate, Eric Hosmer. That pursuit ended without a deal, seemingly leaving the Royals positioned to embark upon a full-blown rebuild.
Bucking the leaguewide trend, though, Kansas City has elected to dedicate some cash to put a quality product on the field in 2018. It may not be enough to make for a clear-cut contender, but the Royals have certainly added a lot of productivity in signing Lucas Duda, Jon Jay, and now Moustakas in short succession.
Better still, the team has improved its 2018 outlook quite a bit without tying its hands for the future. It still seems that a longer-term outlook will define the team’s approach, and it’s certainly possible that some of the new additions will end up being traded at some point in the coming season, but the Royals promise to be competitive for the coming season.
Signing Moustakas does come with a cost beyond the payroll hit. Since he returned to Kansas City after declining a qualifying offer, the organization will not add a compensatory draft choice that it would have if he had joined Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain in heading elsewhere. The Royals will still add two selections after the conventional first-round of the draft for those departures. As for Moustakas, he’ll re-enter the market next winter (assuming the mutual option is not exercised) without the hindrance of any draft compensation, though he’ll also face stiff competition in an anticipated market full of stars.
There’s plenty to digest about this signing, needless to say. Most broadly, it’s as clear a sign as any about the market’s valuation of power. As the ball flies out of the yard at record rates around the league, lofty dinger tallies just aren’t paying in free agency.
It was bad timing, then, for Moustakas, whose power stroke is his chief attribute. He launched a career-high 38 long balls in 2017 and finished with steadily above-average overall offensive production. Despite tepid output earlier in his career, Moustakas has been a .275/.329/.496 hitter over the past three seasons.
Of course, that’s something of the rosy version of his attributes as a hitter. Moustakas managed only a .314 OBP last year and carries an ugly .305 career mark. While he doesn’t strike out much, he also doesn’t draw many free passes; in 2017, he finished with a career-low 5.7% walk rate. And his 17.8% HR/FB rate from last year sits well above his career average of 10.6%. Any decline in that number could be problematic. Statcast suggests Moustakas was fortunate to fare as well as he did, crediting him with a .331 xwOBA that falls shy of the .355 wOBA he ended up posting.
Teams certainly may also have been a bit wary of Moustakas’s abilities in the field and on the bases. Fangraphs’ total baserunning statistic marks him as one of the league’s worst baserunners, with -5.4 runs tallied in both 2017 and 2015 — suggesting that his intervening ACL tear wasn’t solely to blame. Defensive metrics panned his glovework, too, with DRS (-8 runs) and UZR (-3.1) both casting Moustakas as a below-average performer despite previously rating him at times as a quality defender at the hot corner.
In any event, those facts and figures are of no real concern to the Royals, who are intimately familiar with a player they drafted (second overall in 2007) and developed into a productive big leaguer. Whatever qualms they may have about his long-term outlook are nullified in this agreement, anyway, and there’s no denying that Moustakas represents a remarkable bargain at this rate of pay for a single season’s commitment. (Compare to Pablo Sandoval (five years, $95MM) and Chase Headley (four years, $52MM).)
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Alcides Escobar returns to the Royals with a not-so-lofty goal in sight, Rustin Dodd writes in a piece for The Athletic. Kansas City’s long-time shortstop wants to finish the season with an on-base percentage above .300 for the first time since the 2014 season. He says that he’s working on “taking a lot of pitches each at-bat” and trying to avoid swinging at bad pitches, both of which seem like obvious things to work on. Escobar owns a career OBP of just .294, and his .272 figure last year was the second-lowest among qualified MLB hitters (Rougned Odor’s .252 was the lowest, for those keeping track). That .272 mark for “Esky” was the result of drawing just 15 walks, his lowest full-season total ever.
A roundup of some other news items out of the AL Central…
- Recent Twins signee Logan Morrison reportedly suffered a right glute strain while running the bases on Wednesday, according to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com. He was held out of Friday’s game, and is expected to miss today’s matchup as well. However, the injury isn’t considered serious. Minnesota brought the former Tampa Bay first baseman into the fold with a $6.5MM guarantee that includes a vesting option. He hit .246/.353/.516 last season with the Rays while smacking a career-high 38 home runs.
- The White Sox are dealing with a more significant injury. Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribute tweets that farmhand Luis Robert has a moderate thumb sprain. Daryl Van Schouwen provides further details on the situation with his own tweet, adding that GM Rick Hahn expects the young outfielder to be immobilized in a cast for six weeks, and to be held out of game action for ten. Robert hit a phenomenal .310/.491/.536 in Rookie ball last season; Baseball Prospectus ranks him as the South Siders’ fifth best prospect, and number 55 overall.
- Continuing with injury news, Indians prospect Julian Merryweather will officially undergo Tommy John surgery after recently being diagnosed with a UCL sprain in his throwing elbow, according to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. The right-hander was a fifth-round pick by the Tribe during a 2014 draft in which the club also landed Bradley Zimmer, Triston McKenzie and Bobby Bradley. Merryweather had been solid at all levels of the minors before struggling to a 6.58 ERA across 16 starts at Triple-A Columbus last season, though his 3.89 xFIP suggests he dealt with some unfortunate homer/fly ball luck.
- Auburn right-hander Casey Mize is “the name to watch” for the Tigers as we approach the 2018 June amateur draft, says Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. After skidding to a 68-94 record last season, Detroit owns the number one overall pick in the draft, and as Passan notes, the club loves big college arms. Mize threw a no-hitter last night and was throwing 96 MPH up through the ninth inning. Scouts in attendance say he was throwing a “filthy split” as well.
7:47pm: Moustakas and the Royals are “close” to hammering out a reunion, per Heyman and his colleague, Robert Murray (Twitter link).
7:33pm: The sides are “working toward an agreement,” per MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan (via Twitter). It’s expected to be for a short term, he notes, with the likelihood being that it would cover just a single season.
7:20pm: The Royals have re-opened talks with free agent Mike Moustakas, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. There’s said to be “some hope” that talks will lead to an agreement, with Heyman adding on Twitter that K.C. has issued an offer.
There has been little prior indication that Kansas City would be a likely landing spot for its long-time third baseman. Moustakas, who had been with the Royals since they took him with the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, declined a qualifying offer at the end of the 2017 season. Thus far, however, he has yet to find a new home after encountering a market that was not been as welcoming as expected.
Perhaps the most interesting question is just what kind of contract scenario the sides might be discussing. While Moustakas obviously set out seeking a multi-year arrangement with a hefty guarantee, the Royals are surely uninterested in a massive commitment. Indeed, GM Dayton Moore recently told Rustin Dodd of The Athletic (subscription link) that the organization intends “to be pretty consistent” with not doling out multi-year contracts this winter.
The Royals, of course, recently struck reasonably-priced, one-year arrangements with Lucas Duda and Jon Jay, signaling that the club is still interested in boosting its on-field product for 2018. But signing Moustakas would also mean losing the ability to recoup a compensatory draft pick were he to sign elsewhere, and it’s at least fair to wonder whether the team would actually be better-suited attempting to secure a player of his talents on a lower-AAV, multi-year pact. Then again, Moustakas himself may prefer to take what he can get for a single season and re-enter the market again next winter, despite the attendant risks.
At 29 years of age, Moustakas is still youthful enough to be of interest to organizations that aren’t fully committed to competing in the near-term. Of course, he also isn’t particularly youthful and carries a skillset that is no longer commanding top dollar. Moustakas smashed 38 long balls last year, but also managed only a .314 on-base percentage that sits only slightly higher than his marginal .305 career rate. His once-sparkling defensive metrics at third base have also declined of late.
7:55pm: The Royals announced the signing.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale provides a more in-depth breakdown of Nolasco’s incentive structure (Twitter link). The veteran righty would unlock a $25K bonus for making his 10th start of the season, and he’d earn an additional $25K for each start up through his 19th of the year. For a pitcher with Nolasco’s recent durability, that’s a highly attainable set of bonuses, though he’s obviously far from a lock to even make the big league roster.
5:15pm: The Royals and Nolasco are in agreement on a minor league contract, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman (Twitter links). He’ll earn a $1.5MM base salary if he makes the Major League roster and has another $250K of incentives available to him. Nolasco’s deal also has a March 24th out clause.
3:54pm: The two sides are discussing a minor league contract, reports MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan (via Twitter), though he cautions that the deal is not yet complete.
3:32pm: The Royals are closing in on an agreement with free-agent right-hander Ricky Nolasco, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). Nolasco, a client of Sosnick, Cobbe & Karon, will provide some depth for a thin group of rotation candidates with the Royals, who recently lost righty Jesse Hahn to the 60-day DL due to a sprained ulnar collateral ligament.
Last season, the 35-year-old Nolasco wrapped up a four-year, $49MM deal initially signed with the Twins, though he played out the final season of that contract with the Angels after being flipped to them at the 2016 non-waiver trade deadline. Signed to serve as a durable innings eater in the middle of the Twins’ rotation, Nolasco lost much of his first two years of that deal to injury.
He bounced back to make 65 starts from 2016-17, though the results in that time weren’t what either the Twins or Halos would’ve hoped; over the past two seasons, Nolasco has soaked up 378 2/3 innings between the two clubs but struggled to a 4.66 ERA and averaged 1.4 homers per nine innings pitched.
To his credit, Nolasco has managed to keep his velocity steady, sitting in the 90-91 mph range into his mid-30s, and he posted a career-best 10.9 percent swinging-strike rate with the Angels in 2017. That said, he was still far too hittable — 205 hits in 181 innings — and yielded a 37.6 percent hard-contact rate that ranked as the fourth-highest among all qualified starters.
With the Royals, Nolasco will vie for a spot in a rotation that will include Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel. Jake Junis and Nate Karns are both candidates for the final two spots, with Junis turning in a solid rookie effort in 2017 and Karns looking for a comeback following surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. Wily Peralta, Eric Skoglund, Sam Gaviglio and Trevor Oaks are among the other rotation candidates on the 40-man roster.
- The UCL sprain that landed Jesse Hahn on the 60-day disabled list may not wind up requiring surgery, reports MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan. Hahn, acquired by the Royals in the trade that sent Brandon Moss and Ryan Buchter to Oakland, felt a “twinge” in his arm during his last Cactus League outing and will be shut down for “several” weeks. Rather, Hahn will be re-evaluated after his shutdown and could then begin a throwing program. Hahn says he’s actually encountered a similar issue in the past but tried to pitch through it for five to six starts and wound up missing significant time. This time around, he raised the issue immediately.
- Newly signed Royals outfielder Jon Jay spoke with reporters following the announcement of his one-year deal, voicing a willingness to play all over the outfield and, a bit more surprisingly, in the infield as well (link via Maria Torres and Pete Grahoff of the Kansas City Star). “I’m prepared to play all three outfield spots,” said Jay. “And you can sprinkle me in at first base if you need to. For me it’s simple: I’ll be ready to work.” Jay has exactly four innings of professional experience at first base and hasn’t played there since a two-inning appearance with the Cardinals’ Triple-A club back in 2010. With Lucas Duda on board, Jay certainly wouldn’t be viewed as any kind of regular option there, but his willingness to do so is at least of mild interest. Torres and Grahoff note that Jay could log some occasional innings at DH as well to get Jorge Soler and Jorge Bonifacio additional reps in the outfield.