One week before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the Royals are expected to spend more than $110 million in payroll in 2018, a reduction of more than $30 million from last season, according to a Star analysis of the projected 25-man roster.
The number — which is certain to change in the seven weeks before opening day — represents a significant trimming after club-record payrolls during the last three seasons, including expenditures of more than $130 million in 2016 and $140 million in 2017. Yet the club’s current financial picture leaves little wiggle room as the front office continues to pursue free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer.
Royals officials have expressed a desire to curtail spending in 2018, hoping to field a payroll in the $105 million to $110 million range after two years of disappointing finishes. If the club holds firm on that goal, any late signing of Hosmer, 28, would likely require additional moves to reduce payroll. Yet it’s also possible that the team could make an exception for Hosmer, who is still expected to sign for more than $100 million despite a cool offseason market.
For now, the Royals find themselves in a peculiar position as players prepare to descend on Surprise, Ariz., in the coming weeks. In the midst of the first stages of a franchise rebuild, the club remains in sell mode, having saved at least $14 million in two January trades. They shed $9 million of reliever Joakim Soria’s contract in a three-team trade with the Dodgers and White Sox, then dumped $5 million of Brandon Moss’ salary by trading him to Oakland.
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In an offseason environment of austerity and belt-tightening, the Royals have joined a wave of teams — more than a third of the league at this point — in planning and building for tomorrow. And yet, they have not closed the book on a reunion with Hosmer, believing a long-term deal for a franchise pillar could fit alongside the rest of a rebuilding plan.
Any investment into Hosmer would be substantial and lengthy, perhaps as long as seven years, though a report from Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan this week indicated that Hosmer’s camp is still seeking a deal as long as nine years.
Whatever the details, a closer inspection of the Royals’ salary obligations offers a look at how a Hosmer deal would fit in. The Royals owe more than $90 million to 12 players in 2018, including $50 million to Alex Gordon ($20 million), Ian Kennedy ($16 million) and Danny Duffy ($14 million).
In that more than $90 million in guaranteed money is also nearly $19 million owed to Jason Hammel and Kelvin Herrera, two pitchers who will be free agents following this season. As a result, both players could be candidates to be dealt should the Royals need to create more payroll flexibility.
Barring free-agent additions in the first weeks of February, the rest of the roster will be filled with players making at or slightly more than the league minimum of $545,000. Those players include regulars who have not yet reached salary arbitration, a group that features second baseman Whit Merrifield, outfielder Jorge Bonifacio and third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert.
As the rebuild begins, the team is also still paying for mistakes made in the years following the 2015 World Series championship. The Royals still must pay more than $6 million to pitcher Travis Wood after signing him to a two-year deal last offseason and trading him to the San Diego Padres. They also owe various dollar sums to Moss ($3.25 million), Soria ($1 million) and infielder Omar Infante (a $2 million buyout).
For now, the goal is payroll flexibility, general manager Dayton Moore says. In 2019, the team has an estimated $69 million in dollar commitments. In 2020, the number decreases to $54 million. Outside of Hosmer, the club appears reluctant to dole out long-term, guaranteed deals.
“I’d like to scale back as much as we could,” Moore said this offseason. “(We’ll) give young players a chance. Be flexible.”
Royals salary commitments
The Royals owe more than $90 million to 12 players in 2018. Barring free-agent additions in the first weeks of February, the rest of the roster will be filled with players making at or slightly more than the league minimum of $545,000.
*Buyout; **Arbitration estimate; ***The Royals also owe pitcher Travis Wood more than $6 million; first baseman Brandon Moss $3.25 million; reliever Joakim Soria $1 million; and infielder Omar Infante a $2 million buyout.