December 2nd is the non-tender deadline for all MLB teams. Here is an exact description of what the means for the baseball world, coming from CBS Sports’ “Key Offseason Dates for 2020-2021” piece:
This is the deadline for teams to offer their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players a contract for 2021. They don’t have to sign them just yet, but they do have to offer a contract. Players who do not receive a contract offer are considered “non-tendered” and become free agents.“MLB offseason key dates 2020-21: Free agency, Winter Meetings, non-tender deadline, Opening Day 2021, more”; CBS Sports.com
And thus, with the deadline less than a week away, the Royals, like all other teams, will have some crucial decisions to make, especially when it comes to their arbitration-eligible players. This season, the Royals have three players entering their final years of arbitration, and five players entering their first years of arbitration. Hence, Dayton Moore will have some big decisions to make in the coming days, which in turn should make the Royals’ roster a little clearer for 2021.
So with that being said, I am going to make some predictions on what the Royals will do, starting with the early arbitration-eligible players, and then following up with the players in their final years of arbitration. The ones in their final year are a little more difficult to predict because they are due to make more money, and thus, these decisions could come to the wire. However, I am going to look at all eight, with some analysis lumped together, and some done individually.
Let’s get started and take a look at all eight players on the Royals roster whom Moore and the Royals will be making a decision on this week.
(Note: I used Roster Resource’s payroll organizer on Fangraphs for information and predictions. Also, for each, player, I list my prediction for number of years, and total amount of extension the Royals will offer.)
Modest, wait and see signings
- Jakob Junis, RHP (1 year, $1.3 million)
- Franchy Cordero, OF (1 year $950,000)
Junis and Cordero both enter their first years of arbitration and are both interesting candidates. Junis has pitched over 476 innings in his MLB career thus far, not bad for a former 29th round pick. However, Junis has struggled the past couple of years, as his ERA has risen 4.37 in 2018 to 5.24 in 2019 to 6.39 in 2020. Thus, with prospects such as Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar expected to debut in the rotation in 2021 at some point, it seems like Junis’ days in the rotation may be numbered. That being said, Junis looked good in a limited bullpen stint down the stretch, and it seems like the Royals are hopeful that he could boost the bullpen in 2021 as a converted starter, much like Ian Kennedy in 2019 and Jesse Hahn in 2020. Therefore, I predict that the Royals will bring back Junis on a modest, one year, $1.3 million deal to gauge how he transitions to the bullpen next season.
Cordero was acquired in the Tim Hill deal and may be the biggest wild card to the Royals’ 2021 hopes. With Alex Gordon gone and Hunter Dozier moving to first base, there are two outfield positions up for grabs. Cordero seems like the best fit, as his combo of speed and power make him an intriguing option in the Royals lineup. However, Cordero has struggled with injury the past couple of years, as he has only played in 25 games the past two years between San Diego and Kansas City. The Royals seem to like him a lot, but with finances probably a concern for Kansas City (as well as other small market clubs), it seems likely that the Royals will be prudent with Cordero, and sign him to a cheap one-year extension. As of now, it seems like the plan may be for the Royals to see how his 2021 plays out and then sign him to a longer-term extension after 2021 should he break out and be the player he was expected to be in San Diego before he was beset with injuries.
- Adalberto Mondesi, SS (3-years, $12 million)
- Hunter Dozier, 1B (3-years, $9 million)
- Brad Keller, RHP (1-year, $3 million)
Moore is known for buying out arbitration years of top prospects, and I think Mondesi, Dozier, and Keller are prime candidates this off-season. While I predict two to get multi-year extensions, it would not be surprising to see all three get multi-year offers by the December 2nd deadline.
Mondesi is the most obvious candidate because it seems like the organization really believes in the young shortstop, even though he has struggled with consistency. In 308 Major League games, Mondesi has a career strikeout rate of 29.7 percent and BB/K ratio of 0.14, both pretty bad metrics. However, the 25-year-old Dominican-born shortstop is one of the best base stealers in the American League, and he surged in the second half of the 2020 season to finish with a .305 wOBA, which was actually an improvement from 2019 (.298). He has dealt with injury since the second half of 2019, and in the second half last year, Mondesi showed what he could do when fully healthy and recovered. Thus, I think Moore and the Royals show their faith in Mondesi, and sign him to a deal that buys out the remainder of his arbitration years, with the hope that he continues to build on the hot second half of 2020. And hence, for roughly $4 million per year, the Royals would be getting a steal for the next three seasons.
Dozier, a former first round pick, broke out in 2019 after struggling with inconsistency and injury from 2016 to 2018. After posting a .291 wOBA in 2018, the Bull-Dozier posted a .360 wOBA in 586 plate appearances and also belted 26 home runs for good measure. Dozier regressed in power in 2020 (.243 ISO in 2019 to .165 ISO in 2020), but he did display better plate discipline, as he improved his walk rate from 9.4 percent to 14.5 percent from 2019 to 2020, respectively. Over a 162-game season, it is likely to think Dozier’s power will return, and thus, he could once again be a force for this Royals lineup in 2021, much like he was in 2019. However, Dozier will turn 30 in 2021, and his injury history is a bit worrisome. Thus, Moore will buy out his arbitration years with an extension, but his contract per year will be less than Mondesi.
Moore has a history of buying out arbitration years for prospects…but they tend to be position prospects, not pitching ones. And thus, while Keller has been the most consistent of the three, I think Keller will only get a one-year extension. With so much pitching depth in the organization, I am not sure if Moore will invest heavily in Keller with so much potential lingering in the Minors. Furthermore, even though he has been the Royals’ best starter for the past two seasons, he has always been a pitcher whose ERA has outperformed his FIP, which is a concerning sign. Keller will be back and see a pay raise in 2021, but it’s hard to tell what his future will be with the Royals after next season.
The much-needed, one-year signings
- Jesse Hahn, RHP (1-year, $1.5 million)
- Jorge Soler, DH/OF (1-year, $9 milion)
Hahn and Soler are tales of two different seasons. Hahn came out of nowhere to break out and be a crucial part of the Royals bullpen in 2020. Soler struggled with injury, but still proved to be productive when healthy, as he tied for third on the team in home runs. While it is difficult to see a long-term future for both players, they will certainly be needed (and healthy) if the Royals want to compete in 2021.
Hahn was lights out in 2020, as he posted a 0.52 ERA in 17.1 IP with the Royals. His comeback story was heartwarming for Royals fans, as he pretty much missed two years due to injury and rehab after being acquired from Oakland prior to the 2018 season. Originally a starter, Hahn has made the transition to the bullpen the past two years, and it seems like it has been a wise decision, as Hahn saved three games in 18 appearances in 2020. While the Royals say they want to bring back Greg Holland, they didn’t offer him a contract initially, and thus, the closer’s spot may come down between Hahn, Josh Staumont, and Scott Barlow. Hahn may be the long shot of the three (Staumont seems like the most likely option), but he could snag the job should Staumont or Barlow struggle in the Spring. And thus, it seems likely that the Royals will bring Hahn back on a modest deal, hoping that he can continue to be a reliable option in the late innings in 2021.
Soler signed a modest, one-year extension last off-season with the hope that he could perhaps earn himself an extension from the Royals with a solid 2020. While he did hit eight home runs, he struck out more at the plate, as his strikeout rate rose from 26.2 to 34.5 percent from 2019 to 2020, respectively. Furthermore, while his .332 wOBA was decent, it was still a regression from his .378 mark in 2019 and .354 mark in 2018. However, oblique issues seemed to nag Soler all year, and it was obvious at the end of the year that each swing was affected by the pain. Thus, it is possible that with a full off-season of rehab and recovery, Soler can regain his form and be that 2019 and 2018 hitter again (which he wasn’t far off from being in 2020). Despite his big power, Soler struggles defensively, and will be 29 in 2021, which makes a long-term extension unlikely. That being said, the Royals will probably bring him back in 2021, and also give him a slight raise, with a one-year, $9 million extension demonstrating that the Royals believe he is fully healthy and capable of bringing the #SolerPower back for at least one more season at Kauffman Stadium
The wild card
- Maikel Franco (1-year, $6 million)
The Royals struck gold with Franco a year ago, and I talked numerous times on this blog about how the former Phillies top prospect ended up being one of Moore’s smarter moves in 2020. Despite a rough start at the plate and in the field, Franco posted a .329 wOBA, his best number since 2015 in Philadelphia. The 28-year-old also played in all 60 games, hit eight home runs and accumulated a WAR of 1.3, which further shows how important he was to the Royals during the abbreviated, COVID-affected season. However, Franco will be entering his last year of arbitration, and the Royals will have a tough choice to make, as he made less than $3 million a year ago, and he could make up to $8 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors. Thus, there is some thinking that the Royals would be better off non-tendering Franco, and just sign some stopgap who can hold the fort until Bobby Witt, Jr. is ready, whether that’s in 2022, or hopefully, at the end of 2021.
It’s too bad Kelvin Gutierrez hasn’t been healthy or effective the past two years, for Gutierrez could be that internal stopgap option. However, it would be too big a risk for the Royals to give Gutierrez the hot corner position by Opening Day, especially with the Royals hoping to continue to improve in the standings. In addition to Gutierrez probably not being the guy to handle the position, it may be tougher than expected to find a “Franco-like” free agent to fill in at the hot corner, should the Royals let Franco go. So far, the non-tendered free agents list hasn’t produced a lot of great options, and with players like Charlie Morton making higher-than-expected salaries so far, it is unlikely that the Royals will find someone to fill in at third who will be a better value than Franco for 2021.
Thus, I can see both sides of the Franco coin, and unfortunately, this one is probably going to go down to the wire. However, with a lack of depth right now at third in the organization, and not a lot of great “values” available on the free agent market, it is likely to think that Franco will come back on a one-year deal and probably double his salary from a year ago, which still wouldn’t be all that bad for the Royals and their payroll, overall.