After investing in free-agent pitcher Jason Hammel, the Royals’ 2017 payroll could surpass $140 million for the second straight year, according to a Kansas City Star analysis and projection of the club’s salary obligations.
Hammel signed a two-year, $16 million contract on Wednesday, consummating a backloaded deal that will pay the veteran right-handed pitcher $5 million in 2017 and $9 million in 2018. The deal also includes a $2 million buyout on a mutual option for 2019.
The contract is likely to be the Royals’ last significant expenditure of the offseason. And as pitchers and catchers set to report to Arizona next Monday, it appears likely that the club’s payroll will approach its club-record mark from 2016, when the number also surpassed $140 million.
For now, the Royals owe close to $132 million on salaries for 19 players, including $8 million for second baseman Omar Infante, who was jettisoned last season, and $3.25 million for pitcher Yordano Ventura, who died in a car crash on Jan. 22 in his native Dominican Republic. The Royals may receive some relief on Ventura’s contract through an insurance policy, but that may take months to sort out, according to club officials.
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The Royals also owe $6 million on buyouts to four players whose options were declined this offseason. Club officials count that money toward the cash total spent in 2017. The money consists of a $3 million buyout for right-hander Edinson Volquez, who ultimately received a two-year, $22 million contract from the Miami Marlins; a $1.5 million buyout for designated hitter Kendrys Morales, who signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays; and $1 million to Kris Medlen and $500,000 to Luke Hochevar.
For now, the rest of the Royals’ 40-man roster consists of players who are not yet arbitration eligible, meaning they must accept a contract at — or slightly higher than — the league minimum of $535,000. That means, for the moment, the eight players needed to fill out the Royals’ 25-man opening-day roster could cost the club about $4.3 million.
That projection would put the Royals’ total salary obligations around $141.8 million. For now, the projection includes $3.25 million for Ventura, but again, the club may receive relief on that guaranteed contract.
The final number will not be known for weeks, but a payroll in the $140 million range would likely put the Royals just outside the top 10 in baseball in total team payroll. This year, the largest chunk will go to outfielder Alex Gordon, who will make $16 million in the second season of a four-year, $72 million contract signed before last season. The club will also boast three other salaries above $10 million, including $13.5 million for starter Ian Kennedy, $12.25 million for Eric Hosmer and $11 million for outfielder Lorenzo Cain.
Kennedy is entering the second season of a five-year, $70 million deal — a contract that includes an opt-out clause after this season. Hosmer and Cain are set to become free agents after the 2017 season.
When the offseason began, Royals general manager Dayton Moore told reporters that the Royals would be unlikely to increase payroll after shelling out more than $140 million in 2016. During a season-ending news conference in early October, Moore said the payroll would likely “regress a little bit.”
“Last year’s payroll, it was built to go deep in the postseason; that worked out,” Moore said then. “This year, it didn’t. So we’ll have to re-evaluate that, probably reorganize, take some steps back.”
Yet as the offseason pressed on, the Royals found ways to be creative. They traded closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for Jorge Soler, freeing up $7 million in 2017. They cleared another $2 million or so by sending outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Nathan Karns, who could project as the club’s No. 5 starter. They also saved themselves around $2.5 million in 2017 by signing left-hander Danny Duffy to a back-loaded five-year, $65 million extension. Duffy will make $5 million this season while he could have made between $7.2 million to $8 million through arbitration.
The Royals used some of those savings to sign slugger Brandon Moss to a two-year, $12 million contract, acquiring a left-handed power bat with the ability to DH and play the outfield. Then came the unexpected tragedy of Ventura, which left the Royals needing to fill a hole in their starting rotation. Hammel should slot somewhere in the middle of the rotation. He could also be an offseason bargain for a club counting every dollar of payroll.
Royals’ 2017 payroll obligations
OF Alex Gordon: $16 million
RHP Ian Kennedy: $13.5 million
1B Eric Hosmer: $12.25 million
OF Lorenzo Cain: $11 million
3B Mike Moustakas: $8.7 million
LHP Jason Vargas: $8 million
2B Omar Infante $8 million (designated for assignment last season)
RHP Joakim Soria: $8 million
SS Alcides Escobar: $6.5 million
RHP Chris Young: $5.75 million
RHP Kelvin Herrera: $5.325 million
LHP Danny Duffy: $5 million
RHP Jason Hammel: $5 million
LHP Mike Minor: $4 million
OF Brandon Moss: $3.75 million
RHP Yordano Ventura: $3.25 million (could be covered by insurance)
C Salvador Perez: $3 million
OF Jorge Soler: $3 million
C Drew Butera: $1.5 million
Subtotal: $131.525 million
RHP Edinson Volquez: $3 million
DH Kendrys Morales: $1.5 million
RHP Kris Medlen: $1 million
RHP Luke Hochevar: $500,000
Subtotal: $6 million
The rest of the roster
INF: Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, Ramon Torres, Raul A. Mondesi, Samir Duenez
OF: Billy Burns, Bubba Starling, Jorge Bonifacio, Paulo Orlando, Terrance Gore, Hunter Dozier, Peter O’Brien
C: Cam Gallagher
UTL: Whit Merrifield
RHP: Nathan Karns, Andrew Edwards, Alec Mills, Jake Junis, Kyle Zimmer, Kevin McCarthy, Miguel Almonte
LHP: Brian Flynn, Matt Strahm, Scott Alexander
Subtotal for eight players: $4.28 million
Total estimated 25-man opening day payroll: $141.8 million