Instead of becoming the rock the bullpen desperately needed, Kelvin Herrera’s play took a sizable step backward last season. After avoiding arbitration, with a new deal in hand, will he improve enough for the club to keep him through 2018?
It has now been over six years since Kelvin Herrera made his Royals debut, with many highs and many lows to remember. His 2014 and 2016 seasons left Royals fans salivating and excited for the next year to begin, while his 2017 season left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. With Herrera becoming a free agent following the 2018 season, should Kansas City possibly pursue trading the two-time All-Star during this campaign?
A Trip Back in Time
The date: February 3, 2017. Kelvin is coming off a season in which he had a 2.75 ERA, 2.47 FIP and was worth 2.0 Wins Above Replacement. Fangraphs translated Kelvin’s WAR for the year and calculated he would have been worth $16.1 million on the open market for that level of production. Kansascity.com broke the news that Herrera agreed to a one-year, $5.325 million contract with the club for the 2017 season (with a $50,000 bonus if Herrera was voted an All-Star). There is a large amount of hype surrounding Herrera for the upcoming 2017 season. Will he live up to it?
7 Months Later…
The date: September 29, 2017. Herrera has thrown his last pitch of the season for Kansas City. He pitched a scoreless inning for his fourth hold of the season. This shut the door on a frustrating season for Herrera: one that featured a 4.25 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 26 saves in 31 opportunities and a few minor injuries throughout the year. He bounced between the setup man and closer roles as his confidence waned and his 0.1 WAR on the season made him worth just $0.9 million, according to Fangraphs. Fans and executives across baseball are wondering if Herrera had some bad luck in 2017, or if he’ll never again be the All-Star reliever he once was.
Fast Forward to the Present
The date: January 13, 2018. This news was reported the day before by Royals insider Jeffrey Flanagan:
In addition to the nearly $8 million figure Herrera is set to make for the 2018 season, he can earn another $50,000 if he is an All-Star, much like his previous deal. Dayton Moore continues his impressive trend of dodging arbitration. There have been mixed reactions to the deal from media personalities, including this one from the Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger:
That Tweet brings up an interesting question – is Herrera going to be worth nearly $8 million in 2018? Should he stay on a team that may not (probably won’t) be in contention this year? What if the team is playing from behind far too often in games? Could he be of use to a contender as a rental before he hits free agency in the winter? There’s a simple method we can use to answer that question: go to the numbers.
Fangraphs’ same data table for Herrera lists his Steamer projections for the upcoming 2018 season. Kelvin is projected to have a 3.82 ERA, 3.76 FIP and be worth 0.6 WAR. When taking into account the projected market value (per WAR) is expected to rise 9% this offseason, Kelvin Herrera is projected to be worth $6.3 million in 2018. If he performs better than expected, his ~$8 million salary will look like an underpay. The Steamer projections turning out to be true will result in a slight overpay. If his 2017 struggles follow him into this year, Herrera will have severely underperformed when compared to his contract. Is the risk worth keeping Herrera on the team?
Kelvin Herrera has had a lot of good moments as a Royal. He’s been a mainstay in a bullpen that has undergone a lot of renovation the past few years. He will always be a Royal at heart. With that said, when taking into account his 2017 struggles and 2018 salary, Kelvin Herrera is not worth keeping on the team through the end of 2018. If the team struggles to sniff .500 by the All-Star Break, as many expect it to, there is little reason to keep a big-name closer on the roster. Herrera’s name seems to attract trade rumors every season but in 2018, the rumors may become a reality. Whether the eighth-year veteran struggles to find his footing or benefits from a few sizzling-hot months on the mound, it may be time for the Royals to seriously listen to trade offers for Kelvin Herrera.
Let me know what you all think. Is it time for Herrera to be traded? Should the club let him play out the 2018 season, then let him go in free agency? The speculation may only grow as the season looms.