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Mudville: February 23, 2024 8:23 am PDT

Sizzlin’ Stove Roundup

BY DEB SEYMOUR

In the City of Fountains, they’re taking hot stove season pretty seriously. Multiple years of riding the bottom of the weakest division in Major League Baseball has taught the Royals the teams ahead of them in the standings aren’t necessarily power houses; they’re just a little bit better than Kansas City and marginally more prepared to win.

The last time Kansas City won a World Series, they overcame the New York Mets four games to one in 2015, and that was eight years ago. Hence, by next October, it’ll be nine years and being the great baseball town KC has always been, they’re not just resting on their laurels.

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Royals’ general manager J.J. Picollo addressed the media this past October 3rd, saying, “What we showed is that we weren’t ready to compete for our division this year.

“I don’t think the expectation was that. Right now I can’t say I think 2024 is the year we’re going to definitely win the division, but we expect to get better and I don’t think it’s going to take a whole lot.”

Manager Matt Quatraro commented, “We got punched in the face early, and we didn’t recover from a win-loss record standpoint. But part of the reason I was able to be patient is because I believe (in) what we are doing process-wise.

“My patience does not mean I’m not competitive. We got our butt kicked more than I would like, but I’m certainly not going to show up here and ask people to be sorry for me. That doesn’t happen not only in this game, but in this world.”

And so the Royals are making moves. Some headliners they’ve signed include Hunter Renfroe, Michael Wacha, Chris Stratton, Seth Lugo, and Will Smith. But they’ve also locked in some minor league contracts that could pay off for them, such as Luis Cessa and Tyler Duffy.

And yet their manager’s philosophy is that “You can never have enough good players. We have to create a tremendous amount of depth, because as soon as you think you have enough, you don’t (be)cause somebody gets hurt, something happens away from the field, somebody underperforms – so you can never get enough good players into your organization.”

There’s talk of a new stadium being built in Kansas City, as well; and the organization wants to be sure the team is competitive by the time potential building plans turn into actual construction.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to be planning a baseball world takeover, with all the moves they’ve made and will likely continue to make. One of the most highly valued franchises in the sport from the financial perspective, the team at Chavez Ravine sure is spending like it this offseason – and the rest of the MLB world can barely keep pace.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan on X.com, as of December 17th the Dodgers led the league in free agent spending, with $717 million already committed. The front runner for most expensive free agent Shohei Ohtani, the Dodgers signed him to what’s technically the most expensive contract in baseball history and they’ve added a newly re-signed Joe Kelly, plus Tyler Glasnow and Manuel Margot in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. Glasnow, however, has already been extended to the tune of $136.5 million.

Michael Wacha #52 of the San Diego Padres pitches in the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park on September 18, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

At the end of the Dodgers’ run last postseason, manager Dave Roberts had made some comments about getting the mindset right among his players to win in the playoffs; but it seems Dodgers’ ownership and general management isn’t just counting on a shift in mental approach. And they’re putting their money where they think the difference will most appear on the field.

A neighboring state over, the Arizona Diamondbacks aren’t simply relaxing with their 2023 World Series run – overall the Texas Rangers had made the upstart team seem a little under resourced, and the D-backs are trying to correct that imbalance.

As summarized by Jeff Passan once again on X.com, Arizona:

  • Has signed Eduardo Rodriguez for four years, $80 million
  • Has re-signed Lourdes Gurriel for three years, $42 million
  • Has traded for Eugenio Suarez
  • And, is planning on adding a power hitting DH bat

The New York Yankees already are carrying several large contracts on their books, including those of Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton. But as an upgrade to their outfield, they traded several players to the Boston Red Sox for Alex Verdugo and several more players to the San Diego Padres for Juan Soto. Neither Verdugo nor Soto represent big money acquisitions for the coming season, however; contract extensions would have to be signed for a larger salary impact in the future.

The big money contract the Yankees are waiting on is the possibility of landing Japanese pitching sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who has already met with several teams and, barring any new offseason surprises, will be the biggest pitching free agent MLB signing for the coming season.

Eugenio Suarez #28 of the Seattle Mariners is doused with water after the Seattle Mariners beat the Texas Rangers 1-0 at T-Mobile Park on October 01, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

As of December 19th, the Yankees had spent no money yet on significant free agent signings – their upgrades had all been via trade, the waiver wire, minor league contracts, or players returning from injury. It seems they’re banking all their money on Yamamoto and saving up for that signing.

The Philadelphia Phillies have made one big signing this offseason, to date: they signed Aaron Nola to a seven-year, $172 million deal. The Minnesota Twins have signed Sonny Gray to a three-year, $75 million deal. The San Francisco Giants have signed Korean sensation Jung Hoo Lee to a six-year, $113 million deal. And the Mets signed Luis Severino to a one-year, $13 million deal.

But there still are quite a few tantalizing free agents out there, waiting to be picked up by teams in need of change or upgrade. There’s Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Blake Snell, Lucas Giolito, Jordan Montgomery, Kevin Kiermaier, Rhys Hoskins, Josh Hader, Harrison Bader, Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, Justin Turner, J.D. Martinez, Marcus Stroman, Clayton Kershaw, Jordan Hicks, Tim Anderson, and Teoscar Hernandez, among others.

Kevin Kiermaier of the Toronto Blue Jays jokes with Matt Chapman during the Rawlings Gold Glove Award Dinner at The Plaza Hotel on Friday, November 10, 2023 in New York, New York. (Photo by Corey Sipkin/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Some of the movement on free agent signings more generally than just in the case of the Yankees may have been, or may still be, held up by teams waiting to see if their salary budgets would be impacted by a huge signing like Ohtani or Yamamoto. This should all settle down a bit once the Yamamoto decision gets made.

It’s not clear every free agent listed above will receive a multi-year, big money contract prior to spring training or even opening day, but these players are among the first tier of whom is available, without a trade, for teams to upgrade their rosters. Of course, there are many more free agents who would fall into a second or third tier, as well.

MLB, unlike most other American major leagues, does not have either a salary floor or a salary cap. Though an actual salary floor would admittedly be hard to find across other leagues, salary caps are rather standard by now in professional sports. The competitive balance tax (CBT, or luxury tax) in MLB is the mechanism that’s supposed to keep teams within eyeshot or earshot of equitable roster construction, so that they don’t end up with a two-tiered system of the “have” teams versus the “have not” teams.

And the CBT dictates the market. Whether it’s effective or not is open to debate, but teams that can spend more usually land the most sought after players. Yet, it’s not always the highest salary teams that win the World Series. And so the quest for greatness continues, as it always will.

BallNine's fearless editor. Sports addict who's lived on both coasts (though loyal to her hometown New York City teams). Writer of many articles on education. Speaker of little bits of many languages.

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