Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
This week, there has been quite a bit of criticism lobbed at David Glass for not increasing the team’s payroll in 2014 to accommodate adding Ervin Santana or another impact starting pitcher in free agency. In my opinion, much of that criticism is deserved. With the new television money coming to teams this year, and with the amount of money Glass has made since owning the Royals, having a payroll at or slightly above $100 million, even if it’s just for one season, sounds reasonable enough to most fans. Increasing the payroll to add that final piece could result in a playoff appearance, which could result in more dollars in Glass’ pockets. But alas, it appears Glass is content to keep a payroll that ranks in the bottom half of the league, and the Royals will begin the season needing to rely on a lot of improvement from young players in order to contend. Glass deserves blame for that.
He doesn’t, however, deserve all of the blame for that.
David Glass allowed the team’s payroll to reach a record high in 2013, and it’s going to be even higher in 2014. While I don’t believe Glass is set to lose money on a payroll of $90 million, that amount of money is enough with which to compete. The Rays, Athletics, and Pirates have all proven it doesn’t require a top five payroll to win games. It helps to have money, but teams that wisely allocate the resources they do have can find success. The Royals have sufficient resources to build a playoff roster. The problem, of course, is that the Royals’ front office has not used those resources efficiently.
Dayton Moore gave a four year, $32 million contract to Jason Vargas in November. While I think Vargas is a solid back of the rotation pitcher, and while his $8 million average annual value is far from crippling, it once again appears that Moore jumped the gun in free agency. Players similar to Vargas in value have signed in recent weeks for less money, and fewer years. There are currently two more talented starting pitchers still available on the market who may sign for something close to Vargas’ money, in Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. I have some doubts about both pitchers duplicating their 2013 seasons, but they at least have that front of the rotation ability, which Vargas lacks. Again, I like Vargas just fine as a number four starter, but Moore pretty clearly misjudged the market on this one.
Despite the signing of Vargas, Moore still could have enough money to go after a pitcher like Santana, except he’s paying a couple of relievers and a fifth starter a combined $13 million in 2014.
Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis are solid relievers. Bruce Chen is a decent fifth starter. The Royals have approximately 68 solid relievers. The Royals have a handful of fifth starters. I’m being redundant by saying those players are redundant, but they’re redundant.
Spending that kind of money on those kinds of players, in isolation, is fine. However, Moore had to know what the team’s budget would be when he entered this offseason. He knew how much money he could spend in free agency. He knew these things, and yet, he is still spending a large chunk of his budget on players whose value could be duplicated by other players at a lower cost.
It’s basic budgeting. If I know I have $100 to spend on groceries every week (let’s say I have a large family or a large appetite), I need to look for ways to stretch my dollars. That might be buying store brand pasta noodles that are nearly identical to the higher-priced name brand. Or that might be not buying a gallon of ketchup every week because my pantry is already stocked with the stuff. I know my limitations, so I have to use my resources wisely.
The Royals roster, as currently constructed, is good. I’m sure it sounds like I’m down on this team, but I’m really not. Moore has built a good team. I just don’t think it’s good enough to win the division, and it might not be good enough to win a Wild Card. A higher payroll budget from Glass would help, but the money he has put forth, if spent efficiently, is absolutely enough to build a playoff-caliber roster. Unfortunately, Moore has tied his own hands this winter by spending his budget in a less-than-ideal fashion.
Glass is far from a perfect owner. I would love it if he turned into the kind of team owner that just pours money into the roster and does whatever it takes to finance a winning club. Sadly, we know that David Glass is not that guy. However, Glass’ frugality should not exclude Moore from criticism. When it comes to the Royals’ budget problems, there is plenty of blame to go around.