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We’re getting closer to firing up the hot stove, so this seems to be a great time to look at the Royals contract obligations for the upcoming season.

Guaranteed Money
Billy Butler – $8 million
Jeff Francoeur – $6.75 million
Aaron Crow – $1.1 million

The Butler contract hits the second year arbitration escalator. And if that number seems hefty for a player with that kind of service time, remember he signed for less that he submitted to the Royals prior to the arbitration process last year. According to FanGraphs, Butler’s production was worth $8.1 million. And that was probably the least productive year of his last three. Still a good piece of business by GMDM, I say. Even if he clogs the bases. That number does not include what is thought to be a pro-rated signing bonus of $500k.

The Frenchy money is an estimate based on his two-year, $13.5 million extension.

The Crow deal is a leftover from his major league deal signed after the 2009 draft.

Joakim Soria – $6 million ($750k buyout)

No-brainer. The option would have escalated to $6.5 million if he had become a starter. But he didn’t.

First Year Arbitration Eligible
Mitch Maier – $459k
Chris Getz – $443k
Aaron Laffey – $432k

Laffey, as I wrote earlier, is insurance. The deadline to offer contracts for the 2012 season is December 12. If GMDM isn’t able to bring in a couple of bullpen arms by then, Laffey will get tendered a contract. Simple as that. He could be gone before then if the Royals are super aggressive and need the room on the 40-man roster.

Maier would probably get around $650k, I imagine. That’s not too much for a fourth outfielder. Do the Royals want to dip into the prospect pool for the fourth guy? I don’t think so. They know what they have in Maier… A guy who shows up, works hard and doesn’t complain. (And when they’re short an arm, he can pitch!) If they’re really looking to save a few bucks, the could bring up David Lough. Clearly, they don’t think of him as anything more than a fourth outfielder at this point. I’d rather they spend a few hundred thousand more and keep Our Mitch around for another season.

And you know my opinion on Getz. There’s no reason for him to be tendered a contract. He’s a utility player without utility. The Royals picked up their 2012 utility guy when they grabbed Yamaico Navarro from the Red Sox. He may play with less GRIT, but he can play more positions.

Second Year Arbitration Eligible
Brayan Pena – $660k
Felipe Paulino – $790k
Luke Hochevar – $1.76 million

Pena is an interesting case. He stands to make around $800k next year, but has confirmed that he can’t play defense and the lone reason for him to be kept around – his OPB ability – has vanished. Manny Pina would be an adequate backup and the Royals have gone on the record saying they don’t think they need to have a veteran catcher on the roster. Besides, with new bench coach Chino Cadahia in the fold, there’s the catching experience right there. I don’t think Pena will be tendered a contract.

Paulino and Hochevar are no-doubters. MLB Trade Rumors has Paulino doubling his salary to around $1.6 million. Given he proved to be a durable and decent starter for the Royals, I can’t argue with that. Hochevar will get a nice raise as well. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million.

Third Year Arbitration Eligible
Alex Gordon – $1.4 million

This is where the Royals are going to have to reach for their pocketbooks. Gordon was worth $31 million on the open market based on his 2011 production. Obviously, he’s not going to get that kind of coin, but it just gives you some perspective at how good he was for the Royals last year. Domination.

Gordon lacks a solid track record and that’s kept his salary depressed as he enters his third go around on the arbitration wheel. It will continue to hurt him here, as he stands to get a raise somewhere around $5 million. That’s assuming the Royals don’t do the right thing and extend him.

Fourth Year Arbitration Eligible
Melky Cabrera – $1.25 million

Cast off from the Braves last year, the Melk-Man took a hefty pay cut to play for the Royals. He made $3.1 million in 2010. Look for him to bounce to the $4 million range.

Free Agents
Bruce Chen
Jeff Francis
Jason Kendall

Sigh… Another Kendall sighting. Last one. Promise.

Chen projects to be a Type B free agent which means the Royals could be in line for some compensation if they offer him arbitration. Last winter, Chen shopped for a two-year deal, but returned to the Royals when it was obvious he couldn’t find a taker. He’ll be looking for something similar this time around. And again, I think he will have some problem finding what he’s looking for. He’s proven himself, but as Ozzie Guillen so eloquently put it, it’s “Bruce F’n Chen.”

I think the Royals will offer Chen arbitration. At least, they should. If he accepts, the Royals have a serviceable starter for around $3.5 million. If he declines, they get a supplemental. Win-win.

Assuming Getz and Pena are non-tendered, and assuming Laffey sticks and Chen departs as a free agent, the Royals are somewhere in the range of $38 million for their guaranteed and arbitration contracts. Add another $7 million for the remaining 15 players filling out the roster (assuming each of the remaining players have less than three years of service time), and you have a current projected payroll of close to $45 million. Probably a little more because they will certainly have a couple of guys on the 25 man roster that aren’t currently in the picture.

Of course, this is all extremely preliminary. Trades will be made. It’s possible a free agent may be lured to KC. What this represents is a snapshot in time of where the Royals are with their payroll. I’ll revisit this from time to time this winter. It will be interesting to see how the off season payroll evolves.

A few quick notes…

— The Royals made their first move of the off season this week when they claimed reliever Aaron Laffey off waivers from the New York Yankees and designated Jesse Chavez for assignment.

Hey, it’s a waiver claim. What did you expect? Dayton Moore can’t make a trade until after the last out of the World Series.

There are a few things wrong with Laffey. First, he doesn’t miss bats. According to FanGraphs, just over five percent of his strikes were on swings and misses, way below league average. Second, he lacks command. A 4.5 BB/9? Yuck. And third, he doesn’t get enough ground balls to offset his first two deficiencies.

Here’s what’s right with Laffey… He’s better than Jesse Chavez.

Laffey is surplus. A guy to add depth to the challenge of spring training. If he lasts on the 40-man roster that long. The most interesting thing about this signing is, he’s eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career. He’s not going to break the bank or anything, but still… It’s possible they will exchange numbers, but that doesn’t mean he has to make the team.

— It appears Dave Eiland interviewed for the vacant Royals pitching coach position. He was the Yankees pitching coach for three years from 2008 to 2010. Evaluating a pitching coach on past performance is difficult, but when it’s the Yankees and their bloated payroll, it’s even more impossible.

Eiland comes shrouded with a bit of mystery. He left the Yankees for a leave of absence due to personal reasons in June of his final season with the team. The leave was open-ended and lasted 25 days. No reason was given.

Then, at the end of the season, the Yankees announced he wouldn’t return. Of course, thoughts turned to his mid-season leave and whether it impacted the end of his run with the team. The Yankees and Brian Cashman insisted it had nothing to do with performance. This led former sportswriter, now blogger, Murray Chass to unearth this nugget:

The dismissal, as it turns out, stemmed from the 25-day leave of absence Eiland was granted in June. Neither the coach nor the Yankees said why Eiland took the leave other than to say it was to take care of a personal matter.

The matter was serious enough that the Yankees told him he could return to his job as long as he didn’t resume any of the activities that led to his leave of absence. He didn’t adhere to the agreement and was fired. No one has spelled out those activities, and I will refrain from speculating.

Nice! I’ll speculate. I think he had a habit… Of chewing all the free gum in the clubhouse. Or something. Really, I think Chass used to be respected. Now, he’s just a hit and run artist who doesn’t give a crap.

Any of the activities? Plural? Indicating Eiland had more than one issue. And then insinuating that he basically relapsed. If Chass is so connected he can get this info, why can’t he get the rest? Stay classy, Maury!

The one thing I’m surprised about this development is that Eiland himself confirmed to the St. Petersburg Times that he interviewed for the position. Given that the Royals control leaks like the Soviet Kremlin, it probably can’t help Eiland’s chances if he’s confirming he talked with the team.

Eiland worked his way up the Yankee minor league system and the thought at the time was, he won the job because of his relationship with the young pitchers that were coming through the system. Something like that probably works in his favor. However, the leave of absence – if it truly was for something that can cause you to relapse – and the fact he’s confirmed his interview, make him an unlikely fit for this team.

— I’m a little late mentioning this, but Aaron at I70 Baseball had an outstanding recap of the 2011 Royals. Well worth your time.

Bubba Starling is close to returning to Instructional League action after straining his quad.

— Dutton reports Wil Myers is rediscovering his mojo in the Instructional League. Myers will probably open the season repeating Double-A, but could get a mid-season move up the ladder.

Myers had one of those Alex Gordon type of seasons where he had a freak injury, struggled a bit and lost confidence. Fortunately for him, it happened in Northwest Arkansas. Repeating that level can only help. Besides, with Jeff Francoeur under contract for two years, the Royals are going to take their time with Myers.

— Really lookin’ forward to the weekend, you guys.

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