Last week, my friend asked me if I thought the Royals were going to re-sign both Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist. This being a Royals fan, who had far too much joy in his life already to be worrying about 2016 and beyond, I told him no, because I am a cruel person and a bad friend.
"Really?" he said, "Couldn't they get, like, a discount or something for winning the World Series? Wouldn't players want to go back there after this year?"
I had to admit that this was not an awful point. Nothing banishes the memory of mid-season conflicts over the music in the clubhouse like being doused in champagne at the end of the year, after all. Everything about the Royals, especially after their incredible back-to-back successful campaigns, has to be viewed through rose-tinted glasses. Maybe some of that good will might translate into a discount for guys like Zobrist and (especially) Gordon, who were such an indelible part of that success. And maybe they might take a few fewer bucks to stick around a team that's likely to be successful for the next couple of years as well.
After all, that's essentially what happened to Jake Peavy last year, right? Peavy was traded from the Red Sox to the Giants in the middle of 2014 and was an integral part of San Francisco's stretch run. By all accounts, he loved pitching for them and even bought himself a trolley car (ballplayers are weird). Even after he was granted free agency, Peavy re-signed with the Giants for another two years and $24 million. Similarly, after 2012, Marco Scutaro liked being a Giant so much he re-upped with the club, accepting only a slight raise on a 3 year, $20 million deal.
Here's the thing, though. These players are outliers. After 2014, Pablo Sandoval left for big money in Boston. After their 2013 title, the Red Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees, Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Marlins, and only re-signed Stephen Drew because they tanked his market with a Qualifying Offer. The 2011 Cardinals lost Albert Pujols, and he was arguably the greatest hitter in their club's history (apologies to Stan Musial).
Players on winning teams tend to go elsewhere for a couple of reasons. For one thing, they're in demand coming off a winning season, and have some magic pixie dust on them. With more teams interested his services, there's simply a better chance that any player signs elsewhere.
But there's a bigger reason, and it has to do with where these players are in their careers. Look at Peavy and Scutaro, the guys who stayed. Peavy was going to be 34, but had been ridden pretty hard in his past and had a lot of injury concerns over the long term. Scutaro was going to be 37. These were players who were not going to get massive contracts on the open market. Indeed, given that Scutaro was released before the 2015 season got going, and Peavy was limited to 110 innings, one might argue that the Giants didn't get much of a discount at all.
On the other hand, with smart teams (teams who tend to make the World Series, for instance) locking up their young players to early extensions that guarantee medium money and keep guys off the market until their early 30s, most of these young veterans only really get one bite at the big free agent money, and they would be fools not to take it. Someone is going to give a 32 year old Alex Gordon in excess of five years and $100 million to play left field for them, and even with their enhanced payroll, it's unlikely that the Royals are going to be that team. Zobrist, on the other hand, is going to be 35 and might be a candidate for a Scutaro-like deal. But because of the weird path his career has taken, this is actually his first time as a free agent, and is likely to try to wring every dollar he can out of the process.
This isn't to say that players always go with the largest bid. And it isn't to say that factors like "the chance to be on a winning team" and "good clubhouse" don't enter into a player's mind when he's figuring out where to go next. But what is clear is that there isn't a significant discount just for being the World Series winner, especially not for players who are going to be coveted on the open market. So, if they want to retain the talents of Gordon and Zobrist, the Royals are going to have to, and should have to, pay something like the going rate for both of them.