There’s a negotiation tactic, I don’t know what it’s called, where you give in on something big and then basically expect to be repaid for the rest of your life. For instance, let’s say two people — call them Bill and Ted — want the big office at work.They argue about it for months until finally one day Bill, out of the blue, says: “Fine, you can have the big office, but you owe me.” Ted readily agrees only to find out “you owe me” means that every single day Bill with remind Ted of his magnanimous gesture, Bill will borrow his car repeatedly, Bill will take his parking spot, Bill will expect Ted to pick up the check every time, on and on and on, endlessly.
I’m saying: The Royals are beginning to feel an awful lot like Bill, and I’m feeling an awful lot like Ted.
The Royals have, best I can tell, had an offseason right out of nightmares from Christmas past. It has seemed so absurdly bad to me — so reminiscent of the famous Royals Juan Gonzalez and Jose Guillen free-agent agonies — that I keep thinking it’s all an elaborate gag. You might remember the bit Dennis Miller used to do back before he got political; he would pretend to be setting an impression of Cary Grant acting as Ulysses S. Grant — and then he would suddenly stop and go, “No, I’m just f——— with you, I would never do that.” I keep thinking Dayton Moore will stand up and laugh and say, “No, I’m just kidding, we didn’t REALLY sign Alex Rios for $11 million. Come on, seriously, who would do that?” So far, though, Dayton hasn’t revealed the practical joke. This leads me to believe that the Royals really have:
1. Signed almost 32-year-old Kendrys Morales to two-year, $17 million deal.
2. Signed almost 34-year-old Alex Rios to that $11 million deal.
3. Signed almost 32-year-old Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $20 million deal.
And now I’m beginning to wonder if the Royals just gave us that incredible postseason run last year so that they could spend the next few years trolling us with the sorts of signings that used to make them baseball’s laughing stock.
Look: There’s no way I can unload on the Royals after what they did in October. It was so much fun, and it felt so fresh. Using deftness and persistence and luck, the Royals built a bullpen for the ages and a young team that scrapped and played great defense. It’s all well and good to say that much of their success was randomness — after all, they didn’t win 90 games and were losing 8-3 to Oakland in the wildcard game — but much of life is randomness, and if blame comes with losing then credit must come with winning. The Royals did a lot of things right — some of them (like the James Shields trade) that i felt sure were wrong.
So, this weird barrage of free agents — I can’t in good conscience do anything but grumble quietly. The Royals were a Bumgarner away form a World Series victory. I wish they wouldn’t celebrate that magical season by paying way too much money for declining 30-something players. But, you know, winners are entitled to celebrate however they want.
There is one thing I should point out: I don’t get why the Royals are doing this and not just, you know, going all out to sign James Shields. Understand: I don’t think the Royals SHOULD sign James Shields. He’s 33 years old and, as such, will undoubtedly get way too much money for his declining years. But, then, I’m not as big a fan of Shields as the Royals are. The Royals LOVED him, I mean all caps LOVE because of his leadership and mentorship and all that. If the Royals already planned to plunk down $48 million for three old players who have been dumped by teams in the last year or two and have a combined negative WAR, why not just put that into a big-package deal to keep Shields? That would have made WAY more sense.
There are times, I think, that the Royals just get excited when anyone says they are willing to come to Kansas City to play baseball — and especially excited if it is a player who they heard of once. Kendrys Morales hit 34 home runs once, but that was 2009, which is before Instagram was even invented … last year he hit .218 with eight homers and was dumped mid-season. What possible negotiating tactic could his agent have used to get the Royals to give him a two-year deal? How could that conversation possibly have gone?
Agent: Kendrys is willing to come to Kansas City on a minor-league … Royals: Really? Kendrys Morales? He is willing to come? That’s awesome! We’ll give him a $6.5 million! Agent: You will? Royals: OK, you drive a hard bargain, make it a two-year deal. We’ll give him $6.5 million this year and $9 million next! Agent: Wait, did you say $9 million for a second year? Royals: Fine, we’ll throw in an $11 million club option on the end with a $1.5 million buyout on the end. But he will come, right? Kendrys will come, right?
Alex Rios last year hit just about the emptiest .280 that it is possible to hit — he walked 23 times all year, hit four home runs, scored 54 runs. He was, by Baseball Reference calculations, 1.2 wins below the average baseball player. He had just finished what is widely understood to be one of the worst contracts ever given out, one of the last Ricciardis in baseball. And the Royals decided to give him $11 million.
Finally, Volquez. You might remember his best year — you also might not, that was 2008, back when George W. Bush was president. In the years since, he has a an 83 ERA+, which is awful. He’s now squarely in his 30s and while he had a surprising season with the Pirates last year, he’d essentially been released twice before signing with Pittsburgh for $5 million. His baseball card numbers say he went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA, which is quite good, but:
1. It sure seems like he was hit-lucky — his batting average against on balls in play was by far the lowest of his career.
2. His strikeout percentage plunged.
These are two hints that the year might have been a fluke. The Royals gave him $20 million. The Royals have earned a lot of goodwill. They were way shrewder than appeared. They found and developed Yordano Ventura into one of the more exciting young pitchers around. They have been patient with another promising young pitcher, Danny Duffy. They put Wade Davis into the bullpen, where he became a superhero. They were essentially forced to trade Zack Greinke, and they got Alicides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, who anchored their superior defense. They sent Alex Gordon back to the minors to learn how to play left field, and he has become one of the best defensive left fielders in memory. They found catcher Salvador Perez in Venezuela, locked him up through his 20s when they realized just what a special player he would become.
And none of the recent signings they have made in their celebration tour are club-crippling gambles the way, say, the Jose Guillen signing was. They’re all short term. If Morales can’t hit, they’ll work around him like they did for Billy Butler last year. If Rios has a terrible season, they won’t resign him. If Volquez’s season was a fluke, well, the Royals won’t be the only team around with an overpaid fourth or fifth starter. The Royals haven’t burdened their future with any of these deals. And, who knows? Maybe they get lucky. Hey, it’s happened before.