It’s going to be weird to see any of the longtime Royals players in a different uniform next season, just like it’s been weird to see guys like Jarrod Dyson, Wade Davis and Billy Butler in different digs. The reality is that at least some of them will be on the visiting team next year at Kauffman Stadium, and maybe all of them. Of course, Sam Mellinger wrote the other day that the Royals are making Eric Hosmer their top priority. I questioned in Friday Notes whether it made sense to give Hosmer a massive contract, but based on Sam’s column, I’m wondering if their logic on how to offer it even makes sense.
The idea is that if the Royals signed Hosmer, they would also try to sign one of Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain. And that makes a lot of sense because bringing one back still leaves plenty of holes, but without the payroll flexibility to make them a competitor. The way it’s mentioned to sign multiple guys who are about to hit free agency is to shed some payroll by moving guys like Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria, Jason Hammel and/or Brandon Moss. Now that we have the stage set, I can talk about my concerns with this plan.
I think the Royals can absolutely fit Hosmer and even Moustakas into their 2018 budget. They could give Hosmer seven years and $147 million and Moustakas five years and $90 million and backload the deal to give them a combined $20 million in 2018 and then they can make more money when contracts start coming off the books after next season. And that would work if they can find enough inexpensive talent to supplement two contracts that are at $20 million or more once they start to rise. So that’s not really the issue here.
The problem is that signing Hosmer and one other (I’m just going to call it Moose for the rest of this because it’s easier than putting a qualifier on who else is signed, but just know it could be Cain) is that they’d be doing it with an eye on competing in 2018 and without necessarily knowing what future seasons could bring. So you add $20 million in payroll and to get there you trade off Soria, Hammel, Kennedy and Moss. That makes perfect sense in a vacuum. They can probably get about $17 or $18 million in savings from those deals because I think they’d have to eat a fair amount of money on all of them, though everyone but Kennedy is just on a one-year deal.
After trading all of them off, the issue that I see is that I’m not sure who is going to pitch for this team. Say what you want about Kennedy and Hammel’s seasons in 2017; neither was good. But even with that, they at least had a chance to be passable in any given start and took the ball just about every fifth day. The Royals don’t have anyone ready to go in their place. A rotation headed by Danny Duffy, Nate Karns and Jake Junis is probably not good enough to win, but if you add in a couple veterans who could have bounceback seasons and will at least give you a chance most nights, maybe you can get it done. If you trade Kennedy and Hammel, where do you turn in the rotation?
They’re not getting back any big league ready pitching for any of the veterans they’re trading, so that option is pretty much out. That means turning to free agency. Sure, they could absolutely trade 40 percent of their starting rotation and go out and sign a couple guys, but the flaw in this plan is that it both costs even more money that they’ve now tied up in Hosmer and Moustakas and they’re betting on the unknown. What happens if they can’t get any of their free agent targets? Then they’re running out every fourth and fifth day with Sam Gaviglio and Andres Machado. That doesn’t seem like a playoff team to me.
I suppose they could try to find bargains. They could sign Ubaldo Jimenez and Hector Santiago and hope for the best, but I’d rather take my chances with the two guys they have who have been good as recently as 2016. It’s not a perfect solution, but none of this is. If they had a pitcher ready to go in the system who might take some lumps but could be good, it would be a different story, but Josh Staumont’s stalled development along with the same story from Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer have made it so the Royals have to go fishing for veterans. Even with the rotation as is, they need to find more starting pitching for depth purposes, so trading away two seems like a bold strategy.
Maybe I’m wrong and they can find three to five quality starting pitchers out there to help bolster their organizational depth at the top. I have my doubts about that. If it was that easy, there wouldn’t be so many teams so starving for starting pitching.
I haven’t even mentioned the bullpen without Soria. He certainly has his critics, but that bullpen isn’t in great shape right now, and it gets worse without him. I will say that his absence is more easily overcome than the starting rotation because relievers can be found (or made with failed starters), but there are worse things than having Soria available for the middle innings of games.
To me, if the Royals are indeed going to make a big play for Hosmer and Moustakas, the smart move is to do it without subtracting payroll. They could trade Moss if they wanted to, or maybe they could sell low on Jorge Soler to save a little money and create a roster spot, but rather than trading the pitchers, maybe supplement them as well to create that depth they so sorely need. Those relatively cheap free agent options like Jimenez, Santiago, Tyler Chatwood, etc. would be a lot better served for the Royals as depth pickups than need pickups. The payroll in 2018 would suffer a bit, but they could still probably come in at under the 2017 number with some creativity.
And after that, things open up. Only five players are under guaranteed contract in 2019. That drops to four in 2020 and just two in 2021. The additional $50 million or so received from the MLB Advanced Media deal with Disney could be applied to help out in the short term (though it’s certainly not required to go to payroll, just trying to help) and hopefully a new television deal that could be worth an additional $20 million to $40 million per season will help in the long term.
If the Royals are going to do this, they need to do it without robbing Peter to pay Paul. Rather, the best move is to pay them both and pay a few more people. I still think the truly smart move is to commit to a rebuild. Take the draft picks for the QO free agents, spend the international money they can spend again and they can rebuild the system pretty quickly. But if they want to bring back some World Series heroes, they need to at least give them a chance to be heroes again.