The bill was finalized Wednesday afternoon, the same day Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore landed in Arizona. With a two-year agreement with first baseman Eric Hosmer, the Royals wrapped up the last of their nine cases for arbitration-eligible players.
Moore retained his spotless record for settlements in his seven winters at the helm. The cost for all nine was $26.715 million, a sizable portion of a franchise-record payroll that will exceed $110 million on opening day. The group consists of much of the club’s core: Hosmer, closer Greg Holland, third baseman Mike Moustakas, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, starter Danny Duffy, reliever Kelvin Herrera, outfielder Jarrod Dyson and the middle relief duo of Louis Coleman and Tim Collins.
The process emphasized a side effect of player development. When young players succeed at the big-league level, their salaries grow and grow. Moore takes pride in this result, even if it has an adverse effect on his team’s payroll flexibility.
“Every team has a budget,” Moore said Thursday afternoon outside the team’s facilities here. “We’re no different. Our players are certainly playing well. They’ve earned their opportunity. They have earned their salaries. It’s not getting cheaper. I’m proud to say that they are.”
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Moore has plenty of reasons for optimism as 2015 dawns. His club will hoist an American League pennant at Kauffman Stadium when the season begins. The club weathered the departure of starter James Shields and designated hitter Billy Butler by making free-agent investments they hope are shrewd. Moore expects core performers such as Hosmer, Cain, Moustakas, Duffy and others to take steps forward in the coming season.
For this group, expectations are heightened. So are the salaries.
With their playoff performance last season, the Royals entered a new phase of franchise building. The offseason expenditures finalized the transition. No longer does the roster feature a group of low-salaried neophytes, a collection heralded on prospect lists and in the Texas League, earning the big-league minimum as they soak up experience. The players are now veterans, shaped by the streaks and slumps of seasons past, plus the spotlight of last October.
And they will be paid as such. All nine of the arbitration-eligible players should see their salaries climb again for 2016. The rising tide is why both Moore and owner David Glass spoke so often this winter about the difficulty in keeping a homegrown core together.
When asked if he expected the payroll to continue its upward trajectory in the coming years, Moore opted for obliqueness. He shies away from direct commitments on this topic. He defers instead to expressing his support for the decisions of the ownership group and referencing their recent track record.
“Mr. Glass has always been very transparent about what our business goals are,” Moore said. “I’ll let that speak for itself. Every penny that this franchise makes goes back into the team.
“It’s resources that we utilize to improve on our team, add to our team, whether it be in the draft or internationally. Or, certainly, the major league team, or (minor league) programs. Every team goes into the sustaining and the building of this organization.”
On this subject, deeds outweigh rhetoric. The Royals deal with the restraints of their market on an annual basis, as they are unable to pursue upper-tier free agents. At the trade deadline last season, the Royals shied away from negotiations for former Cy Young David Price because they could not afford to add his $14 million salary. Price landed in the laps, and deeper pockets, of the Tigers.
But on the whole, the team has increased its spending at an impressive rate. Just four seasons ago, the Royals rolled out an opening day roster with a payroll of about $38 million. Their highest-paid player was closer Joakim Soria. Here in this new era, 10 players will earn more in 2015 than the $4 million salary Soria drew in 2011.
The Royals reached this point in gradual fashion. They struck shrewd, affordable contracts with players like Butler, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar. They have shied away from excessive commitments to free agents.
Their behavior on the open market this winter was telling. The Royals committed $59.8 million to Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Luke Hochevar, Alex Rios and Jason Frasor. None of those contracts extend past 2016. Their financial ledger features only $2 million guaranteed in the year 2018 (though one figures they would pick up Perez’s $5 million option).
By operating in this fashion, the Royals have created both flexibility and uncertainty for their future. Gordon could become a free agent after this season. Holland could depart after the next. Hosmer can leave after 2017, as can Cain, Moustakas and Duffy. In the meantime, they will not cost less.
Moore insists he does not mind. It is a sign of success. And success begets dollars.
“We pull for our players,” Moore said. “We want them to excel. And when they excel, there’s a cost to that. That’s a good thing.”