KC Royals: Keep your eyes on these critical dates

(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

J.J. Picollo, the new general manager of the KC Royals, picked a fine time to take the reins. His club is desperate to win and contend again, but a shaky starting rotation, a bullpen needing stability in the middle, and a gaping hole in right field require solutions. And a Dec. 2 lockout becomes more likely as each day passes without a new collective bargaining agreement.

Kansas City actually started fine tuning its roster early, signing center fielder and Gold Glove nominee Michael A. Taylor to a new two-year deal just before the season ended. Then, they released Hanser Alberto, Scott Blewett and Ryan McBroom.

Whether those moves signal a willingness to make more than usual before Dec. 2 remains to be seen. But several key offseason dates and deadlines impact whatever Picollo, President of Baseball Operations Dayton Moore, and principal owner John Sherman decide to do.

Here they are.

Nov. 3, 2021: Eligible players, including 4 KC Royals, become free agents.

Players eligible for free agency actually become free agents yesterday. Kansas City pitchers Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Ervin Santana and Jesse Hahn are on the market and, until 5 p.m. ET Nov. 7, can discuss generalities of playing for other clubs with those clubs, but can only sign contracts with the Royals.

Nov. 7, 2021: The KC Royals must tender Qualifying Offers by this date.

Kansas City has until 5 p.m. ET to extend $18.4 million Qualifying Offers to its four free agents. A player accepting a QO binds himself for another year to the offering club at that amount; a player who rejects a QO subjects any team signing him to loss of a draft choice to the team losing him.

In the Royals’ case, Holland, Davis and Santana aren’t eligible for QOs because they’ve received one in the past, and the club should resist the temptation to pay Hahn $18.4 million.

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(This is also the deadline for players and clubs to exercise contract options, and for players to exercise opt-outs. No Royals are subject to options or opt-outs this winter).

Nov. 7, 2021: The free agency floodgates open for all major league clubs.

Remember 5 p.m. ET Nov. 7, the end of the period when free agents can sign only with their former teams? That isn’t its only importance—once 5 p.m. strikes, and per terms of the existing CBA, all limitations and gloves are off, and free agents can negotiate with any big league team.

Because the start of spring training is always about three months away from this critical point, most free agents don’t sign immediately. That may not be the case this winter—with a lockout such a distinct possibility, players may be eager to secure lucrative deals quickly, and clubs might want to move faster than usual to shore up their rosters with free agent stars.

Nov. 8-11, 2021: Baseball’s General Managers have their annual meeting.

The yearly get-together of the game’s GM’s is the first of two major offseason baseball conferences. It typically doesn’t generate the type of trade or free agent activity as the more robust Winter Meetings, but it’s a gathering to monitor closely.

Nov. 17, 2021: All free agents must accept or reject Qualifying Offers.

This is deadline day for free agents who received QOs to make their decisions. Unless the KC Royals unwisely offer Jesse Hahn, this date will pass quietly in Kansas City.

Nov. 19, 2021: The KC Royals must set their 40-man roster for Rule 5 purposes.

This is one of the most important offseason dates. Kansas City must finalize its 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft reasons—it’s the Royals’ last opportunity to put players on that roster to protect them from Rule 5 exposure.

Dec. 1, 2021, 11:59 p.m. ET: The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires.

Absent a new agreement, the current Basic Agreement expires a minute before Midnight. The players and owners have been relatively quiet lately, although Commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark didn’t close the door on reaching a timely deal in recent comments reported by The New York Times.

If no agreement is in place by 11:59 p.m., the owners can wield their biggest economic sledgehammer and lock the players out. But that doesn’t relieve them, or the players, from the obligation to continue negotiating. The clubs could also elect to forego a lockout; the parties can also agree to continue player transactions under the rules of the expired agreement, and can even agree to start the 2022 season while negotiations continue.

Dec. 2, 2021: The KC Royals must decide on arbitration-eligible players.

Unless a lack of negotiating progress ends all player dealings, this is the deadline for Kansas City to either tender or non-tender eight players eligible for salary arbitration. In other words, the club must offer contracts to those Royals, or lose them to free agency. Hanser Alberto’s release leaves Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, Andrew Benintendi, Brad Keller, Scott Barlow, Ryan O’Hearn, Cam Gallagher and Jakob Junis subject to the process.

Dec. 5-9: Baseball’s “up in the air” Winter Meetings and Rule 5 draft.

The state of labor negotiations may dictate whether this biggest of Major League meetings even occurs this year. It’s the confab that gets almost wire-to-wire TV coverage, generates the juiciest Hot Stove rumors, and sometimes boasts big trades and huge contract signings. But the lack of a new CBA may moot the reasons for meeting. Time will tell.

CBA discussions also put in doubt the Rule 5 draft, which usually occurs on the Winter Meetings’ final day.

Jan. 14, 2022: The KC Royals and players must exchange arbitration offers.

This is the final major offseason deadline. Clubs and arbitration-eligible players who haven’t reached agreement on 2022 contracts must exchange salary proposals. Arbitration panels typically begin hearing cases in February, but clubs and players can avoid the risk and uncertainty of those hearings by reaching deals before then.

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Baseball’s offseason is swinging into high gear. With the prospect of the game’s collective bargaining agreement expiring soon, how long that lasts remains to be seen.