Royals Showing Interest in International Star Players


Photo Credit to: beisbolinaloa via Flickr

When the Royals venture into free agency, they typically will do so without making a big, splashy move. This is partly by design, and partly due to their circumstances as a small market franchise. Andy McCullough notes that Dayton Moore prefers to fill the team’s roster holes with internal options first, then via the trade market, and then through free agency. However, the Royals’ run through the playoffs has given the team a bit more flexibility financially, while also making the club seem more attractive to free agents, which could keep them from having to overpay.

There are several names the Royals have been connected to, although most of them wouldn’t require more than a conservative number of dollars and years. It would take much, much more to sign their latest target, Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to report that the Royals were interested in the 24-year old slugger, along with quotes from Moore. The team realizes Tomas may not equal the production of Jose Abreu, who just unanimously won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but the former’s age and athleticism offers room for some projection. At 6’2″ and 240 pounds, Tomas has 70 grade raw power with the potential to hit 30+ home runs.

As a right-handed hitter, Tomas would slot perfectly into the middle of the Royals’ lineup, and even though he may rack up a few strikeouts, his power should more than balance that out. It also sounds like he may need to work on his defense some, but I’m pretty sure Rusty Kuntz would be more than capable of handling that potential challenge. Tomas would be a tremendous fit with the 2015 Royals.

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Unfortunately, all of those positives will likely push him out of the Royals’ price range. MLB Trade Rumors projects Tomas to receive a 7-year, $105 million contract, and most of the other predictions I’ve seen are in that same vicinity. There are several teams interested in signing him, so that competition could make it difficult for the Royals to acquire his services. It is encouraging that the team is showing legitimate interest, and Tomas’ agent, Jay Alou, also represents Ervin Santana, so maybe that connection could give the Royals an inside edge. It’s not likely, but I’m looking for the positives here.

If the Royals do miss out on Tomas, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t still end up with an international player. Moore said in Sherman’s article that they are interested in other players internationally, in addition to Tomas. While he’s the biggest fish in the pond, there are other players who could provide some value, should the Royals travel down that path.

Korean shortstop Kang Jung-Ho is attempting to become the first player to leave the Korean Baseball Organization and immediately join Major League Baseball. He led the KBO in OPS, hitting .354/.457/.733, with 39 home runs in 2014. Granted, offensive numbers are extremely inflated in Korea, but even if you knock 400 points off of his OPS, he still would have led the Royals this year.

Kang is also capable of playing various positions, including third base and the outfield, so his primary position shouldn’t scare the Royals away. The 27-year old right-handed hitter shows impressive tools, even if his defense at shortstop likely wouldn’t be elite. Here’s a video of Kang’s highlights, and as much as I was impressed by his home run power, I may have been even more impressed by his home run pimping. He shows some serious swagger, and I love that.

While the posting system for Japanese players changed last year, the KBO still uses the previous system, meaning teams blindly bid for the right to exclusively negotiate with the player, and as C.J. Nitkowski mentions in this report on Kang, the posting fee isn’t likely to be an exorbitant amount, perhaps topping out at $8 million. Kang’s agent Alan Nero suggested that if his client was Cuban, he might receive a $100 million contract, but Nero may be biased there.

Since Kang is three years older than Tomas, and has accumulated his numbers against a lower level of competition, he won’t command an insane contract. The fact that he can only negotiate with one team should also keep his price down, and the likelihood of him turning down a lucrative eight-figure deal would be quite low. He isn’t expected to be posted for another month, but signing Kang is a realistic option for the Royals to bolster their offense.

There are other names on the international scene the Royals could consider, including 26-year old Japanese righty Kenta Maeda and 26-year old Korean lefty Hyeon-jong Yang, both of whom were very impressive in 2014. It can be tough to project international players, but the success of pitchers like Hyun-Jin Ryu and Masahiro Tanaka may give teams more confidence in wading into that pool. Ryu and Tanaka are superior players, of course, but signing international guys may not be considered quite as risky as it once was.

The Royals are going to have to fill a few holes on their roster this winter, but they do have many options available to them in free agency. Even if that isn’t their preferred method of player acquisition, their current circumstances could give them the chance to make a legitimate run at players like Tomas and Kang. A profitable playoff run means the Royals have a bit more money to play with, and pouring it back into the roster, particularly to bring in some impact bats, could prove to be crucial in helping the team repeat their 2014 success.