Passing with little fanfare or obvious public angst was Tuesday’s news that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to change this year’s deadline for clubs, including the KC Royals, to make tender decisions about players eligible for salary arbitration.
While the modification may seem like a mere technicality, it is much more than that, representing as it does the strongest signal yet of an impending work stoppage. Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1, meaning the original Dec. 2 tender deadline would have allowed teams to offer contracts after the transaction freeze so certain to accompany a lockout.
Now, via an agreement offering some proof that owners and players can reach common ground on something, Nov. 30 is the new tender deadline.
What does that mean for the KC Royals? As it turns out, very little aside from the obvious need to comply with the new deadline.
The new tender deal doesn’t complicate decision making for the KC Royals.
The contract tender deadline (sometimes called the non-tender deadline) matters because it forces clubs to make early arbitration-related decisions—although arbitration parties aren’t required to exchange salary proposals until January, and hearings typically aren’t held until February, requiring teams to tender contracts by a date certain identifies just who, and who won’t, risk the winner-take-all nature of arbitration. And in some cases, players learn whether they’re free to shop their services elsewhere: if non-tendered, they immediately become free agents.
But unlike last winter, when much speculation preceded a tender deadline that ended with the Royals offering a deal to Jorge Soler but not Maikel Franco, the Royals simply shouldn’t have much to think about.
Kansas City’s decision process, not complex from the start, became even easier when the team somewhat surprisingly let Hanser Alberto go in October, and not so surprisingly did the same with Jakob Junis earlier this month. Those departures whittled the list of arbitration-eligible Royals to seven; now, they have decision to make about Brad Keller, Adalberto Mondesi, Andrew Benintendi, Nicky Lopez, Scott Barlow, Cam Gallagher and Ryan O’Hearn.
Sure to be tendered new one-year deals are Keller, Mondesi, Lopez and Barlow. Keller’s good 2018 and 2020 seasons—9-6 in the former, 5-3 in the latter, and Royals pitcher of the Year awards in both—demonstrate potential and ability the club won’t part with despite his poor 2019 and 2021 campaigns. And at this point in his career, he’s not a good early extension candidate.
Injuries that kept him out of the lineup most of this season likewise render Mondesi unsuitable for an extension, but KC will tender him because he’s a high-reward player when healthy. And unless they package him in an unlikely trade, the Royals will tender Barlow, whose two consecutive solid seasons have made him their closer. Only the theory that closers are easy to find, especially for teams not quite ready to seriously contend, probably stands in the way of an extension for Barlow.
Benintendi is a different story. The Royals will, at the very least, tender him, but the notion of an extension for the new Gold Glover isn’t far-fetched. His sizzling, season-ending September and first three days of October (.342/.398/.570 with five homers and 29 RBIs), and final .276/.324/.442 line, may prompt KC to offer him a multi-year deal designed to avoid arbitration and delay his first foray into free agency.
And Lopez is, after his stellar 2021 turnaround, a lock for a new deal. An extension is possible, but the club may want to see another year of proof that he can hit big league pitching.
The Royals would probably welcome more offense from backup catcher Gallagher, but he’s good enough behind the plate to tempt the club to keep him. Ultimately, what they decide to do with Gallagher may hinge on whether they believe MJ Melendez is ready to take over his spot, which in turn depends almost entirely on whether they’re willing, at least for now, to reduce his bat to a part-time role. But moving the tender deadline up two days doesn’t really make the Gallagher decision harder or easier.
Then there’s O’Hearn. He hasn’t been consistently productive since his 2018 rookie season—he’s hit .205 since then, which should make him Kansas City’s leading candidate for a non-tender decision. But the illogical recent inclusion of him on their 40-man roster may signal the club already plans to offer him a new contract.
So it is that most, if not all, the Royals’ tender decisions ought to be easy. Expediting the tender process may affect other clubs, but shouldn’t significantly impact Kansas City.
Baseball has a new contract tender deadline. It shouldn’t matter to the KC Royals.