The Royals avoided salary arbitration with two pitchers on Friday, agreeing to one-year contracts with reliever Kelvin Herrera and starter Nathan Karns. Yet they were not able to come to an agreement with a third, instead exchanging salary figures with reliever Brandon Maurer in advance of a scheduled arbitration hearing in February.
Maurer filed at $3.5 million, nearly double his $1.9 million salary in 2017. The Royals countered at $2.95 million. Both parties can still come to a settlement agreement at any time before the hearing, in which each side will argue in front of a third-party arbitrator.
The Royals have never gone to a hearing since general manager Dayton Moore took over in 2006. The team had just three arbitration-eligible players on the roster on Friday, the deadline to come to a settlement or exchange figures.
Before the club hit a stalemate in negotiations with Maurer, it settled with Herrera at $7,937,500. The contract also includes a $50,000 bonus for an All-Star appearance.
Herrera, a 28-year-old reliever and two-time All-Star, made $5.325 million last season. He’ll be a free agent following this season.
Karns, meanwhile, agreed to a $1.375 million deal entering his first season as an arbitration-eligible player. He will also receive a $50,000 bonus if he makes the All-Star Game and could make up to $25,000 in bonuses if he makes 20 starts. Acquired from Seattle before last season, Karns, 30, made just eight starts last season before undergoing season-ending surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome. He is expected to be healthy for spring training and take up a slot in the starting rotation.
In many ways, Friday’s moves were procedural. Yet they could set up more maneuvers this offseason. The Royals’ deal for Herrera ensures some financial certainty heading into spring training. But it will likely do little to slow trade rumors as the club enters a rebuilding phase.
One of baseball’s best relievers from 2014 to 2016, Herrera is positioned as a possible trade asset for a club seeking to trim payroll and replenish its farm system. At a shade just below $8 million, he will make a reasonable salary in 2018. Yet there do remain questions about his performance after a 2017 season in which he posted a 4.25 ERA and struggled in his first season as Kansas City’s primary closer.
The club seek to shop him during spring training or wait until closer to the trade deadline in the summer. But financial considerations could come into play, much as they did in the decision to deal reliever Joakim Soria to the Chicago White Sox.
Maurer, 27, is also positioned as a possible trade chip, though he will likely need to display improved performance to rebuild his value. Acquired along with pitchers Ryan Buchter and Trevor Cahill before the trade deadline last season in a deal that sent Matt Strahm, Travis Wood and infield prospect Esteury Ruiz to San Diego, Maurer struggled out of the bullpen, logging a 8.10 ERA in 26 appearances and walking five batters per nine innings. He is under club control for two more seasons, becoming a free agent following the 2019 season.
Players are eligible for the salary-arbitration process once they accumulate three years of service time on the major-league roster or have earned “Super Two” status, meaning they rank among the top 22 percent of players with more than two years of service time. Players reach full free agency after surpassing six years of major-league service time. All players with fewer than three years of service time must accept a salary at or near the league minimum of $545,000.