A conversation I had over the weekend got me thinking about value and the 2013 Royals roster. As is the case with most teams, the Royals feature young players who are playing through their pre-arbitration years, young players who have signed long-term deals with the team and veterans. While not all players fit perfectly into one of those three categories, you can at least see the direction by using those three. Inherently, young players make less money than veteran players. Well that’s not entirely true, but young players in their pre-arbitration years definitely make less than the vast majority of veteran players. And some arbitration eligible players make more than some veteran players. That last point is where the conversation started and got me thinking about the value on the roster.
Because of the way baseball’s salary structure works, a player with zero to three years of service time (typically) is paid at the discretion of his team unless a long-term deal is worked out. Sure, Super Two can factor in for players with less than three years, but let’s just keep it simple for the time being. Then, as players get into the arbitration part of their careers, their salaries tend to jump, especially if they’re good. The thing that gets most people in an uproar is that even if a player isn’t good, their salary tends to rise if they do something well. In the case of a guy like Luke Hochevar, he throws innings. He doesn’t even have to do it well for the arbitration process to indicate that he deserves a raise. And yes, I know he didn’t actually go to arbitration, but he would have received a raise had he gone.
So let’s stick with Luke Hochevar for a second, which was the focal point of the conversation I had the other day. As you all know, Hochevar signed for $4.56 million with some incentives that can make the salary even more. Many fans were in a tizzy about that even though the real issue came back in November when the Royals tendered him a contract. We went over that then, so it’s not worth getting upset over now, but that’s where it started. Once the decision was made to tender him a contract, we knew his salary was going to be around $4.5 million. Of course, having the actual number allowed people to form a judgment about the deal. A guy like Hochevar can be used as a great example for how a team should handle its younger players.
If I was running the Royals and dealing with a guy like Luke Hochevar, I’d obviously keep him around for his first three years no matter what. Hochevar is a bit of a different case in that he was given a big league contract upon being drafted, so he wasn’t subject to the minimum salary as most young players are. Still, the contract was a pittance compared to what most big leaguers make, so that’s a no brainer. At some point, though, as the salary begins to rise, you hope the production does as well. You can live with a season like Hochevar had in 2012 if he’s making even as little as $2 million because no matter what you think, the potentialÂ is there. Of course, three factors about 2013 make tendering Hochevar silly, and thus make him a poor value. The first is that he’s making too much money considering the production he provides. The second is that every single year, the window of potential closes a little bit more. And the third is that if the team is really serious about contending but is on a budget, then every penny counts and they can’t throw money away on a guy like Hochevar.
Because the Royals are filled with players who are in their first three years, they’re also filled with many players who are set to make around the league minimum. According to Cot’s (a wonderful resource), the vast majority of the Royals roster will make less than $1 million in 2013. My biggest concern about the 2013 roster is all the fat that is around the edges. A guy like James Shields making a touch over $10 million doesn’t bother me one bit because he’ll most likely justify that salary or at least come close to it. Paying Jeff Francoeur a touch under $7 million, though, is a contract that just seems silly. Bruce Chen at $4.5 million is probably right around in line with his market value, but when paired with the Francoeur contract, you can start to see where the Royals can do a better job with spending their money. Maybe even add in a $12 million gamble on one of 2012’s worst starting pitchers, Ervin Santana, and you start to see a lot of money that could have been available. I’m not going to dwell on the past too much, but it definitely has to factor in an evaluation.
I think I kind of lost my train of thought here, but the roundabout point I wanted to make initially is that there’s a ton of value on the Royals roster even mixed in with some of those players who are probably making a fair amount more than they deserve. People talk a lot about the farm system and how well Dayton Moore has done to build it, but to this point, his best attribute as a general manager has been his ability to sign players to long-term deals, some early in their careers. The Salvador Perez contract may be the best in baseball when it’s all said and done. Alcides Escobar is a bargain at just $3 million per year over the next three seasons. Even some of the bigger contracts are pretty club friendly like Alex Gordon and Billy Butler who stand to likely be the two best hitters on the team. Dayton Moore didn’t sign this contract, but Wade DavisÂ could end up being quite a bargain if he can get back to the rotation.
What these value contracts do is they allow you to go out and get a guy like a James Shields making $10 million plus. We can argue until we’re blue in the face about whether or not that trade was smart, and that’s not my intention here, but with the budget the Royals are clearly on, they would not have been able to make that trade to acquire Shields, Davis and Santana. Like I said, you can argue whether the execution was correct, but the fact is that because of the solid contracts signed by players to buy out some free agency and having a roster full of young players means the Royals can make those mistakes in an effort to get better. Me personally, I don’t think the moves they made put them over the top, and that is a definite discussion to be made, but while there’s quite a division in how the players on the team are paid, the overall roster is a pretty good value. I just don’t think it’ll be good enough to surprise in make the playoffs.
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