Morning Coffee: Royals Have Payroll Issues
As soon as the book closed on the 2013 season, many people had gotten out their crystal balls and looked to what they thought the Royals might look like when they take the field in Detroit next April. I’ve done the same thing to some extent by looking at their off-season shopping list and giving some options. The issue, though, is that there are quite a few needs of this team and not much flexibility in terms of payroll. In their year end press conference, Dayton Moore indicated the Royals would stand pat at their 2013 team payroll, but I don’t believe that. He listed the payroll ceiling last year and the Royals exceeded that by almost 15%. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the payroll jump to $90-$95 million next season, but even that leaves some tough decisions.
I’ve looked at what the Royals have lined up for 2014 and done some arbitration estimates. The roster I used was basically what the 2013 season ended with except for Brett Hayes replaced George Kottaras as the backup catcher and the utility infielder is either Irving Falu or Pedro Ciriaco. Both will make about the same thing in 2014. What I found was that with that roster, the Royals would spend about $75 million. To get to $95 million, I think they actually already have some wiggle room, especially when you consider you might be dropping both Lough and Maxwell, which would save about $1.5 million extra.
My first move is one I’ve talked about multiple times already since the end of the season and that would be trade Luke Hochevar. He probably gets about $5.5 million in arbitration or somewhere around there. I think the Royals can market Luke as a closer or they could maybe find a team who really likes what they see and have a tweak for him as a starter. Either way, he has value to a team even at his high salary. The issue is that it’s somewhat silly for the Royals to carry multiple relievers making multiple millions of dollars considering the depth of arms who can be very good relievers for this team. Greg Holland is going to get a healthy raise in arbitration, but is better than Hochevar and will likely still be cheaper, so Hochevar needs to go.
The other pitcher who I’d consider trading is Wade Davis. Unfortunately, while Dayton Moore does have positive attributes as a general manager, admitting a mistake isn’t one of them. Because of what Wade Davis represents, he will be a member of the Royals through thick and thin in 2014 and likely a member of the rotation. Still, like Hochevar, Davis has value to another team. I don’t know that he can be marketed as a closer, but he is a solid bullpen arm and at $4.8 million really isn’t that expensive if he’s going to do work like he did in the Rays bullpen in 2012. Some team that feels like they missed the playoffs because they just didn’t have a good enough bullpen could look at Davis as a missing piece.
I’m not sure what you could get back for either of those two players. Hochevar could likely fetch a piece for the 2014 Royals. Davis probably can’t. With the payroll standing at $75 million or so right now, eliminating Davis puts it down to about $70 million and losing Hochevar puts it down to about $64.5 million. Assuming Dayton Moore was just having some fun with us an the payroll really will see a hike to $90 million, that gives the Royals some money to work with. They could use that money to fill in some of the holes on the team and provide insurance for players who are a bit of a concern like Moustakas and Escobar and put a pretty solid team on the field.
Let’s say, just for giggles, that the Royals trade Hochevar and Davis both for prospects, so they have the money to use on free agents only. I bet they could go out and get Jhonny Peralta, Marlon Byrd and Bronson Arroyo and stay at around the $90 million payroll. You want to dream a little and you could go the Rafael Furcal route and maybe even re-sign Ervin Santana to go along with a guy like Byrd. I know that’s not exactly the dream off-season for this team, but at least the team is better after those moves than they are at this very moment.
The ideas for how they can spend the money aren’t really the point of this article, though. The Royals will have to do something this winter that they aren’t very good at. They’ll need to look at the big league roster and trade players who they actually believe can be productive parts of a 2014 team. This is a problem good teams with budget restrictions do have and while I don’t know that I’d call the Royals good just yet, they are good enough that they have a pitcher who was one of the better relievers in the league and you could argue that he actually needs to be traded. And then you have another pitcher who we think can be very good out of the bullpen, but we also have a pretty good idea can’t start. With him, the Royals have to do something else they don’t do well. They have the opportunity to admit a mistake and move on while helping the club in the future.
When teams have a strength as the Royals do in the bullpen and have very clear weaknesses elsewhere, it’s smart to trade from that strength to help fill the weakness. By my count, the Royals have at least nine guys who could have a big role in just about any bullpen in baseball. Even with the large number of relievers teams carry, that’s too many. The Royals need some payroll flexibility and by trading two pitchers who make too much money to be relievers on a low budget team, they can get that. And then they can go out and play with the big boys in free agency or even take on a contract that may not be great. Obviously there’s considerations beyond 2014 that need to be thought of, which is why my hunch is to go with guys who they can get on one or two year deals, but again, that’s a thought for another day. The point right now is that while there’s a ton of excitement about what can happen this off-season, the Royals are going to be fighting both other teams for players and their payroll ceiling. They need to find some room somewhere.
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