Royals face looming salary issues in coming years
Developing talent is only half the battle. Keeping your key players without breaking the bank is the next challenge.By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Editors note: We examined the payroll issues confronting the Royals in coming years. Our analysis occurred prior to left fielder Alex Gordon reaching agreement on a new four-year deal for a guaranteed $37.5 million. That contract includes a player option for 2016 at $12.5 million, which means Gordon is effectively guaranteed at least $50 million over the next five years.
The basic premise still holds: The Royals face critical financial decisions in coming years to keep key elements of their youthful core intact. You can still look at the issues facing general manager Dayton Moore and, using our charts, try to allocate financial resources with a projected $80 million payroll.
Just switch Gordons numbers: He makes $6 million this year, $9 million in 2013, $10 million in 2014 and $12.5 million in 2015. Just remember, the Royals could be on the hook for $12.5 million for Gordon in 2016.
You are Royals general manager Dayton Moore, and heres your challenge:
Years of hard work by you and your operations staff have, slowly and sometimes painfully, accumulated an impressive collection of young talent in your quest to return a once-proud franchise to competitive glory.
Those efforts, from all appearances, seem poised to bear fruit in the only orchard that matters the standings. It isnt hard to envision a club that, perhaps as soon as this season, is playing meaningful games in September.
As difficult as its been to get to this point, the next step might be tougher: How do you keep your talented young corps intact within the constraints of a payroll that projects as no more than $80 million in coming seasons?
Were very determined to keep as many of these young players together as we can, Moore said, knowing full well that it has to fit within our salary structure and our payroll going forward.
Its going to get a little sticky for us. Its going to get a little hairy as we get into 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Growling that the payroll should be more than $80 million isnt allowed. Thats what it is and thats a likely maximum for the 40-man roster payroll, which is what most teams operate under. Not the 25-man roster on opening day, which gets more attention.
So figure your 25-man payroll will probably max out at a little less than $75 million in coming years. Now, go to work.
The Royals took two major steps, gambles really, earlier this spring in an effort to address the looming problem by signing catcher Salvy Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar to multiyear deals that include club options for free-agent years.
Perez, 21, agreed to a five-year contract for a guaranteed $7 million that includes three club-option years. Escobar, 25, signed a four-year deal for a guaranteed $10.5 million that includes two club-option years.
Its an exchange, Moore said. The player gets some security. Certainly there is some risk involved (for the club), but we also get some cost certainty.
Both players surrendered all of their arbitration years which are when modest salaries often double or triple. The option years cover the start of each players projected free-agent seasons, where even greater hikes are common.
It starts in the middle of the diamond, Moore said. To be able to have Alcides here for a long time is very important. Salvy was one of the first steps.
What Moore leaves unsaid is a cold truth: It is easier to find a productive corner outfielder or first baseman at a reasonable price on the free-agent market (or through a trade) than a catcher or a shortstop.
That doesnt mean the Royals could easily replace Alex Gordon or Eric Hosmer and they would love to reach long-term deals with both but sift through next winters projected free-agent class on both positions. There is no shortage of alternatives.
(A non-panic note: Gordon wont be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season, and Hosmer not until after the 2017 season. The point here is that alternatives, albeit less-productive alternatives, are likely to be available.)
Perez and Escobar were open to accepting security in exchange for the potential of greater riches because neither received a hefty signing bonus. That isnt the case with Gordon, whose negotiations on a long-term deal, despite mutual interest, remain stalled.
It is similarly unlikely to be much of a factor in future discussions for many of the clubs other key young players: Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Luke Hochevar, Aaron Crow, etc. All received millions as first-round picks.
There is also risk, of course, in reaching long-term deals with young players.
Perez suffered torn cartilage in his left knee two weeks after signing his new contract. He isnt expected to return before late June at the earliest.
Sometimes, too, young players not only fail to develop as projected; some regress significantly. Shortstop Angel Berroa was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2003 and signed a four-year deal the following May for $11 million.
It seemed a great deal at the time, but every Royals fan knows how that turned out.
Looking forward with our players, you go one at a time, Moore said. Its got to be a match that everybody is comfortable with.
Ready to play? Here are your numbers for players currently on the 40-man roster: