Royals

It's time for the Royals to spend money like never before

Updated: 2014-01-14T16:09:25Z

By Sam Mellinger

The Kansas City Star

Money can’t be a limitation anymore. Money needs to be a tool. In the offseason that will determine so much about the most promising Royals push in a generation, money can no longer be the thing keeping a starved franchise from improving.

Next season amounts to a final verdict on the Royals’ most aggressive trade in at least a decade, and to meet the challenge the franchise needs to extend itself like never before.

Owner David Glass needs to green-light another record payroll, and general manager Dayton Moore needs to make it work.

Baseball’s offseason officially begins today, and we know the Royals will enter their most important season in years with largely the same roster that won 86 games and finished five games out of the second wild-card spot — close enough to dream, far enough to need more.

Money needs to be the bridge from where they currently stand to specific improvements for a crucial season. Glass hasn’t made any public statements about the payroll, while Moore has said it will stay about the same from 2013.

There are mixed messages and a bit of gamesmanship involved here — no need to give agents a complete blueprint of 2014’s plan — but if the Royals go cheap at this point in The Process, blasting them will be the easiest and most reasonable column to write in the history of sportswriting.

This is not a call to spend recklessly in a way that will handicap the future; it is a public acknowledgment that the Royals have the resources, motivation and indeed the obligation to spend out of their typical comfort zone if it means maximizing their best team in a generation.

Moore should have about $17 million before he needs to ask his boss to raise the payroll, and there is a feeling in the organization that Glass will be willing to go higher. All teams will get an additional $25 million (before taxes) from a national TV contract, and the Royals should be able to count on an increase in attendance.

The Royals are still running uphill with one of baseball’s worst local TV contracts, but they should have enough to fill their needs while counting on improvements from a few key carryovers.

The payroll ended up at about $85 million in 2013. They have about $68 million committed for 2014 to a core group that includes James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Luis Mendoza, Danny Duffy, Sal Perez, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Emilio Bonifacio, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, George Kottaras, Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera.

That includes raises guaranteed in contracts to Guthrie and Shields, among others, and projected raises in arbitration to players like Hosmer and Holland, among others. That does not include free agents Bruce Chen and Ervin Santana.

So the (very) rough math gives the Royals something like $17 million to, perhaps, $30 million to fill at least one spot in the rotation, hunt for improvements in right field and possibly second base, and maintain a strong bullpen — in that order.

The trick is to do this without depleting a strong farm system that has starting pitchers Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer ready to contribute in 2014, and corner outfielder Jorge Bonifacio (Emilio’s brother) and shortstop Raul Adalberto Mondesi (Raul’s son) not too far behind.

The free-agent options (if the Royals can’t re-sign Santana) include outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (will probably command $100 million) and pitcher Matt Garza (who wouldn’t cost a draft pick) on the high end, and outfielder Carlos Beltran and pitcher Josh Johnson in the upper middle class.

Beltran and Garza make the most sense of that group, but there are trade options, too. The Royals have looked into it before, but should make absolutely certain the Marlins won’t trade Giancarlo Stanton. The Rangers have too many middle infielders. The Dodgers have too many outfielders. Howie Kendrick has a no-trade clause that includes the Royals, but those can often be negotiated.

Any of the above moves would make the Royals better, and they come into this offseason in a very good position.

Perez is on what might be the most club-friendly contract in baseball. Scouts on other teams believe Escobar and Moustakas will improve, and they’re cheap. Hosmer will get a raise but will still play for a below-market price. Butler and Gordon are on club-friendly long-term contracts. Duffy, Ventura and Zimmer could each be above-average starting pitchers and are making the baseball equivalent of minimum wage.

But the urgency centers on Shields’ pending free-agency after next season. If there was ever a time the Royals had both the resources and motivation to make a push for the short-term, this is it.

Money can no longer be a major limitation. Now, money should be a tool. More than seven years of progress and patience need to pay off at some point.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send e-mail to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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