Clark kind of recapped the Royals offseason yesterday (it took a whole paragraph) and parsed the Alex Gordon/Ben Zobrist conundrum. It’s a waiting game everyone is playing at the moment. With the market fixated on the glut of starting pitching, he free agent outfield situation is no closer to resolution today as it was on November 2. Zobrist is linked with every team in baseball (and probably some in a couple of other sports – that’s how useful the guy is) and is patiently waiting as teams kick his tires. It’s inertia and it’s the lame part of the winter.
That will probably all change either this weekend or early next week as the Winter Meetings convene in Nashville.
For the snark about Dayton Moore and company always getting the jump in the offseason, the meeting in December is when the Royals front office gets really active. I wouldn’t be surprised if a free agent (or two) previously not thought to be on Kansas City’s radar would suddenly get tweeted about by Ken Rosenthal and then linked to on MLB Trade Rumors.
With the outfield market in deep freeze, it’s not surprising the Royals moves have been on the minor side of the ledger. They are almost certainly waiting on Gordon and Zobrist to make their decisions. If payroll is pushed to $130 million, there’s certainly a way to fit both on the roster, even with the pending arbitration cases. The club realized a savings of at least $10 million and probably more when they non-tendered Greg Holland this week.
(A quick aside on the tender/non-tender: Teams were obligated to offer all players contracts by December 2, or they would become free agents. It’s procedural, but as discussed below, there’s always one or two surprises who don’t get offered a contract. And it’s simply an offer of a contract. Some deals are signed ahead of the deadline, but most are still negotiating.)
Holland was non-tendered because under the rules of arbitration, had the Royals offered a contract, they would have had to pay him at least $6.6 million. (Which under the collective bargaining agreement is amount after a maximum 20 percent pay cut from the $8.4 million he earned last year.) That’s a lot of cabbage to pay someone who is pretty much guaranteed to spend an entire season off the mound and in rehab.
So where does this money go?
It’s established the Royals will shop in the bargain bin for free agent starting pitchers to fill out their rotation, so it wouldn’t be surprising at all to me to see them pursue Henderson Alvarez who was non-tendered by the Marlins on Wednesday. Alvarez banked $4 million last summer, but shoulder issues (and subsequent surgery) meant he made only four starts. (My god, that’s Zack Greinke money! Get it?) The Royals, as you know, have had success on reclamation projects, but the shoulder is a different animal than the elbow. Alvarez is a useful starter if he’s healthy and he would be affordable, too. For the Marlins to cut him loose makes me think they’re skeptical he will be able to pitch effectively. Although we can’t discount the idea that the Marlins are just kind of insane.
Anyway, Alvarez is the kind of pitcher who fits the Royals philosophy – a strike-thrower with a high contact rate who keeps the ball in the yard. In fact, Alvarez is something of a ground ball machine, getting the old worm-burner on 55 percent of balls put in play in his career. With the Royals starting infield set to return – sorry, not talking about Zobrist here. Second base belongs to Omar Infante – you certainly know about their ability to turn grounders into outs. It could be a decent fit, provided the shoulder is sound. That’s far from a guarantee.
Another recent non-tender to keep an eye on is Yusmerio Petit, who we all know from the San Francisco Giants. His ’14 season was pretty great. His ’15… not so much. His strikeout rate cratered and his xFIP added about a run and a half. So effective as a swingman when the Giants won the title – he made 12 starts and had a run of 37 consecutive scoreless innings in relief – Petit just couldn’t seem to put it together last summer. The issue here besides the known volatility of relievers is that held up to the rest of his major league career, 2014 looks like a bit of an outlier. Still, if you can grab him from a cool million he’s worth a flier. Although he made $2.1 million last year and since his best season isn’t that far in the rearview mirror, it’s doubtful he will come that cheap.
Neither of those names are sexy, but such is the situation as we nervously await word from Gordon and/or Zobrist.