Dolla Dolla Bill, Y’all

By Editorial Staff

The Royals are a small market team. It’s just how it works. Unless their fan territory is expanded throughout Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Colorado, Illinois, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Arkansas, the Dakotas, and Jamaica, that will probably always be the case. I think it’s something we all accept.

So, when the Royals began increasing their payroll starting in 2007, it looked like their small market standards might begin including random free agent signings. In one year, the payroll increased from around $47 million to $67 million. Part of that resulted from the Gil Meche and Octavio Dotel signings in the previous offseason. Things kept rolling after that year, as the Royals signed Jose Guillen. The payrolls in the next few years were $58, $70, and $75 million.

Well, unfortunately, money doesn’t directly translate to wins. From 2007-2010, the Royals averaged 69 wins. While better than the three-year stretch before that, it’s not as productive as you would hope. From 2007-2009, the Twins had a comparable or lower payroll and won an average of 85 games. Basically, while the payroll didn’t create as bad of a situation as the Cubs’ did, it was still pretty frustrating.

We all know what happened last year. Jose Guillen, who was paid $12 million a year from 2008 to 2010, was traded. Zack Greinke, owed $13.5 million in 2011, was traded. David DeJesus, who would make $6 million in 2011, was traded. Yuniesky Betancourt, somehow making $4.375 million in 2011, was traded. Now it’s been announced that Gil Meche, who would be making $12.4 million in 2011, has retired. That totals $48.275 million, or $36.275 in 2011 salaries alone. Think about that for a second. The Royals traded $36 million in 2011 payroll commitments. That’s equivalent to the Royals’ entire payroll in 2005.

As Bob Dutton tweeted, this leaves the Royals expecting to hover around the $40 million mark for 2011. Right now, it sits somewhere close to $35 million. Add in Billy Butler* and you get pretty close to the predicted payroll.

*Don’t even get me started on the whole Billy Butler arbitration situation. Seriously, Royals? You give Kyle Davies $3.2 million but only offer Butler, a much more useful player, $3.4? Just give him his $4.2 million and get on with life.

Now, when you think about all of this, it makes a lot of sense. The Royals traded or somehow lost their oldest and most expensive players. Their likely starting roster will include several players with two or fewer years of major league experience. If I recall correctly, the most-paid 2011 players are Joakim Soria, Jason Kendall, Kyle Davies, and Jeff Francoeur. Soria will make about $4 million. That’s correct, the highest-paid Royal right now is the closer, who is considered to have a great, cost-effective contract. This is a new style of Royals roster.

If the Royals do end up with the estimated $40 million roster in 2011, that would be the third-lowest in the majors based off the 2010 numbers (above Pittsburgh and San Diego). Obviously, things will change and shuffle a bit, but I don’t know of other teams undergoing nearly the payroll cut that the Royals have on their hands (roughly a halving of their 2010 payroll at this point).

The best thing will be having a roster than doesn’t underachieve. If things lined up how payrolls do, the Royals would have the tenth pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. Instead, they have the fifth pick. To put it lightly, the Royals have not exactly been cost-effective in the last few years. If their 2011 payroll stays in the bottom three of MLB teams, they can duplicate last year and achieve something. It’s all relative, of course.

What I’m getting at is that the lowered payroll is the last piece of the decreased expectation train that’s hitting Kansas City this season. People already think the team could be extremely bad. No one expects the Royals to do anything other than coast to the bottom of the standings and sit there like Bengie Molina after he legs out a single.

When no one expects you to do anything, anything you do is an achievement. The Royals likely won’t finish any higher than fifth in the central (come on, Indians, be worse than us). It’s the way it is and I’ve accepted that. When their roster includes several players who could be way more productive than their pay suggests, there’s some opportunity for interesting midseason trades. Even without trades, the likelihood of overachieving gives the interest level of this season a major boost. Throw in the debuts of some strong prospects and it could be the most interesting season in years.*

*Not including 2009 purely because, while I thought Greinke would be great, I didn’t think he’d be quite that great.

Dayton Moore may get a lot of attention for some peculiar signings or trades, but I will give him credit for constructing a fairly interesting roster before the surprising retirement of Gil Meche. Now, with Meche officially gone, the roster became even more fascinating. With no guaranteed contracts heading into 2012, this roster is hitting a massive turnover point. While some guys will stick around (Soria, Butler, Alcides Escobar, etc.), it’s going to be fun to see how the low payroll from this season opens doors for the next few years.

Part of that will include heavy spending in the 2011 Draft and in international signings, allowing the Royals to be major players in the greater American market. How that plays into the span from 2012-2015 or so is hard to predict, but it just adds a layer of intrigue to what will be, as I’ve said, a hugely fascinating year.

For a team that’s been increasing its payroll without improving its win total in the last few years, 2011 will be a spin into a new dimension for Royals fans. While Kansas City had a low payroll before the 2007 increase without much success, the difference of low expectations really makes this a much different situation. Prospects will be emerging and arriving in Kansas City, adding another layer to the interest level.

Really, the Royals can’t go wrong right now. Unless they find a ridiculous guy to sign for a huge amount of cash, things seem headed in a different direction. Based on Dayton Moore’s interview with Bob Fescoe of 610 Sports this morning (audio here), it sounds like they’re trying to be smarter with their money heading forward. So, unless something makes a lot of sense for the team, they’ll seemingly stay the course without a big signing.

If you see the 2011 payroll as anything, you should probably see it as a sign of the times. Sure, the Royals signed Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera this offseason, but they didn’t enter what became a crazy market for relievers and didn’t commit more than $2.5 million and one year to a free agent. That’s a huge change from the past. To me, that suggests that things are changing. The Royals are looking more toward letting guys play than bringing in placeholders. They know there is potential in the young players and want to see who can put up value that makes them a potential long-term piece of the puzzle. They’re spending more time with an eye toward the team’s future rather than trying to convince the fans they’re doing something by bringing in highly-paid names.

The Royals are a low-cost, low-risk, high-intrigue team in 2011. And it’s only the beginning. Stay awake, everyone; it’s about to get very interesting around here.

Wondering about the title? It’s in reference to this (YouTube), which has been used in other songs since. It’s a line that gets stuck in my head every time people mention money or I think about the Royals’ payroll. It’s a curse.

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