The Royals’ resume the last four years matches up with just about anyone’s. They’ve had a .500 record or better every season. They’ve won two pennants. They’ve won one World Series title. And yet, more is expected. The Window™ closes after the 2017 season, or so they say. I don’t have to remind you of who is scheduled to become a free agent following next year. It’s a who’s who of playoff and regular season heroes: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. Not only is that nearly one-quarter of a championship roster, but it’s a huge part of the core of a championship roster.
That’s why even after a four-year run that has been matched by just one other stretch of seasons, the 2016/2017 winter is as important as any we’ve seen in some time in Kansas City. While I don’t believe the years beyond 2017 will be as lean as some, it would be hard to replicate this kind of success given the turnover that we’re likely to see within the organization, so, if nothing else, this is one last chance to win with this group that the city has grown to love over the last few years.
The Royals roster is about as well set at the end of one year for the next as it can be. They have their catcher, first baseman, third baseman, shortstop, left fielder and center fielder in play as well as their likely top four starters and at least three members of the bullpen. And still, that’s just 13 roster spots accounted for. I think we have a pretty good idea that Jarrod Dyson, Whit Merrifield, Paulo Orlando and a non-descript backup catcher will be part of the team (probably Drew Butera, but you never know), so that’s 17, but there’s eight spots to go even with those four spots. What are they?
As of now, the bullpen consists of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria. I know Chris Young is under contract, but he had such a bad year in 2016 that nothing is a guarantee for him. I think Brian Flynn is a near lock to be a part of the 2017 bullpen, so I guess we can include him, but there’s room for more. That’s three bullpen spots they need to fill. If I was a betting man (oh wait, I am), I’d say Greg Holland is back in Royals blue in 2017. I also think Luke Hochevar is likely back, leaving just one spot to fill. For my money, I’d let Matt Strahm continue to develop in the bullpen and round that unit out, but this is a spot to watch in the offseason.
The Royals had interest in Sean Doolittle during the regular season, so that’s something that could be rekindled. There’s always a deal for a reliever to be made too, so there’ll be all sorts of opportunities.
Free agents to watch:
I could also see the Royals making a deal, most likely involving Davis. There were rumors that they were looking to move him at the deadline before he went on the disabled list, and his injuries this year might give the Royals some hesitation in counting on him in 2017. If they do, this whole bullpen takes on a different feeling with Herrera likely sliding into the closer’s role and a trade for a key setup man seeming more likely.
I think it’s pretty safe to say the top three are set with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura. After that, I think Jason Vargas is as close to a lock as you can be for the fourth spot, so that leaves one last pitcher in the rotation. There are young guys to compete like Alec Mills, Jake Junis and Matt Strahm. And if the TOS surgery was what cured Kyle Zimmer’s issues, then he’s the favorite for the spot. I’m not holding my breath just yet, but there’s at least some hope there.
I think the most likely route the Royals go in finding a fifth starter is a trade. One name I’ve mentioned before and think could gain some traction is Patrick Corbin from the Diamondbacks. The issue is that Arizona doesn’t really have needs outside of the bullpen where the Royals have a surplus, but that doesn’t mean the teams can’t get creative. While many will want the Royals to look at guys like Sonny Gray or Julio Teheran, I just don’t see it happening. Instead, the focus will be on pitchers like Dan Straily, Tom Koehler or maybe even Alex Cobb and Ervin Santana.
I do think the Royals will look to the free agent market for some arms, so here are some to watch:
Jorge De La Rosa
Nope, there’s nothing sexy here, and I didn’t mention Rich Hill for a reason. That’s a pretty long shot to happen.
I mentioned that first, third and shortstop are accounted for, and you knew that. Second base is the big question heading into the season. The internal options are Whit Merrifield, Raul Mondesi, Christian Colon and Corey Toups. I listed them in the order I believe they’ll be given a shot next year, but I don’t really think Toups gets anything more than a cursory glance in spring training. My guess is that the Royals are content with that group. I think Merrifield ultimately wins the job with Colon as the utility infielder. But if they aren’t content, there’s deals to be made potentially.
As you know, there’s a bit of a logjam at third base now with Cheslor Cuthbert having a solid year in spite of his precipitous drop-off late in the season. The return of Mike Moustakas means the Royals have some options. They can utilize Cuthbert as DH and third baseman both and give Moustakas some half-days off or they could allow Cuthbert to work off the bench. They also have said that Cuthbert will get some looks at second base this winter, but I just don’t see him being able to make that transition.
My guess is that while Moose’s trade value is high in the minds of fans, teams wouldn’t give up as much as many would think for a guy coming off a major injury and with only one year left on his deal. I could see the Royals and Giants matchup on something for Cuthbert, which might include a guy like Eduardo Nunez in return to play second next season. If we’re being honest, the Giants could really use both Davis and Cuthbert, but they don’t have what it takes to get a deal done for both.
Free agents to watch:
Alex Gordon will be back and hopefully better. Lorenzo Cain will be back and hopefully healthier and better. I think both Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando have earned a spot on next year’s roster. Then there’s the Billy Burns question to consider as well. That’s five outfielders right there. Do the Royals run with their plan heading into 2016 and utilize Dyson or Orlando as a starter? I lean toward yes at this point, but you never know. If they do that, they would have, and pardon my French, a buttload of speed in that outfield.
There are also a couple younger players to consider in Hunter Dozier and Jorge Bonifacio. Dozier had a huge year in Triple-A while Bonifacio scratched the surface of what he can do. I think Bonifacio can stay in Omaha for another season, but Dozier’s bat is ready. The question is if his glove is, and maybe the Royals could ultimately back off his right field experiment if they deal Cuthbert and don’t re-sign Moustakas. Then they could put him back at his nearly natural position of third base. I wouldn’t be too terribly shocked if Dozier was the Opening Day right fielder, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he dominates Triple-A for another season before getting his shot in 2018 and maybe even at third base at that time.
They could also deal one or both of them, and along with a guy like Davis, might be able to get an outfielder in return. Or hey, maybe a team like the Mets would have interest in Cuthbert and Bonifacio for someone like Michael Conforto, given their up and down relationship with him of late. That’s kind of a longshot, but I think the Royals will be creative. I’m sure Carlos Gonzalez’s name will come up, as it does every winter as well as Melky Cabrera as options, but I just don’t see a trade like that happening.
One other name that we’ve heard plenty is Nick Markakis. With the Braves moving in the right direction and moving into their new park, I’m not sure what exactly their plan is, but they could probably use a third baseman unless they’re sold on Adonis Garcia. Hey, I’m just trying to put together a surplus with an area of need. While I was lukewarm at best on the idea of Markakis when it was broached in July, he’s put together a much better second half, so maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. I still don’t love it, but I think he’d be better than a year of Dyson/Orlando in right.
Free agents to watch:
I’ve written in deep detail about the Royals and the designated hitter spot when talking about Kendrys Morales. In a way, it’s hard to imagine this team without him, but it’s also difficult to see him fitting into the roster and payroll next season. I don’t know why I feel this way, but my hunch is they work something out to keep Morales, but if not, they’ll have plenty of ways to replace him. They can look internally and use a committee or they can use that to get Dozier’s bat into the lineup on a regular basis. Or they could look to the free agent market, which is full of designated hitters.
Here’s the list of free agents to watch here for the Royals:
As it stands right now, the Royals are going to pay an awful lot of money for their team next season. The term “an awful lot” is relative, but they’re going to be on the hook for more than ever before. Assuming the options are picked up for Davis and Escobar, the Royals have $101.9 million on the books for 12 players. One of those players is Omar Infante. Another is Chris Young, who I think may not make it to 2017. Add in arbitration cases for Hosmer, Duffy, Herrera and Dyson and you could be looking at another $29 million in estimated salaries. Then throw in the buyouts on the mutual options the Royals have on Edinson Volquez, Morales, Kris Medlen and Hochevar and that’s another $6 million.
Now we’re already talking about $136.9 million with just 14 or 15 on the roster. This is going to get difficult, which is why I believe they’ll look into the trade of Davis. I have Hosmer’s arbitration estimate at $12 million and Duffy’s at $9 million, if you were wondering. If they bring back Morales at, say, $12 million and then add in a few pre-arbitration players, the payroll is already over $150 million and that’s before they’ve even added a fifth starter. See where this gets tricky?
The Royals will be all-in on the 2017 season, so maybe money will be no object, but without a trade or two, things could be very, very tight.
With so much of the team heading into free agency, there are a number of players who might be looking for long-term deals. Of the free agents listed, I really believe the Royals will let Davis and Cain walk and collect whatever free agent compensation they’ll get (it may change with the new collective bargaining agreement coming). That leaves Duffy, Hosmer, Moustakas and Escobar. I think Duffy and the Royals get something done and I think it happens this winter. That’ll be a really interesting discussion to follow.
After a somewhat down year in many regards, I don’t think Hosmer would sign a deal before playing his final pre-free agent season, but you never know. If he truly likes it in Kansas City and they can find a deal that works, I think there’s a less than 1 percent chance something gets done this winter. It’s probably less than 0.1 percent if we’re being honest, but it’s non-zero.
Moustakas is an interesting question. On one hand, his value might be the lowest it’s been since his 2014 season since he’s coming off that big injury, so it wouldn’t be all that wise to sign a deal if you’re him and you believe in yourself. But on the other hand, I imagine he’d still get a fair deal from the Royals and would have some security in a deal for maybe four seasons. This is another interesting one to watch for me because I don’t think it’ll happen, but I could definitely see it.
I don’t think they give Escobar an extension because they believe so highly in Mondesi’s ability to take over, but it also wouldn’t floor me if they did.
This will be a story all through 2017 if we don’t get news about it before. Ned Yost is under contract through 2018, but has given all sorts of indications that he’s going to be retiring at some point soon. So who replaces him when he goes? It’s always difficult to speculate on managerial replacements, especially when a guy isn’t fired but rather leaves under his own volition. That said, look for the typical names to be mentioned along with Raul Ibanez, Jason Kendall, Alex Cora and Eddie Perez as a possible replacement for Yost. #Ibanezed
And Dayton Moore has some questions to answer as well. His top lieutenant, JJ Picollo, has interviewed for multiple jobs. While he hasn’t accepted a job to be the top man yet, it sure seems like it’s only a matter of time. I wonder if sometime in the near future, we see Moore move to a position like president of baseball operations so the Royals can elevate Picollo to the GM role. It may not be something that happens this offseason, but you never know.
So there’s your primer of what to be on the lookout for over the next few months. The hot stove will likely remain pretty cool while the playoffs are going on, but if history is any indication, the Royals will come out of the gates hot once moves start being made. I’m excited to see how the 2017 Royals take shape and hope they can bring back the crown next season.