Right about the time I hit “publish” on the old blogging dashboard yesterday, the ever-reliable Jon Heyman came up with some info Royals fans had been jonesing for for about a week and a half. The Ian Kennedy numbers! The Ian Kennedy numbers!
Ian Kennedy breakdown: 7.5M in ’16, 13.5M in ’17, 16M in ’18, 16.5M in ’19, 16.5M in ’20. $70M guarantee. #royals
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 27, 2016
This helps settle the Royals payroll situation as we’re about three weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let’s dissect the contract itself.
For starters, it’s not a surprise Kennedy is playing for $7.5 million this year. The Royals are approaching the $130 million threshold, so if they had spread the guaranteed cash evenly, that would have tacked $6.5 million in the column for 2016. That may not seem like a lot of cash when you think to yourself, “Hey! Omar Infante is set to make $8 million!” But this is the Royals. There will never be a situation where every dollar doesn’t count. It’s also not surprising that the contract takes a jump next season, but doesn’t go all the way. Again, we’re expecting 2017 to be the end of the run of the current core. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, and even Danny Duffy will be departing as free agents. That means this group will be at their maximum earning while under the Royals employ.
We could include Kennedy in that group as well. His contract contains an opt out following 2017. That’s the catch. This is a heavily backloaded contract, where Kennedy is due $21 million before he’s eligible to walk, and a whopping $49 million over the final three years.
It’s still a ways off, but this feels like a trap contract. Kennedy will be in his age 32 season in 2017. It’s possible he does well enough and pitchers salaries escalate to the point where it would make sense for him to walk away from $49 million covering his age 33 to 35 seasons, but there’s a real risk here. If Kennedy stumbles at any point in the next two seasons… If he suffers an injury… That big money looks like a potential albatross.
It feels like the Royals tendered this contract in the hopes Kennedy could contribute over the next two seasons, when the window is open, followed by him triggering the opt out and removing the $49 million guillotine hanging over the franchise.
You may think I’m down on this signing, but I’m not. Not really. I think there’s a strong chance Kennedy rebounds and delivers a couple of decent seasons for the Royals. In fact, I’d take his Steamer projection of 2.0 fWAR and tack on at least another win. We’ve discussed this before, but I fully expect his home run rate to normalize and for Kennedy to benefit with a real outfield defense behind him for 30-plus starts. Call it the Volquez Effect. And if Kennedy can hit that fWAR, he’s already paid for his first two seasons with that kind of value. At $7.5 million, the Royals are paying him as a sub 1.0 fWAR starter.
It’s the opt out that will keep Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust awake at night.
So, about that payroll… I project (with help from Cot’s Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors) the Royals 2016 Opening Day payroll will be just above $127 million. Here’s how it breaks down for the next five seasons:
A quick word on the color codings. Blue is a buyout on an option. Green is when a player is eligible for free agency. And red is an estimate of arbitration.
Some more housekeeping… There are 26 players listed because Jason Vargas will open the year on the disabled list. His salary counts toward the Opening Day roster. Then there’s the issue of the insurance. I’m not entirely certain how that is handled, but I would assume the Royals would collect at the end of the year, once it’s determined how much time Vargas has missed. It’s possible the Royals won’t be eligible to collect the full amount of the rumored $6 million they have in insurance.
Plus, don’t think the players listed above are set in stone. The Royals will owe some money to a third catcher, but I don’t see any scenario where they keep both Drew Butera and Tony Cruz. (Besides, Butera is giving the baseball from the final out of the World Series to the Royals Hall of Fame. This makes him the favorite in the backup catching competition in my mind. Butera forever!) And there’s a strong chance someone like Dillon Gee makes the roster at the expense of someone like Tim Collins. Gee will make $2 million if he makes the team, but he has an early spring opt out if he’s not on the 40-man roster. That’s why the dollar value on the Kennedy contract is so important (and low) for 2016. They need the wiggle room just based on what can still happen with the players they have in camp.
And finally, buyouts are noted, but they are applied to the end of the year totals of the previous season. So the money the Royals gave to Alex Rios and Jeremy Guthrie goes on the books for 2015, not 2016. So basically, my own chart is a little goofed for 2017. I have the Royals on the hook for $82.5 million, but really it’s closer to $73.5 million at the moment. That in itself is amazing. The Royals have topped that only four times in franchise history. And they’ve committed that much cash to just eight players! We live in exciting times, my friends.