The Next Royals Extension
Who could it be?
The Royals, as a lower revenue team, will always be looking to lock their young players up to keep them in Royals blue as long as possible. While I think and you probably think that they can dish out a $300+ million contract, the odds of it happen in the next few years are slim at best given that their biggest contract ever to date is the one given to Salvador Perez, a franchise icon. And that one didn’t even exceed $100 million. In Dayton Moore’s tenure as general manager and now president of baseball operations, he’s given out 13 notable extensions. Let’s take a look at them.
Joakim Soria 2008 - 3 years, $8.75 million (with three options to raise the total value to $32.75 million)
Zack Greinke 2009 - 4 years, $38 million
Billy Butler 2011 - 4 years, $30 million
Jeff Francoeur 2011 - 2 years, $13.5 million
Alex Gordon 2012 - 4 years, $37.5 million
Alcides Escobar 2012 - 4 years, $10.5 million (with two options to raise the total value to $21.75 million)
Salvador Perez 2012 - 5 years, $7 million (with three options to raise the total value to $21.75 million)
Yordano Ventura 2015 - 5 years, $23 million (with two options to raise the total value to $47 million)
Salvador Perez 2017 - 5 years, $52.5 million
Danny Duffy 2017 - 5 years, $65 million
Whit Merrifield 2019 - 4 years, $16.25 million
Salvador Perez 2021 - 4 years, $82 million
Hunter Dozier 2021 - 4 years, $25 million
As surprising as it might be to read, Willie Bloomquist never signed a long-term extension to stay in KC. I didn’t include a couple deals like the ones Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain signed because they simply provided cost certainty rather than actually extending their team control. As you can see, some have worked out, others haven’t been as great. Though to be honest, outside of the Francoeur and Dozier deals (to this point), they’ve all had plenty of value. You can argue the logic of tearing up Perez’s first deal the way they did, but it doesn’t mean they haven’t gotten their money’s worth out of most of these deals.
The Royals don’t sign players to extensions every winter and this year is especially tough to predict with the lockout, so the answer might end up being nobody to the question of who is next. But there are some candidates. I already wrote about what a Bobby Witt Jr. extension might look like if he agreed to that now (and that actually could get signed during the lockout if they wanted to work toward that…at least I think it could since he’s not currently on the 40-man roster).
I’m not going to look at more guys who haven’t debuted yet, so that’s why there’s no mention outside of this sentence of MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto and Asa Lacy or any of the others. Anyway, let’s get to it. I’m going to give the most I’d offer if I was the Royals and then look at if I think the player would take it.
In 2021, Barlow was one of the best relievers out there. He limited hits and home runs extremely well and he struck out a good number of batters. His walks were a touch high, but you live with that for the strikeouts and the fact that he keeps guys off base in other ways. If you could promise me that Barlow would be the 2021 Barlow for the next five years, I’d give him the moon. The problem is that he was simply solid in 2019 and 2020. Lots of strikeouts and all that, but he just wasn’t quite as good. Which isn’t that surprising for a reliever if you think about it. Plus, you might not realize this but he just finished his age-28 season and is under team control for three more seasons.
I include him here because the Royals like continuity and like their guys.
The DL Contract Offer: Nope, not doing it, but if I had to, I guess maybe 4 years, $18 million?
Would he take it? I’d assume yes. He’s projected to get $2.4 million in 2022. That means $15.6 million over three years with like $9ish million in arbitration for 2023 and 2024. If he’s even 2019/2020 Barlow for the rest of his team control, he’d definitely get $6.6 million in free agency on a one-year deal and probably more like three years and $18 million, but if he’s smart, he’d recognize that an extra year for a reliever to wait isn’t that big of a deal. Again, I wouldn’t do it. But he should at least if this was offered.
He is the most obvious extension candidate given that he’ll be eligible for free agency following the 2022 season. The Royals gave up a lot in quantity to get him, but unless Khalil Lee starts to make contact, they didn’t give up much in quality, so they don’t necessarily need an extension to justify a deal. I thought Benintendi took some time to get comfortable in a new uniform and then when he started really hitting (.317/.357/.493 from April 30 to June 13), he got hurt. Then the Royals brought him back with no rehab assignment and he sort of just flailed for a bit. It took about a month, but he hit .330/.366/.528 from August 15th on. A lot of people look at his September, but he started hitting about mid-August.
But it was weird because he wasn’t walking like he used to. His 5.8 percent walk rate was exceptionally low, though he also only struck out 13.1 percent of the time. And the contact was quality, so maybe it was an effort to change his game a bit. It just leads to a lot of questions of sustainability in addition to how much of his slumps were a case of injury struggles plus getting comfortable or if they were simply that he’s prone to some slumps. And you hate to put a label on a guy, but he’s struggled some to stay healthy in his career. Is that worth a longer-term risk.
And of course you have to think about the future of the team. You already likely have a similar player in Kyle Isbel ready to go. If you can guarantee the April to mid-June or mid-August to October Benintendi, sure, you take two of them. But if you can’t, and you can’t, do you want to rely on just one? And if so, wouldn’t you prefer the guy making league minimum or close to it? If Benintendi had two years to free agency, I think it’s an easy deal. Get him for three or four years and be done. But with him set to hit free agency and likely looking for four or five years, I think it probably requires that long of a deal now, which puts you into his early-30s on a deal.
The DL Contract Offer: 4 years, $42 million
Would he take it? I don’t know. That’s awfully close. This is including his 2022 season, which he’s estimated to make a bit more than $9 million. So it’s basically three years and $11 million or so per year. Benintendi could point to Avisail Garcia’s deal for $53 million over four years and think he could get an additional $2-$3 million per year on a deal. But he also has never posted a 29-home run season like Garcia did. Mark Canha’s deal was also for a couple million more per year than what he’d be looking at, but it was for two years. I’m not sure Canha would have gotten $13 million over three. I think it’s a fair deal, but I’m not sure I’d actually even offer it in the real world.
What I love about Bubic is that he’s a very cerebral pitcher, always working on his craft. He was compared to Travor Bauer to me when he was in the minors in the sense that he understands the analytics and the science behind pitching so well that he will always continue to work to get better. That’s something you don’t have a problem investing in. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s been slightly above league average in his first two seasons while still trying to figure out what works for him and what doesn’t.
It’s honestly probably a bit early for him, the next name on our list and another name farther down the list, but it would be interesting to see if they could get Bubic under team control at a good rate here pretty quickly. He’s not even arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season, so that’s two more pre-arb years (at least under the old CBA). He’s been a bit homer-prone, but that’s been an issue with what was thought to be his best pitch, his changeup. I would probably wait a tick on extending him given the progression I would like to see in him and the time they have, but also you probably can’t ever get a better deal for the team than right now.
The DL Contract Offer: 6 years, $32 million with two options for $16 million each
Would he take it? I think it’d be awfully close. The breakdown here is that he gets $1 million for each of his remaining pre-arb years with another $18 million for his arbitration seasons and $11 million for his first free agent year. The options have a $1 million buyout attached, so the deal could be 6/32, 7/49 or 8/64. Given that he’s been about average his first two years, he’s left-handed and is the type you feel like you can trust to get better.
Hernandez, like Bubic, just finished his second big league season but won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season and then won’t be eligible for free agency until after 2026. Of course, this is all based on the recently expired CBA, so that could change, but we don’t know anything different just yet so we’ll operate under those terms. Nothing about Hernandez and Bubic on the mound, though, is especially similar. Hernandez is pure power, throwing 100+ in starts and looking to blow hitters away.
But! Hernandez doesn’t strike guys out at nearly the rate you’d expect for his stuff. And he walks too many batters. But good lord, when he’s on, how good does he look? I think about that game in Seattle when he actually came on in relief of Bubic and went 5.2 hitless innings before getting into extra innings and got bit by the runner on second. I’ve mentioned the comparison to Perez before in that he’s the unheralded guy who comes up and is actually the best of the bunch. It’s possible he’s that guy and if he can condition to be the pitcher who had a 3.00 ERA in 57 innings with a 24.4 percent strikeout rate and 8.9 percent walk rate between his recall and the end of August, that’s a guy you want long-term.
In some ways, I’d be more hesitant to extend Hernandez right now than I would be for Bubic and in other ways I’d jump on it. Both of them have shown an aptitude to adapt, which is something you want in a young pitcher. Both have shown they can compete at the big league level. I think the ceiling on Hernandez is considerably higher, but the floor is a lot lower given his command issues. If given the choice, I’d be more apt to wait on Hernandez and have to pay a bit more following a good 2022 than I would be to wait on Bubic because of that floor, but I also love the closer potential if starting doesn’t work out for Hernandez.
The DL Contract Offer: 6 years, $28 million with incentives to make it identical to the Bubic deal, options and all
Would he take it? Yes. In a heartbeat. And I’m not sure the Royals shouldn’t offer it too. I think it’s very clear Hernandez is a big league pitcher with the role a bit undefined at this moment. I’d love to wait a year even if it makes the final five years and $27 million more like five years and $38 million or something, but I would have no real issue with the deal above right now.
I think the time to extend Keller was probably before last season. As it turns out, that was the time for both sides because Keller’s value decreased enough in a rough start and then injury-plagued finish that he probably wouldn’t accept what he’s worth right now. Still, I think it’s worth noting that Keller posted a 3.50 ERA in 360.1 innings heading into 2021. Then he started the year with a 6.67 ERA in 81 innings to start the year and finished with a 3.42 ERA in 52.2 innings before he was shut down for the season.
So the question you have to ask is if the 413 innings of roughly a three and a half ERA are more real than the 81 innings to start 2021. I know this question seems like a bit of a trap, but it isn’t. The issue with Keller was always that the underlying numbers didn’t seem to support the good ERA. He limited contact well, but that skill seemed to elude him some in 2021. But maybe he’s learned as he had a 23.8 percent strikeout in those final 52.2 innings. That’s in the ballpark of Julio Urias, Max Fried and Jameson Taillon. It’s not great by any stretch, but it’s much better than what we’ve seen of him in the past. The walk rate was pretty high, but I liked what I saw from him those last two months.
The DL Contract Offer: 4 years, $26 million with an option for $13 million and incentives to increase the value of the first four years to $34 million and the option to $15 million.
Would he take it? This is something that I think Keller would have to very seriously consider. He’s projected to make $5.2 million in 2022. A good year would likely push his final year arbitration number to around $11 million. Another year like 2021 would likely put it around $7 million. That would require a 2 year, $14ish million deal in free agency, which might be lofty if he has three rough years heading into free agency. There is risk for the Royals, but not huge risk, I don’t think. I haven’t mentioned that Keller could shift to the bullpen where his big fastball and slider might play up even better. It’s a pretty interesting risk/reward calculation in my opinion.
I wrote about Lopez a couple weeks ago and I think you would know from that article that I wouldn’t make this deal right now unless it was pretty inexpensive. What he’s proven is that he is not only a capable defender, but a plus defender at both middle infield spots. That has value, even if he’s not a starter. He can handle the bat well enough that you can do some things with him situationally as well. I personally think he’s quick enough and has good enough instincts that he would make a solid outfielder to even enhance his utility ability. The problem is utility players don’t get contract extensions, so there isn’t much in the way of comps for him. I guess you could look to the Alcides Escobar deal as guidance?
The DL Contract Offer: 4 years, $10 million with two options for $14 million total.
Would he take it? I don’t think he’d take it given that he’s projected to make $2 million in arbitration in 2022 alone. Still, that’s what I’d do if the Royals were hellbent on exploring it.
Woo boy, this is the big one, right? One of the first newsletters I wrote here was about an extension for Mondesi and the questions that I brought up in it of if they should even do it remain. He had moments where he looked like he could be the best player in the world, but both couldn’t stay on the field and when he did, he struggled. You could maybe argue that all the time lost to injury cleared things up and showed that the Royals shouldn’t extend him, but if you can get a deal on talent like that, does it make a deal even better? Again, I truly do not know the answer to that question.
What I do know is that Byron Buxton signed an extension with the Twins this winter. It was for seven years and $100 million. Fans immediately thought of Mondesi and how that impacts him because those two have been compared for a long time. From a high level, sure, I get it. Both have immense athletic ability. Both have shown they can be the best of the best when they’re on the field. And both have trouble staying on the field. The problem is that Buxton has hit .277/.321/.575 the last three seasons and Mondesi has hit .259/.289/.426. Mondesi’s gotten into nine more games in that time, so the playing time is actually similar. The point is that Buxton has converted the potential into production when he’s played. Mondesi still hasn’t done that consistently.
In the above newsletter, I suggested four years and $32 million with an option for $13 million. He’s obviously played an additional season, which puts him one step closer to free agency and is projected to make $3.2 million. The price has dropped.
The DL Contract Offer: 4 years, $24 million with vesting options for $12 million, $13 million and $15 million. Add in some incentives and the deal could end up being worth seven years and $90 million. Yes, $26 million in incentives.
Would he take it? My first thought was he definitely would, but then I started thinking and if he’s good enough for the options to vest, he’d likely get a bigger deal on the free agent market than three years and $40 million. Plus, each year would have to vest separately for me to even offer it. I think he would pass on it, but it would be very team friendly and potentially lucrative for Mondesi at the very least.
Singer is in a similar boat to Bubic and Hernandez with the exception that he has two full years of service time under his belt, which means he only has one pre-arb year left and four years to free agency. If the Royals believe in his development, now is probably the time to get something done. The problem with Singer, outside of the fact that I don’t know how you can truly believe in his development, is that I think he’d probably bet on himself making an extension almost impossible given his inconsistency on the mound.
We know the fastball and the slider can be plus pitches, but if he can’t develop that third pitch even just to throw opponents off the scent, it’s going to be a problem for him and he might end up in the bullpen. I haven’t exactly been quiet about doubting how well he’d pitch in the bullpen either, so that isn’t a sure thing like some seem to think it is. Still, the mentality is absolutely there and the talent is as well. So maybe, just maybe, you can get a good deal at this time.
The DL Contract Offer: 5 years, $25 million with options for three years at a total of $45 million. Also some incentives. The total deal could get up to near $100 million for eight years.
Would he take it? I doubt it. The guarantee is pretty small. He’s going to earn around $600,000 in 2022 and then probably is in line for about $18 million in arbitration if he just throws league average innings. Given that the options are team options, I can’t imagine he’d do that. It would basically be giving up his first free agent year at $7 million with average guys getting $8-$10 million now. If the point is to make a deal, I doubt this offer is even worth presenting, but that’s the best I’d do right now.
We started with the bullpen and we’re ending with the bullpen. I’ve said many times now that the Royals only get to where they want to go if someone like Staumont or maybe Dylan Coleman are closing games for them. Barlow is good, but I think he’s best served earlier in games. 2021 was a rough go for Staumont, though the numbers were still pretty good. His velocity was down after an issue with Covid in spring training, but he still struck out 27.3 percent of hitters he faced and his walk rate dropped dramatically to 10.2 percent. If he can maintain the control but get his velocity (and his strikeouts) back, he could become an elite reliever.
He has four years of team control left including one before reaching arbitration. And he’s now 28 years old. Like Barlow, I wouldn’t work out an extension with him other than to control some costs over the next couple seasons because he’ll be in his age-32 season in his first year following team control. But, that said, the Royals do like their guys, so I’m going to give you the number I’d offer if Dayton and JJ told me I had to do it.
The DL Contract Offer: 5 years, $23 million
Would he take it? He’s a smart guy and guaranteeing $23 million for a reliever is a nice payday. That said, he’s probably looking at about $14 million in arbitration if he isn’t a closer and that’s only one year and $9 million in his first free agent year. Look at the Kendall Graveman deal. He got $24 million over three years as a free agent. I think Staumont would likely do something that would guarantee some money, but I don’t think he’d give up free agency for that little.
There are other guys like Isbel, Daniel Lynch or even Coleman who could be interesting. The Royals don’t tend to extend guys that early. For Isbel and Lynch, they showed flashes but not enough to be thought of as potential moves to make. For Coleman, he looked great but barely got his feet wet at the big league level, so I wouldn’t expect to see anything with any of those three or any of the other players who debuted in 2021.
It’s just kind of a weird in between time for the Royals with their roster. They’re waiting for the young players to either debut or find their footing. I think it’s worth the risk on guys like Bubic or Hernandez and maybe even Mondesi to try to lock in some quality depth that could grow to far more than that. But it’s hard to justify spending big enough to get the yes from those guys too. I won’t be surprised if there’s an extension agreed to pretty quickly once the lockout ends, but thinking about the candidates, it won’t surprise me much if there isn’t one either.