It’s been a couple of weeks, but with the Billy Butler extension on the books and all the arbitration eligible cases cleared, it’s a good time to look at how the payroll stacks up with about two weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

All payroll info comes from the indispensable Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

What’s amazing is the payroll has decreased since we last examined the books.  That’s entirely due to Gil Meche walking away from $12 million.  And helped by Butler settling for less than the Royals offered in arbitration in exchange for long-term security.  Say what you will about Dayton Moore, but the Royals have come out ahead in the salary game as we head into 2011.

The list above has 13 players with guaranteed money.  That leaves 12 players to fill out the 25-man roster… Each of whom will earn less than $500,000 on average.  Remember, the major league minimum will be $414,000.  Since the Royals aren’t in the business of making a salary statement at the major league level (as opposed to routinely going above slot in the draft) just figure that any player who makes his debut this year, will earn the minimum.  A player like Mike Aviles with a little over two years of service, will make the most of this group… And he’ll earn about $440,000.

So let’s figure an average salary for the remaining 12 players (assuming they are players already on the 40 man roster) will be $425,000.  That’s a total of $5.1 million.

Get ready for this…

That means the Royals Opening Day payroll currently projects to be just over $33 million.  They haven’t had a payroll that low since 2000.

The good news is the Royals are being prudent fiscally.  They aren’t going to contend and with Meche, Greinke and DeJesus in the fold, they weren’t going to contend either.  By dumping almost $30 million in salary, they’re probably going to finish with around the same record they had last summer.  (I’m still figuring things out, but I don’t expect this team to be as historically bad as some people think.)

As I report on the lower payroll, news comes in the Royals signed Dominican right-hander Darwin Castillo for $300,000.  He recently pitched before 125 scouts in the Dominican Prospect League All-Star game, and the Royals jumped quickly.  Sure, $300,000 is relatively peanuts and was certainly already in the scouting and signing budget, but that’s where your Meche money is going.  You have to think the Royals will be even more aggressive in Latin America.  That’s a good thing given we will soon be entering the second phase of The Process.

As we get closer to the actual Opening Day, the fear is still there that GMDM could waste spend some of his surplus on another pitcher, like Kevin Millwood.  Even though he’s gone on the record stating he’s 99.9 percent certain the Royals personnel is set as we head to Surprise, GMDM hasn’t always been truthful.  There will be pressure from fans and from suits within baseball to elevate the payroll… Because believe me, this payroll will be in the news in another month and a half.  The media in New York and Boston will have a field day and trot out the usual Kansas City Cliches.  Hopefully, GMDM can ignore the pressure and keep his focus on building the team for the future.