What's next for Royals? KC's four biggest offseason contract issues

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The Royals’ run to the World Series certainly helped the franchise’s bottom line, but will that money get funneled back into payroll for 2015? 

Kansas City has a couple tough decisions ahead, now that the offseason has finally arrived. In addition to the four big issues that we’ll talk about in a moment, the Royals have several players reaching arbitration for the first time, including Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Kelvin Herrera (more on him later) and Jarrod Dyson.

HOT STOVE LEAGUE: List of potential free agents

Those four are all in line for sizeable raises. 

Anyway, let’s look at the four biggest issues the Royals have to deal with going forward.

The player: DH Billy Butler

The situation: Club option for $12 million with a $1 million buyout

The decision: This decision might be as much about the heart strings as it is the purse strings. On paper, the Royals would be crazy to exercise their expensive option for a guy who was statistically the worst regular DH in the AL this year . Butler hit just nine home runs and had a .702 OPS in his Age 28 season, both easily career worsts. But Butler has been one of the more identifiable players on the big-league team for the past several seasons, and he came up with many big hits in the Royals’ remarkable run through the postseason. He’s a fan favorite, and it’s not like the Royals have another slugger waiting in the wings for his spot (though they could try to retain veteran Josh Willingham, if his price is right). So we’ll see.

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The player: James Shields

The situation: He’s a free agent

The decision: The club will certainly extend a qualifying offer to Shields, which means it will get draft-pick compensation if/when he signs elsewhere. Even though he didn't have a stellar postseason, Shields has been a consistently excellent pitcher over the life of his career (at least 31 starts and 203 innings each of the past eight seasons), the kind of reliable arm who helps teams get into the playoffs. There will be no shortage of suitors, even with the compensation attached. Shields will be 33 in December, and likely will be looking for a five-year deal with an average annual value in the $18-20 million range. Hard to imagine the Royals extending that kind of cash, even with what he’s meant to the franchise.

“The next couple days, I’m going to go home and enjoy some trick-or-treating," Shields told SN after Game 7. "I’m sure I’ll be thinking about that a little later. Right now, I’m not too worried about my free agency. Obviously I’ll have to think about that and we’ll see what happens.”

The player: Setup man Wade Davis

The situation: Club option for $7 million with a $2.5 million buyout

The decision: Davis is coming off arguably the greatest season ever by a setup man, so no way the Royals could move him, right? Right? Probably not, but consider the entire situation. Davis is in the first of three club-option years on the deal he signed — as a starter, remember — with the Rays, and $7 million is a ton for a setup man. And closer Greg Holland is going to get a healthy raise in his second arbitration year, after making $4.675 million this season. Consider that a closer with similar success, Jonathan Papelbon, went from $6.25 million to $9.35 million in his second arbitration year (2010), and it’s not at all unreasonable to think that Holland will get something in the $8-9 million range. And Kelvin Herrera is entering his first arbitration year, so he’ll get a big bump up from where he is now, just over the MLB minimum (if Holland went from $539,500 to $4.675 million in his first arbitration year, it’s reasonable to think Herrera will be at least at the $2 million range).

And, yes, that trio provided insane production the Royals (Holland had the “worst” regular-season ERA, at 1.44), but their cost will jump from a total just shy of $10 million to nearly double that figure. That’s a lot to pay the back end of a bullpen for a small-market squad. All of that said, they have to pay the price to keep that trio together. They just have to, right? Right?

The player: Nori Aoki

The situation: He’s a free agent

The decision: Aoki, who made $1.5 million this year (plus another million-ish in bonuses), won’t be extended a qualifying offer (which is $15.3 million). Don’t be surprised if the Royals to make an effort to bring him back for 2015 and beyond, though. He’s a favorite of manager Ned Yost and an ideal fit with the way this team is constructed.