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Royals Offseason Rewind

By Brennan Mense, Jan. 24, 2020

FanFest for the Kansas City Royals is here, with the two-day event kicking off today at Bartle Hall. Aside from today marking the day that Salvador Perez becomes a US citizen, FanFest also is the first unofficial sign that winter is slowly abating, with fans seeing actual baseball players in the flesh, in KC.

Fan Fest Photo Credit: Joel Goldberg

With nearly four months elapsing since Brett Phillips capped off Ned Yost’s career with a walk-off sacrifice fly on the last day of the 2019 regular season, let’s take a look back at what has transpired in the Royals organization since the conclusion of last season and why it’s important going forward:

October 31, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: The first major move of the offseason was one that many saw coming. After the retirement of Ned Yost, Mike Matheny was official tabbed as Yost’s successor. Matheny had spent the previous year with the Royals organization as a special assistant to Dayton Moore, a similar role to the one Yost held before taking over as manager.

Matheny had filled big shoes before, replacing Hall of Famer Tony La Russa at the helm of the St. Louis Cardinals, going 591-474 over 6-plus seasons, reaching the playoffs three times and winning the 2013 National League pennant, before ultimately being fired in July, 2018.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Matheny was often criticized for the end of his tenure in St. Louis, in particular for his handling of pitching staff and for showing favoritism towards veterans in certain scenarios. Citing this, some writers questioned the hire and many Royals fans outright hated it, since Matheny will be in charge of handling the most important Royals draft class in years, a 2018 crop laden with young pitching that should begin to reach the majors this year.

Late October-Early November, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: The Royals commence roster shuffling, which mainly takes place amongst the fringes of the 40-man roster.

On October 29, RHP Trevor Oaks was designated for assignment, followed by RHP Jacob Barnes on November 4. That same day, Salvador Perez and Kelvin Gutierrez were both activated from the 60-day Injured List. On November 5, Oaks would be claimed off waivers by the San Francisco, with Barnes being outright released the following day.

Additionally, the Royals officially declined their part of the $23 million mutual option on Alex Gordon’s four-year, $72 million deal signed following the 2015 season, paying Gordon a $4 million buyout, while making him a free agent.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Most obviously, the move cleared the two spaces off the 40-man roster that were needed to activate Perez and Gutierrez. Additionally, the expiration of Gordon’s contract finally removed what had been a massive albatross on the Royals payroll, while doubts remained whether Gordon would return on a short-term deal or retire.

November 20, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: The Royals added four minor league players to the 40-man roster to protect them from December’s Rule 5 Draft. The Royals selected the contracts of Junction City, Kansas-native OF Nick Heath, SS Jeison Guzman, RHP Carlos Hernandez and LHP Foster Griffin.

On the flip side, C Nick Dini, OF Jorge Bonifacio and RHP’s Connor Greene and Arnaldo Hernandez were all DFA’d to clear the necessary spaces. Bonifacio was released on November 25 and signed with the Detroit Tigers on December 6, with the other three sent outright to Omaha on November 27.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: The move ensured that a big arm in Carlos Hernandez and a speedster in Heath (60 stolen bases in 2019) who draws comparisons to Jarrod Dyson would stay in the Royals organization. Guzman has put up modest numbers, but was signed for $1.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, meaning that the Royals believe there is enough promise there that the investment is worth protecting. Griffin, meanwhile, has posted mostly mediocre numbers since reaching Triple-A, but has done so in the brutal pitching environment that is the Pacific Coast League and was the Royals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2017.

In the outgoing group, the move signaled the end of Bonifacio’s Royals tenure, which seemed evident with his MLB playing time steadily decreasing after he launched 17 homers as a rookie in 2017. For Greene, Arnaldo Hernandez, and Dini, they all stay with the Royals, but the team would need to clear a roster spot if any one of them were to be called up to the majors.

November 26, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: Unquestionably the most significant and far-reaching event of the offseason occurred on this date, as Kansas City-native John Sherman was officially introduced as the new majority owner of the Kansas City Royals, five days after the formal approval of the transaction by Major League Baseball. The move ended 26 years of leadership and 19 years of outright ownership by David Glass and his family.

Sherman, who had been a minority partner of the Cleveland Indians since 2013, began negotiations with the Glass family to purchase the franchise in March, 2019, with news leaking of the impending sale in August.

The full ownership group was also released on this date, with a total of 22 individuals and groups holding minority stakes in the franchise. Most notably, KC native and actor Eric Stonestreet, Boston Celtics part-owner Paul Edgerley, UMB Bank CEO Mariner Kemper, and Kansas City-based JE Dunn Construction all are members of the ownership group, with Sherman the principle investor.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: There is only so much an owner can do to directly affect the impact of the on-field product, but the people Sherman chooses to have in charge will. As for now, Sherman plans on letting Dayton Moore handle everything, but if this rebuild fails to bear fruit, will Sherman elect to replace Moore?

Additionally, over the next decade, Sherman will likely be the one deciding the fate of Kauffman Stadium, which will be nearly 60 years old when the current lease expires in 2031. It is quite possible that Sherman’s biggest legacy with the Royals may be an eventual new ballpark, possible even in downtown.

December 2, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: With arbitration looming made decisions on five arbitration-eligible players. LHP Mike Montgomery agreed to a one-year, $3.1 million contract, avoiding arbitration. Conversely, the Royals non-tendered IF’s Erick Mejia, Humberto Arteaga, and Cheslor Cuthbert, as well as RHP Jesse Hahn, making the quartet free agents.

Hahn re-signed with the Royals on December 13, with Arteaga and Mejia both signing minor league deals on December 17. Cuthbert, the longest-tenured of the group, signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox on December 19.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Another familiar face in Cuthbert exits the organization, being squeezed out due to injuries and the breakthrough of Hunter Dozier. Mejia and Arteaga stick around as versatile insurance options should injuries arise in the infield. Meanwhile, Montgomery signs a cheap deal as he continues his attempt to gain a foothold as a starter, which he should be allowed the opportunity to do in 2020.

December 12, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: The Major League Rule 5 Draft occurred, and the Royals dipped their hands into the same well that in the past netted them Brad Keller and Joakim Soria, among others. The Royals selected RHP Stephen Woods from the Tampa Bay Rays, a 24-year-old who bounced back after missing all of 2018 with Tommy John surgery by going 9-3 with a 1.88 ERA over 86.1 innings with Class A-Advanced Charlotte, working primarily as a starter.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Of course, under the rules of the Rule 5 Draft, Woods will either have to spend the entire 2020 season on the Royals 25-man roster, or on the injured list, or be returned to Tampa Bay. Should Woods stick, the Royals may find themselves yet another useful arm that costs them virtually nothing.

December 27, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED: The Royals received a belated Christmas present in the form of a power-hitting third baseman, as 27-year-old infielder Maikel Franco signed with the Royals to a one-year, $2.95 million contract, which features an additional $1.05 million in incentives.

Franco, who played the first six years of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, batted .234 with 17 homers over 123 games in 2019, regressing from a three-year stretch where he batted .250 with a .730 OPS over the 2016-18 seasons, bashing over 20 homers each season.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: A veteran big-league bat joins the fold, albeit one who is likely around more to rebuild his value after a disappointing season, while potentially snagging the Royals a prospect at the deadline. As for now, this deal has little ramifications beyond 2020, but in the short term, the signing casts uncertainty over other positions, with Hunter Dozier likely moving from third base to right field, and Whit Merrifield in turn moving from right to center, raising questions over the roles of Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips.

January 10, 2020

WHAT HAPPENED: Jorge Soler signed a one-year, $7.3 million contract, avoiding arbitration. He earns a healthy raise after launching a franchise-record and league-leading 48 homers in 2019.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: After making just under $4.7 million last season under the contract Soler signed with the Cubs in 2012, Soler elected to opt out and test arbitration. With the deal, Soler secures a considerable, well-deserved raise. Additionally, with the deal reached rather amicably, the goodwill between Soler and the club remains, leaving the option of a long-term extension open, which would keep Soler in Kansas City past the 2022 season, when he is eligible for free agency.

January 13, 2020

WHAT HAPPENED: The Royals invite 21 players to spring training as non-roster invitees. 19 are current Royals prospects, while the other two are RHP’s Trevor Rosenthal and Braden Shipley. Rosenthal, a Lee’s Summit native, most notable spent six years in Matheny’s bullpen in St. Louis, amassing a 2.99 ERA and 121 saves, but flamed out spectacularly in 2019 after missing the 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery. Shipley formerly pitched three seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: With Rosenthal and Shipley in the fold, this gives a pair of proven big-league arms the chance to prove they have something left and immediately contribute to a Royals bullpen that badly needed improvement after a disastrous 2019 season. Of the 19 prospects invited to camp, RHP’s Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and LHP’s Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Daniel Tillo are on the list, as well as OF Khalil Lee and IF Kevin Merrell (acquired for Homer Bailey last July). For this group, it’s unlikely any of them break camp with the club, but Spring Training gives them an opportunity to play against big league competition and to impress the big league coaching staff.

January 22, 2020

WHAT HAPPENED: Alex Gordon returns for his 14th season with the Royals, signing a one-year deal earlier this week for $4 million.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: With Gordon’s status for 2020 in question since well before the 2019 season ended, this once and for all clears that up. All offseason, one major question was whether Gordon would elect to retire, but alas, the seven-time Gold Glove winner in left field is back in action, solidifying both the Royals outfield and the clubhouse, which could be key with several key prospects expected to debut at some point in 2020. Additionally, with transition taking place, having one more familiar (and productive) face around surely can’t hurt.

Whew, that’s quite a bit for what some might call a “slow” offseason. While the Kansas City Royals did not make a free agent splash or any blockbuster trades, plenty of moves happened that may be laying the building blocks for the next title contender.

Additionally, the changes in both the dugout and the owner’s box alone will be critical as the next era of Royals baseball begins.

In the meantime, pitchers and catchers report in three weeks.

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