The KC Royals have made a flurry of moves now that the season ended with the Chicago Cubs World Series victory. The most interesting decision was when pitcher Edinson Volquez declined his mutual option.
The Kansas City Royals picked up team options on reliever Wade Davis ($10 million) and shortstop Alcides Escobar ($6.5 million). They picked up their half of mutual options with designated Kendrys Morales ($11 million) and Edinson Volquez ($10 million), but both players declined. The KC Royals also declined their mutual options with reliever Luke Hochevar and pitcher Kris Medlen ($10 million).
The most telling of these moves is the KC Royals wanting to bring back Volquez for $10 million. That offer comes despite his awful 5.37 ERA in 2016. I must confess, I was a bit surprised by this move.
However, at second glance it actually makes a lot of sense. Advanced metrics like Fielding Independent Pitching, which attempts to remove hit sequencing and fielding effects from results, suggests Volquez was much better than his ERA indicates. His FIP was 4.57, which was still below average but not nearly as awful as 5.37. Add in his high .319 BABIP (Batting Average Balls In Play) and his low 65.7% strand rate, and you can make the argument he suffered from some bad fortune in 2016.
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However, Volquez turning down such an offer tells you how weak the free-agentmarket for starting pitching shapes up this winter. Thirty-seven year old journeyman Rich Hill (12-5, 2.12 ERA) is the best arm on the market. Other “top” options include Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 3.71 ERA) and Ivan Nova (12-8, 4.17 ERA).
With those guys as the top options, you can see why Volquez turned down his mutual option. One year removed from a solid 13-9, 3.55 ERA season in 2015, Volquez is certain to draw interest. After pitching 189 innings or more that last three seasons, he’s one of the most durable options on the market.
Some team is likely to look at 2016 as an anomaly and sign him to a multi-year deal before his age 33 season.
This offer also tells you that the Kansas City Royals budget situation isn’t desperate. They wouldn’t offer $10 million to a pitcher coming off a substandard year if general manager Dayton Moore was under orders to make serious cuts in 2017.
As it is, Kendrys Morales will collect a $1.5 million buyout and Volquez will get $3 million in 2017. Theoretically, the KC Royals could make $17.2 million, one-year qualifying offers to both Morales and Volquez. Such an offer would attach a first round draft pick in compensation if they leave in free-agency. However, I don’t think either player is worth that kind of money even on a one year deal.
The Royals could bring back Luke Hochevar, but it would likely be on a cheap one-year contract. Hochevar underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery last season and needs to reestablish value. I don’t see Medlen returning unless he’s willing to accept a minor-league deal.
The shopping list for this winter is sure to include 1) bullpen help, 2) starting pitching, and 3) a designated hitter. Of those priorities, starting pitching is likely to be the hardest get. In a market where Edinson Volquez turns down $10 million after posting a 5.37 ERA, the Royals will need to scramble.