Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Are the Kansas City Royals built for the long haul?

Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez is one of the best, and most affordable, catchers in baseball.
Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez is one of the best, and most affordable, catchers in baseball. AP

The Kansas City Royals are having a season for all season. With just a little more than three weeks left in the regular season, they’re hanging on to first place in the American League Central, a game and a half up on the Detroit Tigers.

Hold on to your seats, Royals fans. This is going to get crazy, starting with a six-game road trip to New York and Detroit that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium.

I’m betting you KC fans could get used to this, huh?

Well, how likely is that.?

The Royals are still a relatively young team with no huge, unsavory contracts. Alex Gordon ($12.5 million) is the highest-paid Royals player and you’d be crazy to argue he isn’t worth every penny. And more.

But what about the future?

Some key players are eligible for arbitration - and big raises - after this season. And the ace of the pitching staff, James Shields, is likely leaving to test the free-agent market when this season concludes.

With a winning team comes a bigger payroll. Successful, winning players demand more money, so it will be interesting to see how Kansas City’s ownership addresses some key financial issues in the coming years.

Here’s an evaluation of the Royals based on the contract statuses of their most important players. With the right juggling of money, I think Kansas City can remain competitive for a while. But some key decisions are in the offing.

Core players

Alex Gordon, 30, left field – Considering Gordon’s ability and contribution, he’s a bargain at $12.5 million a year through 2016, when the team will have a $12.5 option to pick up his contract. He is in the midst of a four-year, $375 million dollar deal and the Royals have gotten more than their money’s worth.

Salvador Perez, 24, catcher – Perez is working under a five-year, $7 million deal through 2016, after which his pay could jump to $3.75, $5 and $6 through 2019 if the Royals pick up those deals. And why wouldn’t they? Perez is one of the best young players in baseball and he’s an absolute steal at these prices. Look for the Royals to potentially work out a new contract with Perez.

Alcides Escobar, 27, shortstop – Escobar is under Kansas City’s control through 2017 with salaries of $3 million (2015), $5.25 (2016) and $6.5 million (2017). Yet another big bargain.

James Shields, 32, starting pitcher – Shields is at the end of a four-year, $11.25 million contract he signed with Tampa Bay and likely will command a big chunk of money in the free-agent market after this season. He’s the leader of the Royals’ pitching staff and it’ll be tough for KC to let him walk. But the money demands probably will make keeping Shields impossible.

Yordany Ventura, 23, starting pitcher – Ventura hasn’t even gotten to arbitration yet. He won’t be arbitration eligible until 2017 and can’t test free agency until 2020. The Royals will ride him hard between now and then.

Danny Duffy, 25, starting pitcher – Duffy is arbitration eligible after this season so his $526,000 salary is going up, up, up, probably into the $3 million range for 2015.

Greg Holland, 28, closer – Holland is making $4.675 million this season and will be eligible for arbitration in the offseason. Being that he’s one of the three or four most effective closers in the game, he’ll stretch the Royals’ finances.

Wade Davis, 28, relief pitcher – Davis is in the midst of a four-year, $12.5 million contract through the 2017 season. He’s not going anywhere.

Other key Royals

Eric Hosmer, 24, first base – So far, the Royals haven’t gotten what they expected from Hosmer, who is making $3.6 million on a one-year deal this season and will want to bump that up for 2015. He’s not eligible for free agency until 2018.

Mike Moustakas, 25, third base – Moustakas also will be arbitration eligible after this season, which should result in a hefty boost from the $549,000 he’s making this season. Hard to think the Royals will want to lock the underachieving Moustakas up long term.

Jason Vargas, 31, starting pitcher – Vargas, 11-7 with a 3.14 ERA, was a great free-agent find for general manager Dayton Moore after the 2013 season. But also a fairly expensive one who will make $8.5 million the next two seasons and $8 million in 2018 before his contract ends.

Jeremy Guthrie, 35, starting pitcher – Guthrie’s three-year, $25 million deal runs through the 2015 season, after which the Royals have a $10 million option for 2016 with a $3.2 million buyout.

Kelvin Herrera, 24, relief pitcher – Herrera, so impressive since the All-Star break, is arbitration eligible after this season. He’s another one whose price will go up significantly.

Omar Infante, 32, second base – Infante is a glue guy, but it’s not cheap glue. He’s signed through 2018 with an average salary of nearly $8 million.

Jarrod Dyson, 30, outfield – Dyson is arbitration eligible after this season. He’s due a significant raise.

Lorenzo Cain, 28, outfield – Can the Royals spell arbitration? You better believe they can, with so many players becoming eligible after this season.

Nori Aoki, 32, outfield – Aoki is a free agent after this season.

Luke Hochevar, 30, relief pitcher – Remember Luke? He was so impressive in 2013 but has missed this season with an arm injury. Hochevar is making $5.2 million this season and will be a free agent in a couple of months. He’s likely finished with the Royals.

Aaron Crow, 27, relief pitcher – Crow is eligible for arbitration after this season, in which he’s making $1.475 million.