UPDATE: The Royals have reportedly agreed to terms with Jeff Francis to a one-year deal, pending a physical.  I mention Francis later in this post in regards to the team’s payroll. It will be interesting to see how much he will be making next year, but as you’ll see… It really doesn’t matter.  Read on…

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The Royals and Luke Hochevar agreed to terms on Wednesday, avoiding arbitration.  According to reports, he’s set to make $1.76 million next season.  While that’s hardly chump change, according to Cot’s that is the exact same amount he made in 2010. Hochevar is represented by Scott Boras, so I found it kind of interesting that they reached this sort of an agreement.  Even though he was hurt and missed a large chunk of the season, Hochevar did improve on his overall performance.  Trust me… You have to look closely, but he did.

Hochevar has added seven pounds of muscle (one of the first “Best Shape of his Life” stories of 2011… Spring Training is close.) in an attempt to avoid further injury.  I’m always ambivalent about these reports.  Will more muscle result in better performance, or will it take something away?  I guess we’ll know about a year from now when the story is either “Hochevar Trims Down” or “Hochevar named Mr. Universe.”

With Hochevar under contract, that leaves Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Robinson Tejeda and Kyle Davies as the Royals remaining arbitration-eligible players.  Given Dayton Moore’s track record – he’s never gone to arbitration in his tenure in KC – I’d bet all four reach agreements before the team reports to Surprise.

So let’s take a look at the Royals current payroll.  Here are the names and the numbers we know.  These are all the Royals under contract for 2011.  All numbers are in millions.

That is a lean total for a baseball payroll about a month from the opening of camp.

Now, let’s look at the guys who haven’t been locked in for 2011.

Butler will get a nice raise to avoid arbitration.  I’m thinking somewhere in the $3 million neighborhood.  Gordon will probably be in line with last season’s $1.15 million.  There is no way Davies should make more money than Hochevar, but he was at $1.8 last year, so let’s pencil him in for that again.  And Tejeda will probably double his salary from last year and make around $2 million.  These numbers are just off the top of my head.  I’m confident about the Gordon and Davies guesses, less so about Butler and Tejeda.  Still, let’s figure an additional $8 million for the remaining arbitration guys.  That pushes the total payroll to about $35 million.

Then there are the guys with less that three years of service time.  The club can (and will) automatically renew their contracts for either the minimum ($414,000) or slightly above.  On the Royals, that includes the following players:

Nathan Adcock
Jesse Chavez
Greg Holland
Jeremy Jeffries
Vin Mazzaro
Sean O’Sullivan
Lucas May
Mike Aviles
Alcides Escobar
Chris Getz
Kila Ka’aihue
Gregor Blanco
Lorenzo Cain

OK… I’ve left out some players who could be on the 25 man roster Opening Day.  That’s not the point.  Because if one of these 13 guys isn’t on the team at the start of April, he will be replaced by someone with a similar level of experience.

Since not everyone listed above will make the bare minimum, let’s just round up and assign everyone a contract of $425,000.  That adds an extra $5.525 million to the payroll.

That brings our rough estimate of the Royals Opening Day payroll to $40.525 million.  Throw in the $1 million they owe The Yunigma and that edges the team payroll to just over $41 million.

Wow.

Quite the reduction from the $70 million plus payrolls the Royals opened the year with in 2010 and 2009.

I know there will be a focus on the team payroll and most of it will be negative.  Ignore that noise.  A payroll this low means that while GMDM doesn’t totally get it, he’s learning.  He’s learning that you don’t need to throw mega-millions at a broken down outfielder or a reliever in order to finish in fourth or fifth place.  This is a good thing.  With The Process in full swing, there’s no need to bloat the payroll today.  The eyes are on the future.

On the other hand, I’m worried that the money is smoldering in GMDM’s pocket.  Obviously the Royals need pitching and Kevin Millwood seems like the kind of guy he would overpay, just to bring him to KC.  How GMDM approaches this need in the next month will speak loudly about exactly how much he has learned.

However, it’s all a slippery slope.  Don’t spend money and you’re cheap and running the team on a Wal-Mart budget.  Spend money on guys like Millwood and you’re basically throwing cash away.  Still, there’s not a much (really, any) quality remaining on the free agent market.  All that’s left are injury risks (Chris Young, Jeff Francis) and guys who… aren’t very good. (Jeff Suppan, Nate Robertson)

Myself, I’d rather GMDM resist the temptation to throw the cash just because he has it.  I know that a million saved in 2011 doesn’t mean anything in 2012.  Still, just once I’d like Moore to do the prudent thing.