It is the rumor that will not go away – that the Royals may be, in some fashion, interested in signing Masahiro Tanaka. Despite the fact that they are expected to be going against clubs like the Yankees and Dodgers, and Tanaka’s expected $100 Million plus contract demands, the Royals are expected to at least kick the tires on the Japanese League veteran. While Tanaka would certainly fill the Royals need of a second starting pitcher, would that be the best usage of that money?
No one really knows what Tanaka is going to be. He could be Yu Darvish, or he could be Daisuke Matsuzaka. He could even, if a team is that unlucky, be Hideki Irabu, to the dismay of toads everywhere. With a team that claims to have the payroll limitations that the Royals do, they cannot afford to run that risk. Instead, why not look to explore signing players they have currently to extensions?
James Shields would be the first, and most obvious, candidate for an extension. Not only has he provided the Royals with the ace caliber starter that they desperately needed, but he is open to signing an extension with the club. Having Shields locked up for a few more years would also allow him to help mentor Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Kyle Zimmer, all of whom are expected to be a part of the rotation within the next year or two.
Extending Shields would also help to lessen the impact of the trade that sent Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to the Rays. While the Royals needed a pitcher the caliber of Shields, they gave up a player that could have solidified right field for them for the foreseeable future. Instead, that necessitated a trade for another possible extension candidate in Norichika Aoki. Aoki immediately became the Royals leadoff man, combining speed and an ability to get on base. Like Shields, Aoki has a year left on his deal, and may be open to an extension.
The Royals could also look at locking up some of their younger players before they reach free agency. Although Eric Hosmer is heading towards arbitration for the first time and has Scott Boras as an agent, it would make sense to see if an extension could be hammered out. Hosmer has already won a Gold Glove, and appears to be on the cusp of becoming the type of player that the Royals envisioned. Even though Boras typically regards contract extensions, especially at this point in a player’s career, as though the words themselves are infested with cockroaches and spiders, if Hosmer wants an extension, Boras will have to negotiate.
Even Ventura could be a potential extension candidate. The Rays have had success locking up players such as Evan Longoria and Matt Moore early in their careers, and the Royals did the same with Salvador Perez. If Ventura begins the year in the Royals rotation and has a solid start to the season, why not see if he would be willing to sign a long term deal?
Unless the Royals plan on bringing back Ervin Santana or signing Matt Garza, the best course of action may be to sign their impending free agents and younger players to contract extensions. 2014 is expected to be the year that the Royals finally break through, so why not look to keep key elements of that team going forward?