Kansas City Royals owner David Glass still has the core of the 2015 World Series champions together for one more season. John Sleezer jsleezer@kcstar.com
Kansas City Royals owner David Glass still has the core of the 2015 World Series champions together for one more season. John Sleezer jsleezer@kcstar.com

Sam Mellinger

David Glass’ stance on 2017 payroll shortchanges Royals’ championship core

By Sam Mellinger

smellinger@kcstar.com

December 02, 2016 07:00 AM

UPDATED December 02, 2016 10:52 AM

Baseball’s offseason is only beginning, in what amounts to its adolescent years, but already the best hopes of many inside the Royals have been dashed by the man in charge.

It would be an exaggeration to say the worst fears are confirmed, because the roster is not going to be dismantled, but it’s also not going to be significantly enhanced.

David Glass began the offseason making clear he did not want to increase payroll. The owner momentarily allowed that the stance was negotiable. But as the busy December weeks of free-agent signings and trades approach, it is clear Glass will refuse to spend more than he’s already obligated as the Royals enter the final season with their homegrown championship core intact.

This group gave Glass a World Series trophy and a new reputation in Kansas City and beyond. That’s enough, apparently, because as the offseason begins in earnest with the winter meetings, Glass’ unwillingness to spend means the Royals are a hand-crank bike trying to make its way through the mud.

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“We’re simply not in a position to add to our current payroll,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

Moore has always supported and defended Glass, and is not complaining about the current setup. But around the organization, this is catching some like a punch in the nose.

And, it must be said, for good reason.

Glass has come so far as an owner. The Royals became an industry joke in the first half of the aughts, Glass earning a reputation as a penny pincher hoping for on-field miracles. Public perception didn’t turn until the Royals started winning, but Glass made a clear and obvious change that coincided with Moore’s hiring in 2006.

Glass would never be a big spender, but he did invest in the organization’s infrastructure, and outlay a series of franchise-record free-agent contracts. The two biggest contracts in Royals history were each signed last winter.

[ SportsBeatKC podcast: The Star’s Rustin Dodd & Sam Mellinger discuss the Royals and MLB’s new labor deal ]

But this is the equivalent of not finishing the race. Glass deserves to be criticized for it. The Royals have made efforts to extend their windows beyond 2017, but this was always going to be the last season the Royals had all their best homegrown players together.

Glass’ unwillingness to spend means this season is expected to begin with something less than full commitment from ownership.

Glass has every right to run his business how he wants, and Royals fans are smart enough to understand sensible spending reductions — the way they did in 2011 when Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Danny Duffy made their big-league debuts.

But they’re not dumb enough to believe Glass is at any serious financial risk here, particularly not with the franchise value increasing more than 800 percent from his original investment and one of the worst TV contracts in major professional sports set to be replaced by something more fruitful in 2019 (unless Glass does another terrible deal).

Glass’ stance, articulated through Moore, does not mean the Royals are stuck as spectators this winter. But, barring a drastic change, it does mean a stop sign on any moves that would add to a projected opening day payroll of around $148 million.

That would be an increase from a year ago, when the payroll opened around $140 million, and is enough to cover raises built into existing contracts (like Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy) and through arbitration (like Eric Hosmer and Jarrod Dyson) but not enough to add anyone of substance.

Royals payroll likely to 'regress a little bit' in 2017

Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore said that the team's 2017 payroll would likely "regress a little bit," while Moore was speaking at the team's 2016 season-ending news conference.

John Sleezer The Kansas City Star

The Royals could still create some immediate payroll space by signing Danny Duffy or Kelvin Herrera to long-term contracts that would be backloaded. But, realistically, any trade would need to be cost-neutral, and any major free-agent signing would need to be offset by a money-saving trade.

That limitation already cost the Royals an opportunity to improve. Josh Reddick was a free agent, and would’ve been a terrific fit — good power, tough to strike out, a right fielder with enough athleticism to stay there. He would’ve instantly improved the offense, and still allowed the Royals to use a floating DH to keep others fresh. The Royals saw all this, and discussed him as a potential target.

But those discussions had to include offsetting trades, and Reddick didn’t want to wait, signing a four-year, $52 million contract with the Astros. That’s exactly the kind of deal the Royals have supplemented their roster with before. It hasn’t always worked out — they still owe Omar Infante $10 million — but it’s a necessary expense in the billion-dollar world of big-league baseball.

So this is an example of Glass’ straightjacket limiting the Royals in multiple ways.

First, one of the advantages for teams in signing free agents is that they only give up money. With the exception of free agents tied to draft pick compensation (which Reddick wasn’t), teams don’t have to sacrifice talent. But Glass’ edict about not increasing payroll means that even free-agent signings need to be offset by trading away talent.

Second, as in the pursuit of Reddick, it can be prohibitively complicating. The Royals needed time to work on a trade — Wade Davis is the likeliest of a few candidates — and ultimately the timing and confidence to make two moves together.

Assuming Glass doesn’t change his mind, the Royals can still win despite the limitation. Davis, Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Moustakas can all be healthier and more productive in 2017. Hosmer can be better and Sal Perez can be better offensively. The Royals have enough at the major- and minor-league levels to have another great bullpen, and with health and luck the rotation could be better, too.

But this is expecting a lot, and eliminating margin for error long before the season begins. Baseball seasons never go to script, and they never come without difficulty. Moore is being a good soldier defending the owner, and directing fans to remember the 2015 World Series champions added Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto at the trade deadline.

Moore may disagree with this, but the team that opened the 2015 season was better than the team likely to open the 2017 season, and had more in the farm system to trade.

He is being particularly kind to Glass by never mentioning the Royals had to overpay in prospects for those trades because the owner wouldn’t take on any additional salary. That means the Royals have less to use or trade now, and, barring a reversal on that stance, means any trades in 2017 will be more difficult than is necessary.

No matter what, the last decade of The Process has been a resounding success. Most of that success should be credited to Moore and the men he hired, and to the players who had enough talent and belief to make it happen. But Glass had to make a fundamental change for any of it to be possible, and for that he deserves praise.

That’s all true, and so is the following: This is a bad look, the final season of a homegrown championship core planned to begin with the players required to outperform their team owner’s commitment. It’s possible. They can do it.

But they deserve more support from the man who’s profited off their success more than anyone else.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger