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Filling the Gaps in 2012

Things are just about set for the 2011 season. Sure, there might be a low profile signing between now and the beginning of the season and there are internal battles to be won. The roster, though, is pretty well determined to include players already in the organization. We all know that 2011 is possibly the first true rebuilding year we’ve seen in Kansas City since maybe the late 90s. Even that wasn’t a legitimate youth movement. But now we’re seeing it. The prospects are going to start coming up in waves, and baseball will be exciting again in Kansas City. The problem, though, is that a team is very unlikely to win with an entire team full of players in their first couple of years. You need some veterans to supplement the talent. This post isn’t about the fact that I’m not sure I trust Dayton Moore to supplement that talent, though I don’t think I do. This post is about who might be a good find in the free agent market following the 2011 season.

The way I see it, the team should be set around the infield and bullpen, but needs some help in the outfield, starting rotation and catching position. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say an infield of some combination of Moustakas, Escobar, Colon, Butler, Hosmer, Ka’aihue, Giavotella and Aviles will do everything the Royals need over the next three years. I’m also willing to assume that a bullpen headlined by Joakim Soria and featuring Jeffress, Coleman, Collins, Holland, Wood, Keating, et all will be one of the better units in the American League. The outfield is even pretty well set as of right now, but while I love Cain and think he’ll be a very good player, he may fizzle out. He doesn’t have an amazing track record that would indicate he’s can’t miss and even if he was, we’ve seen far too many times in Kansas City that can’t misses often do miss.

Let’s start with the outfield options following the 2011 season. The first name I saw is one that I never thought I’d advocate a deal for, but it’s Jose Bautista, he of the 54 home runs in 2010. Now, one caveat on him is that I have to see him do it again. No, I don’t expect 50+ homers, but I do expect to see another great walk rate and good power. Defensively, he’s pretty good in the corners and on a three-year deal can be a really nice gap bridger to the younger prospects. His home run totals would inevitably decline in Kauffman Stadium, but barring collapse would be a nice pickup if he can be had for relatively cheap. If he can replicate his 2010 performance enough in 2011 (think .270/.370/.520) I’d give him three years and $39 million. It might not be enough, but it’d be worth negotiating. Some might argue that it’s akin to the Guillen signing, but I’d argue that Bautista’s plate discipline and ability to actually play some defense makes him a much better bet to age a little better than Guillen.

There’s probably not another outfielder I’d want to take a chance on for serious free agent money with the exception of Grady Sizemore. The only way he hits the free agent market is if the team signing him is signing him as a reclamation project because if he’s desirable enough for a big money deal, the Indians will just exercise their $8.5 million option on him. The other direction that I’d at least inquire about would be to move Eric Hosmer to the outfield. No, not to make room for Kila. There’s a first baseman on the other side of Missouri who happens to be a pretty decent hitter and is a free agent. Then add in the fact that he’s from the Kansas City area and owns a home here. I’d try to get Albert Pujols signed. I’d offer him six years, but at a higher average annual value than any other team will probably offer. It’s been reported that he’s looking for ten years and $300 million.

What if the Royals offered him six years and $210 million? That’s an extra $5 million per season. I’d frontload the hell out of the deal, with the exception of the last year because that last year allows the player to make more money through arbitration if he were to accept (a player can’t receive less than 20% less than his previous year’s salary). Structure it as such: 2012 – $45 million, 2013 – $45 million, 2014 – $45 million, 2015 – $24 million, 2016 – $24 million, 2017 – $32 million. I know that’s a boatload of money for one player, but it isn’t every day that you get the greatest player in the game and a guy in the argument to be the best player of all time to play for your team. Attendance is built on winning, not gimmick players, but it really thrives on both. Pujols is a gimmick that would get fans to the ballpark and would help the team win immediately. With how inexpensive the Royals roster will be in 2012, 2013 and 2014, they can carry his contract and still come in under $100 million per season and actually have good players. With all this young talent, the Royals have the resources to go for it with one player. It has to be the right player, but it’d be hard to argue that Pujols isn’t right.

That pipe dream aside, the starting rotation probably needs a little help. The four lefties won’t all be ready to start the 2012 season, and the odds are pretty good that at least one of them has to become a reliever. I’m fine with Hochevar (remember, he’s going to have a good year) and Mazzaro, but if there’s an improvement or even a depth signing out there, I’d do it. There’s not really. I might be willing to put a flyer in on Edwin Jackson, but he’s going to take more than a flyer to sign. I’d probably give Javier Vazquez a similar deal to the one he got from the Marlins, but it’d be contingent on him regaining some of his lost velocity. Essentially, while there is a need on this front, it’s not one that can be filled through free agency.

The catching position is sort of in the same boat. I’d love to have Yadier Molina, but I’d be shocked if the Cardinals don’t pick up their option on him for $7 million. The guy I’d go after is Kelly Shoppach. He plays pretty good defense, gets on base and has good power. He’s not going to give you much more than a .230 or .240 average, but it comes with an OBP of around .330 or .340 which is good for a catcher and he’ll hit you 15-20 homers in every day duty. He can be had rather inexpensively I’m sure. The thing that scares me about next year’s free agent catcher crop is Ivan Rodriguez. He seems like a guy who Dayton Moore would be all over in free agency. The thing that scares me more is the possibility of Jason Kendall coming back. I shudder at the thought.

The nice thing about all these young players is that the Royals payroll is going to be potentially even lower in 2012 than it is in 2011 when it’ll come in at around $40 million. Kyle Davies will probably be replaced with a younger player, Luke Hochevar might be replaced, Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera should be gone and all of the young guys can be had for the minimum salary. The bulk of the payroll is in Joakim Soria and Billy Butler. Making a free agent splash is not out of the realm of possibility. With the right acquisition(s) and some strong rookie or second year showings, this team could conceivably compete in 2012 which would drive attendance and merchandise sales up significantly, giving the team the revenue to hold a $85-$90 million payroll. Typically you don’t want half of that in one player, but as I mentioned, there are exceptions to every rule. When your $414,000 talent is better than other teams’ $17 million talent, you can bend the rules of payroll. I don’t think there’s much of a chance of any of this happening, but it’s fun to dream.

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