As the Rule 5 draft concluded on Thursday morning, a flood of baseball executives clad in blazers and khakis streamed through the doors of a ballroom at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, headed toward the airport after four days of the Winter Meetings.
Among the group were the lieutenants of Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who conducted days of meetings with agents and rival executives this past week with the hopes of refurbishing the roster of his club, the reigning World Series champions. During these discussions, Moore has an eye on both 2016 and beyond, as maintaining financial flexibility remains critical in his mind.
After the 2017 season, a quartet of the team’s core can become free agents. Moore does not intend to handcuff himself financially in the interim and prevent the team from potentially reaching contract extensions with any of those four players: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar.
So even after two World Series runs, the team does not intend to alter its business model to accommodate the rising price of free agents. The Royals exited Nashville still in search of another outfielder and another starting pitcher, but Moore stressed he did not expect the team’s payroll to accelerate a sizable amount past last year’s Opening Day mark of about $112 million.
“Just because clubs are spending money, a lot of money, doesn’t mean that they are good business decisions,” Moore said. “I don’t know what other clubs are doing. I just know what we do. We’re trying to make sound business decisions, along with sound baseball decisions. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Royals filled a pair of holes on their roster this past week. The team re-signed Chris Young to a two-year, $11.5 million contract and installed him in the rotation. The team also finalized the details of a three-year, $25 million reunion with reliever Joakim Soria. The combined paycheck for the duo represents a sizable portion of the team’s offseason budget.
In part, the need for fiscal restraint rises from the team’s market size. Moore often insists he will not “apologize for our market,” but the team cannot ignore it. The team has little interest in falling into the traps of clubs like Cincinnati and Milwaukee, who leveraged themselves too far attempting to capitalize on a fleeting window.
In addition, the Royals want to retain the flexibility to handle what happens as this core approaches free agency. The team has interest in extending all four players, even though they acknowledge it will not be easy. Three were All-Stars in 2015, and the fourth, Hosmer, is considered by rival executives as the least likely to sign an extension in Kansas City.
All four will receive raises in 2015. Hosmer will earn $8.25 million, an increase of $2.6 million. The Royals picked up a $5.25 million option on Escobar, who earned a raise of $2.25 million.
Cain and Moustakas are both eligible for arbitration, and MLB Trade Rumors projected Cain’s salary to reach $6.1 million (a $3.375 million raise) and Moustakas’ salary to reach $5.7 million (a $3.06 million raise). The payroll for 2016 will also feature increased prices for players like Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlen.
So the Royals exited the Winter Meetings with work done, but much more to do. The team has not yet officially surrendered from the sweepstakes for Alex Gordon, but rival executives do not view the club as a serious contender for his services. That could change as Gordon’s market takes shape, but the team must explore alternative plans.
One curious tidbit emerged on Thursday afternoon when ESPN reported the Royals talked to the Reds about a deal involving All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier. Frazier presumably could replace Gordon in left. A more likely scenario involves the team settling for a player like Gerardo Parra or Denard Span. Even those players may exceed Kansas City’s price range, too.
The deadlock in talks with free agents left Moore slightly peeved on Wednesday afternoon. When he departed on Thursday morning, little had changed, even if he felt confident in his team’s performance this week.
“The free agent market is what it is,” Moore said. “The truth of the matter is the music is going to stop, and there’s not going to be enough chairs for some of these guys. That’s just the way it is. Supply and demand.”