Royals’ Potential Buy-Low Free Agent Targets


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As you read this, millions of people are shopping. Millions of people are always shopping, of course, but today, that shopping looks a little different. Today, people will became raving lunatics in an effort to save a hundred dollars on a television. They’ll push down middle-aged women to grab the coolest new toy that their kid will end up tossing aside in a few months. They’ll run over anyone who stops them from getting to the toaster oven they so desperately need. It’s really quite a spectacle.

MLB free agency is not like Black Friday. Teams don’t scratch and claw at each other to get to all of the bargains, because the highest quality players on the market typically are worth their financial cost. Low cost tends to mean low quality. There are exceptions, though, and teams working with a limited budget must seek out those exceptions to get as much bang for their buck as they possibly can.

The Royals have been connected to a few big names on the market, but despite their financial windfall from the postseason run, it’s still unlikely they bring in one of the major stars available. I won’t rule it out, but the team has several holes to fill, so pouring a ton of money into just one of those holes may not be the best use of resources. Even spending on someone in that second tier may force them to readjust their budget in filling the other positions.

To squeeze more value out of every dollar available, the Royals may turn to some buy-low candidates on the market. That is, players who have decent track records, but a poor showing in 2014 means they won’t be able to make as much money in their next contract. Any team signing one of these buy-low players wants to pay a small amount of money for a chance to see the player return to his former level of success.

These deals tend to be low-risk, since the financial commitment isn’t substantial enough to prevent the team from moving on if the player doesn’t turn things around. They aren’t usually high-reward, but they’re also not no-reward, which is important.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few players who fit into the buy-low mold, who could provide some value to the 2015 Royals, presented in a not-quite random order.

Chris Denorfia – He hit .230/.284/.318 in 358 plate appearances for the Padres and Mariners this year, well below his .272/.331/.394 career line. Denorfia doesn’t possess a ton of power, but he can hit lefties (123 wRC+), and can handle himself in the outfield. Signing the 34-year old to be a platoon bat with Jarrod Dyson is definitely an option.

Corey Hart – The 32-year old former Brewer and Mariner is coming off a terrible 2014, in which he had a 70 wRC+ while dealing with numerous injuries. Sure enough, Hart has had problems with durability, but he also has a career 114 wRC+ and a career isolated slugging percentage of .208. While he can play first base in a pinch, Hart is likely looking at a DH role, hoping to rediscover the power he displayed from 2007-2012.

Kendrys Morales – Like Hart, Morales is really only a DH at this point, and he didn’t really do that “hitting” thing very well this year. His 72 wRC+ was simply dreadful. However, you may remember Morales didn’t even start playing until June due to the draft pick attached to him, so one could argue he was just rusty, having not played for so long. He put up back-to-back seasons with a 119 wRC+ in 2012 and 2013, so there may be some hope the switch hitter can get back to that level soon.

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Mark Reynolds – After spending most of his career as a bad defender at third, Reynolds mostly played first for the Brewers last year, and the defensive metrics thought he did a very good job. His numbers at the plate were much less good. He hit just .196/.287/.394, and his 87 wRC+ was nearly 20 points below his career average. Reynolds strikes out quite a bit, but he can also provide some power from the right side, with a 114 wRC+  and .226 ISO in his career versus lefties.

Jonny Gomes – The Royal killer had a down season in 2014, hitting .234/.327/.330 in 321 plate appearances. He still drew walks, but his power plummeted. In his career, Gomes has a 108 wRC+, but against lefties, he has a 133 wRC+, so he could be used in a platoon role as a DH, while also giving the regular corner outfielders days off, although his defense is not something you want to see very often.

Justin MastersonDave wrote about Masterson last week, and the sinkerballer’s value is definitely low right now, having put up a 5.88 ERA in 128.2 innings for the Indians and Cardinals this year. He also walked 4.8 batters per 9 innings, and gave up 12 home runs, which is quite a few for a guy who gets ground balls almost 60% of the time. He’s had issues with consistency for his entire career, but when Masterson is on, he’s a solid number two starter.

There are some other players who could probably be signed relatively cheaply – Brett Anderson, Brandon Morrow, Carlos Villanueva, and Kyle Kendrick, to name a few – but they didn’t fit my completely subjective criteria I mentioned above. Anderson was good in 2014. Morrow has had a couple of consecutive poor seasons. Villanueva and Kendrick don’t have great career numbers. I do think they all could be decent fits in Kansas City, though.

This isn’t to suggest I want the Royals to go out and sign every one of the players I detailed above. I’m not a big fan of Morales or Masterson, and Gomes’ defense would limit his value. However, if they are able to sign someone like Ervin Santana or Brandon McCarthy or Melky Cabrera, the Royals will likely need to turn to the bargain bin to help round out their roster.