- In less-surprising qualifying offer news, the Royals are a virtual lock to extend the QO to Lorenzo Cain but aren’t planning to issue one to Jason Vargas. Tommy John surgery sidelined Vargas for much of his three-year stint in Kansas City, though he was mostly effective (4.16 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 2.31 K/BB rate) over 179 2/3 IP in 2017. Given that TJ surgery and the fact that Vargas turns 35 in February, he’d seem to be a good candidate to accept a qualifying offer, and the Royals probably don’t want an $18.1MM salary on the books as they embark on a possible rebuild.
- Heyman also reports that Braves chairman John Schuerholz and president of baseball ops John Hart are “said to be at odds” with one another, though Hart firmly denied the notion. “John and I are lifelong friends, and there is mutual baseball respect as well,” Hart tells Heyman. “Nobody totally agrees on every player, staff member, etc. That’s just baseball.” Heyman adds that Schuerholz “would love” to bring Royals GM Dayton Moore on board to run the team’s baseball ops department and groom Schuerholz’s son, Jonathan. The younger Schuerholz is currently the team’s assistant director of player development. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted yesterday that Moore is “more open” to leaving the Royals for the Braves than in the past, though the decision will likely boil down to whether he’s given full authority over the team’s baseball operations department. That’d suggest that Hart sticking around and holding onto the “president” title he’s held for the past few seasons would be a deterrent to hiring Moore.
7:22pm: Associates of Moore believe he’s likely to leave the Royals for the Braves, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
5:42pm: Braves president of baseball operations John Hart spoke to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other reporters Monday about general manager John Coppolella’s resignation, which was a forced exit, O’Brien writes.
Hart expressed deep disappointment in Coppolella, confirming he committed “an MLB rules violation that has to do with the international marketplace.” Hart also revealed that the league “dug up a number of things that were quite serious, as far as the MLB ruless” in its investigation, one that went back roughly two years, O’Brien tweets. Coppolella’s international violations were merely “the tip of the iceberg,” a source told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN (Twitter link).
As the Braves move forward, Hart will assume their GM role on a temporary basis, but a couple of potential full-time successors to Coppollela have already emerged in the rumor mill. One possibility is Royals GM Dayton Moore, who started his career in Atlanta in 1994 before eventually heading to Kansas City in 2006. Moore still “has a soft spot” for the Braves, Crasnick notes (Twitter links). Crasnick also points out that with the Royals perhaps entering a rebuild and having an up-and-coming GM prospect in J.J. Picollo, now may be the time for them and Moore to part ways.
Should the Braves strike out on a potential Moore pursuit, they might turn to Dan Jennings, who “could be a top candidate,” according to O’Brien (on Twitter). Jennings is a special assistant to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, but he’s better known for his time with the Marlins. The 57-year-old worked as Miami’s GM from 2013-15, and he even served as its interim manager for 124 games in his final season with the club. Jennings ceded the GM position when he shifted to the dugout, an experiment that yielded a 55-69 record and led to his firing after in October 2015.
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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic runs down the big league managers that could be on the hot seat (subscription required and strongly recommended). Rosenthal lists Braves skipper Brian Snitker as an immediate candidate and notes that Red Sox skipper John Farrell, too, could be on the hot seat if the Sox are bounced in the ALDS for a second straight season. Farrell was inherited rather than hired by president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. While Orioles owner Peter Angelos isn’t likely to dismiss Buck Showalter, the tension between him and GM Dan Duquette continues to loom large in the organization. Rosenthal also covers several other managers on shaky ground that could find themselves in jeopardy with poor team showings in 2018.
A bit from MLB’s dugouts around the league…
- The Royals and pitching coach Dave Eiland reached a mutual agreement to part ways, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman. The 51-year-old Eiland spent six seasons as the pitching coach for manager Ned Yost in Kansas City, helping the team to consecutive World Series appearances in 2014-15 and, of course, a World Series victory in the latter of those two seasons. He also spent 2008-10 as the Yankees pitching coach, so Eiland’s considerable experience should get him some type of opportunity with another organization, even if the Royals’ pitching staff as a whole underperformed in a disappointing 2017 campaign. Rustin Dodd and Pete Grahoff of the Kansas City Star, meanwhile, report that bench coach Don Wakamatsu, bullpen coach Doug Henry and assistant hitting coach Brian Buchanan are also expected to be dismissed. Kansas City has since announced that Eiland and Wakamatsu will not have their contracts renewed.
- Angels manager Mike Scioscia will be back with the team in 2018 — the final season of his 10-year contract as skipper of the Halos, tweets Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. Scioscia hopes to manage the Angels beyond the 2018 season, Fletcher notes, but he’s content heading into the final season of his contract without signing an extension. The 58-year-old Scioscia is Major League Baseball’s longest tenured manager, as he’s been skipper of the Angels since the 2000 campaign. The Halos were in contention for the American League’s second Wild Card spot up until the final week of the season despite a slew of injuries that decimated their pitching staff for much of the year.
- Braves president of baseball operations plans to meet with manager Brian Snitker to discuss his future “as early as today,” tweets MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. The Braves will have a decision on the coaching staff at some point midweek, per Bowman. Notably, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets that Hart said today’s sudden resignation of GM John Coppolella in the wake of an MLB investigation isn’t likely to impact the decision one way or another (Twitter links). O’Brien guesses that the option on Snitker will be exercised, though it seems that a formal decision has not yet been made.
- Royals left-hander Danny Duffy will undergo surgery Tuesday to remove “loose bodies” from his elbow, per Dodd (Twitter link). Duffy landed on the disabled list Aug. 27 with an elbow impingement, though he did return in mid-September to make three more starts. In the first season of a five-year, $65MM contract extension, Duffy logged a 3.81 ERA over 146 1/3 innings, to go with 8.0 K/9 against 2.52 BB/9.
Eric Hosmer and a few other big-name Royals are scheduled to hit free agency after the season, but the team is going to make a concerted effort to retain the first baseman, Jon Heyman of FanRag reports. The Royals may offer the Scott Boras client upward of $100MM, which, depending on the exact amount and length, could be a stunning commitment from a franchise that has never given a player more than $72MM (Alex Gordon in 2016). Gordon’s four-year contract has been disastrous thus far, and considering the up-and-down nature of Hosmer’s career, the Royals could be taking a substantial risk in handing him a big-money pact. Although, to the 27-year-old Hosmer’s credit, he has enjoyed an outstanding platform season, having slashed .319/.385/.496 with with 24 home runs in 660 plate appearances.
- While the Royals will attempt to keep Hosmer, it seems they’re resigned to losing center fielder Lorenzo Cain in free agency. The Royals aren’t optimistic they’ll be able to re-sign Cain, 32, as they’re bracing for him to land a lucrative contract of at least four years. The Mariners may be a fit for him, insiders have suggested to Heyman, who adds that Seattle will also take a look at first basemen Lucas Duda and Mitch Moreland if they hit the open market in the offseason.
- The Royals and newly minted closer Mike Minor are interested in continuing their union in 2018, but they’ll have to work out a new contract, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com suggests. While Minor and the Royals have a $10MM mutual option for next season, the team will buy him out for $1.25MM, per Flanagan. A former starter, Minor has returned from back-to-back seasons lost to injury this year to toss 75 2/3 innings out of the Royals’ bullpen and log sterling numbers (2.64 ERA, 10.11 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9), owing in part to improved velocity.
With Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar all hitting free agency, this offseason will mark the end of an era in Royals history. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star looks back at those players’ most memorable moments with the team, and as you might expect, those moments line up with the Royals’ postseason runs in 2014 and 2015. It’s unclear how many of the free agents, if any, will be back in K.C. next season; over 39% of respondents in a recent poll of MLBTR readers felt that Hosmer, Cain and Moustakas will all be playing elsewhere in 2018. Still, there’s no question that the Royals and their fans enjoyed some wonderful memories with this core group or stars, highlighted by the 2015 World Series title.
The question isn’t a new one. It has long been observed that three key Royals players — center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, and third baseman Mike Moustakas — would all reach the open market after the 2017 season. Indeed, it seemed at times that the club would get out ahead of the pending departure by dealing one or more of those players, as it did with closer Wade Davis over the winter, though that never came to pass.
With the Kansas City club all but mathematically eliminated from the postseason, we’re fast approaching the point where the question will no longer be hypothetical. It’s clear that all three players are worthy of receiving and declining qualifying offers, potentially setting the stage for the organization to pick up a nice haul of draft picks as compensation if they depart. Barring a stunning development — the QO decision period will at least provide a window — none will re-up with the Royals before reaching the open market.
While the expectation long has been that the Royals would require some transition period, it’s tough to guess from the outside just what that might look like. The organization ran a payroll of over $140MM this year and has made clear it can’t do so again. But it already has more than $100MM committed for 2018, with a variety of veteran players — many controlled for the short-term, but a few on longer-term deals — still on the books. Some of those contracts have some value; others don’t. But the mix will make it difficult for the Royals to embark upon a complete and immediate tear-down.
So, is there still some possibility that Cain, Hosmer, and/or Moustakas could find themselves back in a familiar place next year and beyond? It isn’t as if the club has obvious replacements lined up for the trio. And all have indicated they would like to return, if that proves possible.
Obviously, the biggest barrier is cost. While K.C. might conceivably welcome back veteran shortstop Alcides Escobar, he likely won’t cost all that much given his ongoing struggles at the plate. The three players under consideration here, though, will surely command over $10MM annually over lengthy terms.
Cain might be the best of this group and will likely require the lowest total guarantee, mostly because he’s already 31 years old — which will also add to the Royals’ trepidation in paying to keep him. Hosmer has yet to turn 28 and is coming off of his best season in the majors, though he’ll probably be the most expensive and is probably also the easiest of this group to replace (given the glut of older power hitters on the market). Moustakas, 29, might offer something of a middle ground between the others and did just set the organizational record with his 37th dinger, though he won’t be cheap and remains an iffy performer in the on-base department.
So, how do you see this playing out? (Link for app users.)
- Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star fields a host of Royals questions in his latest mailbag column, with topics ranging from the 2018 rotation, to a potential reunion with Jarrod Dyson, to the possibility of retaining Jason Vargas and the lack of a September call-up for former first-rounder Hunter Dozier. Notably, Dodd suggests that the Royals could head to Spring Training with a rotation consisting of Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Nate Karns, Jake Junis and Jason Hammel, but the team will still be on the lookout for depth additions to join Sam Gaviglio and Eric Skoglund this winter. “Salary constraints,” however, could limit the Royals’ range of targets. Dodd also adds that the Royals still have a strong relationship with righty Luke Hochevar, who missed 2017 while recovering from thoracic outlet surgery, and they’d be interested in a minor league pact to bring him back to the organization.