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Time To Talk Extension

You knew this was going to come up, right? In the tedium of spring – after the pitchers and players report but before the exhibition games start – questions would be asked. You have to do something to pass the time.

So, will the Royals extend any of their potential free agents?

You know the story. After signing Danny Duffy to an extension last month, the Royals are facing the reality of losing four key players from their Championship run. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, drafted in the first round in consecutive years and both represented by Scott Boras will be able to hit the open market after this year. The same is true for the components from the Zack Greinke trade in center fielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar.

No matter how the chips fall, the Royals stand to lose a ton of production from their stellar run that began in the second half of 2013. As such, this figures – and frankly, deserves – to be a massive topic over the next month and a half. Most players don’t want the potential distraction of contract negotiations hanging around once the real games start, so they instruct their representation to cut off talks once Opening Day rolls around. Besides, who really cares about spring training games? No, this figures to be a question on the front burner for the next several weeks.

Let’s review the rumors and rumblings we’ve heard to this point so far.

The Farcical

I know Jim Bowden used to be a major league general manager. Sometimes, it’s good to listen to those who have occupied the office if anything so you can get a line on the thinking that goes into the process of assembling a team. But Bowden…man. In his off-season report card for all 30 teams, Bowden awarded the Royals a B- (seems fair) and had this to say.

They will continue to try to sign or trade their remaining four potential free agents, with (Alcides) Escobar the most likely to be re-signed before free agency.

What?

This is a Royals blog, so the expectation is you, fair reader, are a Royals fan. If this is the case, you know Escobar is the least likely of the four to be offered an extension. The reasons for this are as obvious as the sun rising in the east.

Offensively, he’s finished with a TAv above .230 just once in the last four years. Defensively, he’s lost a step. Maybe a step and a half. Organizationally, the Royals have Raul Mondesi biding his time in the hope he will be ready to step in once Escobar leaves. (That’s actually how The Process is supposed to work. The Royals get five to six years from a key player and when he gets prohibitively expensive or begins the decline phase of his career, they part ways with another, younger and less expensive player ready to take his place.)

Place your faith in Esky Magic all you like. He’s not good enough to warrant talk of any kind of extension.

But what if the Royals find a pile of cash?

The Optimistic

Ken Rosenthal got the collective heart of the Royals Universe all aflutter just a couple days after Valentine’s Day. Awwwwww…

Still, club officials do not consider it a foregone conclusion that they will lose both Hosmer and Moustakas, even though the agent for the two players, Scott Boras, generally prefers his clients to establish their values on the open market…The Royals’ executives are relentless and intensely competitive. They are not going to concede a season. They are not going to concede on Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain.

There has been a lot of internet bandwidth filled with speculation about the Royals four impending free agents, but this may have been the first time the possibility of keeping both Hosmer and Moustakas was floated. Hell, let’s overdose on sugar and throw Cain in the mix as well.

Look, the Royals have a new TV deal coming up as their Fox Sports Kansas City deal expires in 2019. That means an infusion of cash. And even if the rights fees roll back slightly, the strong ratings of the last couple of years where the Royals have led baseball in local TV viewing, the club figures to make a nice little pile of cash. Obviously, Moore and the Royals brain trust knows the potential cash infusion and can plan for that accordingly, but will even a new TV contract be enough to keep all three? And despite the fact all three form a key component of The Core, there are enough question marks surrounding all three individually that it’s probably not smart business to go in expecting or hoping all three will sign extensions.

This leads us to…

The Clear-Headed Possiblity

Rosenthal is still on the Royals case, publishing on Sunday that Hosmer and the club are currently engaged in talks. The story that Rosenthal dropped was notable for a number of reasons.

First, Hosmer appears to be seeking 10 years. That’s not altogether surprising. And it’s obviously the opening salvo in negotiations. Still, it’s interesting to see a duration floated so early in the process. Also of note was the comps that Rosenthal dropped.

Prince Fielder, entering his age 28 season, signed a nine-year, $214 million free-agent deal with the Tigers in Jan. 2012. Less than four months later, Joey Votto signed a 10-year, $225 million extension with the Reds covering his age 30 to 39 seasons.

Hosmer isn’t nearly as accomplished offensively as either of those players was, but the Royals anticipate that he will seek a 10-year deal, knowing that a number of high-revenue clubs — including the Red Sox, Mets and Phillies — could seek a first baseman next off-season.

Two players who signed deals north of $200 million. Hmmmm. We can debate the perceived value of Hosmer all day long, but they’re clearly setting themselves up for a massive ask. And that’s entirely their prerogative.

But there’s no way Hosmer will return that investment. Not based on his track record thus far. Not based on his approach at the plate and the results. You’re talking about a first baseman with a ground ball rate that had ballooned to over 58 percent. A hitter who has topped .265 TAv just once in the last three years. Last year, his age 26 season, he finished with a 0.5 WARP. None of this is to say he can’t improve. It’s just the things we’re seeing with the approach and the results don’t exactly inspire confidence. Add to the fact he’s a first baseman (a position at the low end of the defensive spectrum) and you have a player who is a poor bet to return value on a long-term, big money contract.

The second item of note from the Rosenthal article is the Royals aren’t discussion an extension with either Moustakas or Cain. That’s interesting. The vibe around Cain is the Royals are lukewarm on an extension probably based on his age and injury history with his legs. That’s understandable.

More surprising is the apparent lack of movement on Moustakas. He’s the one of the two (the second being Hosmer) who makes sense to extend, if he can prove his reconstructed knee is healthy. Perhaps they are approaching Hosmer first to take the temperature and, failing to reach a quick consensus, will move on to Moustakas.

There just doesn’t seem to be a scenario where it makes sense to extend Hosmer over Moustakas. We can go in to details later, but of the four, it’s the Royals third baseman, who, if healthy, makes the most sense to receive and extension.

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