The door closed on a reunion between the Royals and right-hander Ervin Santana about two weeks ago. Shortly before the organization reached a one-year agreement with left-hander Bruce Chen, general manager Dayton Moore reached out to the representatives for Santana, who flourished for the team in 2013. Moore found the tenor of the conversation between the team and the player had not much changed.
“Their expectations were more than we were willing to give,” Moore said.
The door was never open that wide, Moore insisted on Monday afternoon. The organization made that determination after the season. They instead opted for a four-year, $32 million deal with Jason Vargas, while Santana has languished on the stagnant free-agent market.
Barring a stunning, last-minute reversal, Santana will pitch elsewhere in 2014. After a winter spent waiting for suitors, he appears to be closing in on signing with a club, Fox Sports reported on Monday. The candidates include Baltimore and Toronto. The Royals have bowed out of the conversation.
The organization harbors some concern about the durability of any 31-year-old pitcher entering a multi-year contract, Moore said. In addition, there is the financial consideration. Santana already rejected the team’s one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer.
Moore indicated the club’s payroll should surpass $90 million in 2014, about a $9 million increase from last season’s record-breaking Opening Day amount and a sum that exceeded their budget for this season. Moore declined to provide the specifics on the initial payroll goal, but he referred to this season as a “gamble.”
“I know what our break-even point is,” Moore said after a news conference preparing for the beginning of spring training this Friday. “We’re beyond that at this point in time. Hopefully we have a great year, and we’re able to create a lot of interest with this team, and people show up at the ballpark. And hopefully the gamble pays off economically.”
Last year, the Royals spent about $7 million less in payroll, $83 million, and had an operating income of $16.3 million, according to Forbes. Operating income does not reflect a company's net profit or bottom line, which is calculated after taxes, depreciation and other expenses. In 2012, Forbes reported the Royals spent $69 million on payroll and had an operating income of $28.7 million.
On Monday the club officially shed $3.5 million in salary by placing utility infielder Emilio Bonifacio on unconditional waivers. Opposing teams had 48 hours to claim him. If he goes unclaimed, he becomes a free agent.
The team had designated Bonifacio for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Chen. They were unable to trade Bonifacio during the interim. The presence of players such as Jarrod Dyson, Justin Maxwell, Danny Valencia and Pedro Ciriaco made Bonifacio expendable, Moore said. Bonifacio was the most expensive, and becomes a free agent after this season.
“We felt they all could do similar things, and we controlled those guys much longer,” Moore said, adding Ciriaco would likely become the backup shortstop.
From a baseball perspective, the Royals gambled on Santana in 2013. The cost was minimal. They shipped minor-league reliever Brandon Sisk to the Angels shortly after the 2012 season.
Santana’s stock was low. He had allowed 39 homers, the most in the American League that year. A steady decrease in velocity created questions about his health. The Royals shuttled Santana through a rigorous series of checkups. “Our medical people felt they could get him through the year,” Moore said.
Santana rewarded them with a 3.24 ERA in 211 innings. His 3.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio was his best since 2008. When the season ended, Moore said, the organization conducted their standard, five-pronged analysis of players. The five factors are scouting, analytical, character, economics and medical.
“Any time you start talking about more than three years for any pitcher, it becomes somewhat of an uncertainty,” Moore said.
Thus the organization continues to lean on internal replacements. Both Chen and staff ace James Shields will be free agents after this season. The organization is already crafting preparations for their potential departures. One prospect, Yordano Ventura, could throw 200 innings in 2014, Moore said. The team hopes Danny Duffy can claim a foothold on the pitching staff, and that Kyle Zimmer will arrive by midseason.
“You need to have numbers, you need to have depth,” Moore said. “All three of those pitchers, hopefully they all work out. But you’ve just got to continue to build the depth.”