Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Optimism for 2014 and Caution for 2015 and Beyond

                The Royals continued their “spending spree” this offseason by signing 2b Omar Infante to a four year contract worth $30.25M with a team option for a 5th year at $10M with a $2M buyout. Infante is coming off a season in which he batted .318/.345/.450 and accrued 3.1 fWAR, which if you were watching last year, would have been a massive improvement over what the Royals had at 2b. Infante is a solid player who has a fairly good chance of outperforming his contract over the first two years and underperforming the contract in the last two years to produce something like fair value over the life of the contract. The Royals managed to secure a good player to a good contract despite the current condition of the free agent market and competition from the Yankees for his services, and Dayton Moore deserves some credit for this. The team option seems like a waste of $2M, but the Royals somehow believe he will still be effective in 2018.

                There appeared to be a clear plan this offseason, though it’s not a very complicated plan. Improve the offense and replace Ervin Santana. For the combined cost of roughly $14M between Aoki, Vargas, and Infante, the Royals have bought 5-8 wins in 2014, where they had maybe 2-3 previously. Santana alone is likely to command somewhere around that number and give less production in 2014. Because James Shields is a free agent after next season, 2014 is clearly the year that must be maximized. Almost every move this offseason has been done with that in mind (I’m still upset about the Kottaras move, despite the small effect it has). Aoki is under contract for only 2014, and Vargas and Infante will enter their decline phases soon after 2014.

                What is very encouraging to me is that the Glass family has seemingly opened their pocketbooks to support Dayton in his attempt to maximize 2014. With the Infante signing, the Royals will be pushing near $100M in payroll, which will clearly be their highest ever. For the past several years, we’ve heard that Dayton’s “Process” is the way to get the Royals back to respectability and contention. Once the Royals reached that point, the Glass family always said that they would authorize more spending to field a true contender. They have done so.

What worries me is the condition of the team after 2014. With Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and some of the younger guys like Eric Hosmer getting more expensive, payroll flexibility will be lower, and Shields will most likely be gone. Infante’s contract gets more expensive after 2014. There are some young pitchers who will potentially be ready to replace Shields in 2015 at a low cost, but pitching prospects are very fickle, and Dayton doesn’t have a good track record of developing young pitchers. Contention in 2014 is a very real thing; contention after 2014 could be non-existent. At some point, it is important to throw all your chips in for short-term contention over long-term sustainability. I hope the Royals can figure out how to recover after 2014.

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