The Royals will have to look elsewhere to fill their vacancy at the designated hitter position.
Just days after Royals general manager Dayton Moore said the team had interest in a reunion with Kendrys Morales, the free agent designated hitter agreed to terms on a multiyear deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, according to online reports.
The deal, which has not been confirmed by the Blue Jays, is worth $33 million over three years, pending a physical, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.
The news comes four days after the Royals elected to pass on extending a $17.2 million qualifying offer to the free agent Morales. The club, in part, feared that Morales would accept the one-year contract. The Royals were not willing to risk paying more than $17 million to an aging designated hitter in 2017.
The decision, however, also benefitted Morales. Without a qualifying offer tag around his neck, he was free to sign with another team without that team surrendering a draft pick. The Blue Jays, who could have to replace free agents Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion this winter, believed Morales was worth the three-year investment.
In his second season in Kansas City, Morales batted .263 with a .327 on-base percentage and 30 home runs, becoming the first Royals player to hit at least 30 homers since 2000. The production included an early-season slump, with Morales batting just .191 in early June before a torrid finish to the month and a solid second half.
In two seasons, Morales compiled 52 homers, 65 doubles and 199 RBIs. He cemented his place in franchise lore with a three-run homer off Houston’s Dallas Keuchel in the 8th inning of a Game 5 victory over the Astros in the 2015 American League Division Series.
As the offseason began, the Royals’ front office prepared for life without Morales, pondering alternatives at the DH spot. On Tuesday, Moore spoke at the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., and said the club was still interested in bringing Morales back. The Royals, however, had also considered a “floating” DH spot, Moore said, a rotation that would allow infielder Cheslor Cuthbert to remain a presence in the lineup and the team to give extra rest to members of its core.
That move would make sense because Cuthbert — slated to be supplanted at third base by a healthy Mike Moustakas — is out of options and cannot be stashed in the minor leagues. The rotation would also give additional time off to Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon.
“Kendrys was crucial for us,” Moore said. “The switch-hit (ability), the leadership. He was a highly productive player for us. We’ll definitely have some ground to make up there, if he’s not with us.”
The Royals, of course, have considered using a rotation at the designated hitter spot before. When incumbent DH Billy Butler departed for Oakland following the 2014 season, the Royals pursued outfielder Torii Hunter and expected to use a committee to replace Butler. But Hunter spurned the Royals’ offer and signed with Minnesota, and the Royals zeroed in on Morales, a more traditional DH.
The move paid off, and the Royals could still seek a similar replacement for Morales. But for now, Moore has indicated that financial limitations may prohibit the Royals from being aggressive in the free agent market.
If the Royals are looking for a more traditional DH, they could look to free agent Mike Napoli, a 35-year-old who hit 34 homers for the Cleveland Indians in 2016. They could also seek a reunion with Carlos Beltran, 39, who finished last season with Texas.
Beltran, a possible Hall of Famer, began his career in Kansas City and hit .295 with a .337 on-base percentage and 29 homers in 2016. He could perhaps make spot starts in right field, though his defensive skills have deteriorated with age.
Other available free agent possibilities at DH include Matt Holliday, Mitch Moreland, Brandon Moss and a potential buy-low candidate in Pedro Alvarez, though the Royals’ ability to increase payroll could dictate which players would be available.
The club could also look to replace the production by signing an impact bat in right field, such as Josh Reddick, who finished the 2016 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers after a productive stint in Oakland. In theory, Reddick could also participate in a possible rotation at DH.
For the moment, Moore has suggested that the Royals’ payroll may not be much higher than the $140 million they spent in 2016. But the offseason is still in its infant stages. How the Royals go about replacing the production of Morales could prove whether that is simply offseason posturing or reality.
“Our market is going to present some limitations at times,” Moore said earlier this week. “And we want to make astute baseball decisions based on the future performance of the player and also where the economics (fit) with regard to the payroll.
“We’re not going to be in a position to significantly add payroll. I can say that with all certainty.”