While the Kansas City Royals are fresh off a World Series victory, their future for 2016 and beyond is in question. They have a number of integral players hitting free agency and their starting rotation is one area taking a big hit with Johnny Cueto and Chris Young hitting the open market.
Some chatter and loose rumors have linked them to free agent Wei-Yin Chen, but it's unknown how much the Royals are willing to spend as their payroll is projected to reach $114 million, which includes guaranteed money, arbitration salaries and contract options.
In his most recent edition of Inside Baseball, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports says Chen, 30, is seeking a five-year, $85 million deal in free agency. Another potential problem is that the Baltimore Orioles presented Chen with the qualifying offer, so the Royals would have to surrender their first-round draft pick in June if they were to sign him.
Nonetheless, the left-hander is perhaps worthy of such money (and the draft pick) since he's 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 117 starts (four MLB seasons), with his best campaign coming in 2015 (11-8, 3.34 ERA).
Kevin Ruprecht of SB Nation's Royals Review points out Chen's strengths as a "contact manager," which proves advantageous in a pitcher's park such as Kauffman Stadium. His consistency during his first four MLB seasons is also a noteworthy aspect of his game.
"In his four years in the league, Chen has ranged from 2.0 fWAR to 2.8 fWAR. That's pretty consistent considering that decimal points of fWAR are not particularly significant," writes Ruprecht. "In addition, that 2.0 fWAR season was over only 137 innings; Chen has pitched between 185 and 193 innings the other three seasons. His BABIP has ranged between .290 and .305 the past three seasons. He'll give fairly good quality innings."
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com says the Royals could be a suitor for Chen, but it's certainly possible the money and potential loss of a draft pick will drive them away. Kansas City has been rumored to be a possible destination for Ian Kennedy and Scott Kazmir, which means they could also be in the market for other second-tier starters such as John Lackey, Mike Leake, Hisashi Iwakuma and others.
They'll need at least one more starter because Jason Vargas will miss all of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Danny Duffy figures to slide back into the rotation, but there's been no official word on that.
The Royals' payroll could reach $123 million in 2017 (including multiple contract options and third-year arbitration settlements), which means ownership would need to approve an increase to sign someone such as Chen. The franchise's highest payroll figure came this past season when it was just over $112 million, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Chen would be a good addition to a starting rotation that lacks left-handers and he could perhaps take some pressure off Yordano Ventura, who struggled mightily at times in 2015. By looking at all of the available starters this offseason, it appears as if Chen, while his price tag is no bargain, could be the best all-around deal due to his age, consistency and past success in a hitter's park (Camden Yards) while facing many well-versed offensive opponents in the AL East.
While such a contract isn't really of the Royals' philosophy, it wouldn't be a bad idea to sign a pitcher such as Chen long-term because they only have one starter (Ventura) guaranteed to be on the team beyond 2017.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the team's contract options for 2017 belong to Wade Davis ($10 million), Luke Hochevar ($7 million), Kendrys Morales ($11 million), Edinson Volquez ($10 million) and Kris Medlen ($10 million). Parting ways with a couple of those options would free up sufficient space for Chen, but that likely depends on how these players perform in 2016.
The Royals will be active in free agency and they'll be a team worth watching next week at the Winter Meetings.