Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s continuing series analyzing how the free agent market could impact the KC Royals. Over the next few weeks, our writers will scrutinize each club’s free agents and project who might, or might not, fit Kansas City’s needs. Today, we consider Oakland’s free agents.
While the KC Royals edge closer to relevance, things are bleak in Oakland. The A’s recently watched manager Bob Melvin, who in 10 full seasons and part of another led them to six postseason appearances and two American League West titles, bolt south to take over the underachieving Padres. The A’s seem destined never to escape the monstrosity that is Oakland Coliseum, and recent speculation has them sharpening their financial knives with an eye on the cheap.
Slashing payroll, though, means losing talent, especially free agents Oakland deems too expensive to bring back. Starling Marte, one of the best outfielders in the game, is one of those free agents, and chances are slim the A’s will try to re-sign outfielder Mark Canha, second baseman Jed Lowrie, and part-time DH Mitch Moreland. Former Royal Trevor Rosenthal, who spent all season on the Injured List, might return, but only because Oakland is paying his one-year, $11 million 2021 contract over time, and could conceivably re-sign him for the major league minimum.
So, the Athletics’ apparent financial strategy suggests most, if not all, of their free agents will sign elsewhere. Should any of them interest the Royals?
The answer to that question is an almost universal “No.” Although he’d come cheap, and he’s been a Royal once, Rosenthal is too risky. Infield talent is overflowing in Kansas City, making Lowrie and utility man Josh Harrison unnecessary. Lowrie will be 38 in April, an ill-fitting age for a team needing to move toward youth, not away from it, a factor which should also eliminate pitchers Sergio Romo (39 in March), Mike Fiers (37 in June) and ex-Royal Jake Diekman (35 in January). And outfielder-DH Khris Davis hasn’t had a decent season since 2019 and turns 34 next month.
And with Salvador Perez and Cam Gallagher aboard, and MJ Melendez standing at the big league doorstep, KC has no need for backup catcher Yan Gomes. Lefty reliever Andrew Chafin might be of help, but the club also has other priorities.
Like right field, a position Marte could definitely play.
If the KC Royals will pay, they might solve a problem with Starling Marte.
To understand Kansas City’s infield situation is to understand its right field issue. Bobby Witt Jr. will almost certainly start somewhere, probably at third base, and Nicky Lopez, who learned how to hit this season and should have, but inexplicably didn’t, win a Gold Glove, should start at shortstop. Until Nick Pratto is ready, first base is Carlos Santana’s, and Whit Merrifield needs to play second because he’s better and more valuable there than in right field, where the Royals wanted him before Adalberto Mondesi’s injuries forced them to reorder the infield.
But with Merrifield at second, who will play right if KC isn’t quite ready to put all its right field eggs in Kyle Isbel’s basket, or Hunter Dozier’s?
How about Marte? Granted, the price for the 10-year major league veteran will be high, but probably worth paying. Marte is, in a nutshell, a high reward talent.
His ability to get on base and wreak havoc once he’s there fits the Royal mold. He’s a career .289 hitter with a .346 OBP, and averages just a tick under 30 stolen bases per season. Even at 32 (he turned 33 in October), Marte still led the majors in steals with 47 this season, and he’s stolen at least 20 eight times.
He has some power—he clubbed 23 home runs with Pittsburgh in 2019 and 20 the season before, and has posted double-digit homer numbers six seasons in all, including 12 between Miami and Oakland in 2021.
Although he won National League Gold Gloves in 2015 and 2016, Marte isn’t the great defender he once was, but would certainly be serviceable in right field. And right demands less of the legs than center, where he’s spent most of his time since 2018.
Can the KC Royals land him? If they’re interested, and they should be, they’ll have to loosen their traditionally tight purse strings. Marte just finished playing out the second option year of the original six-year, $31-million deal he signed with the Pirates—he earned $12.5 million in 2021, and will undoubtedly command at least that kind of cash again, if not more. And he’d be hard to sign for fewer than four years.
The chances of securing Marte’s services aren’t great. Clubs like the Yankees can offer far more money than the Royals. But stranger things have happened, and Kansas City should at least kick the tires.
It doesn’t hurt the Royals to try. They could strike gold.
A proven right fielder would be nice to see in Kauffman Stadium. The KC Royals ought to take a run at Starling Marte.