* – This is totally about free-agency
I’ve tried to avoid talking about the impending free agency loss of every recognizable Royal for two reasons.
- It’s no fun to get a head start on pretending that Logan Morrison, Jarrod Dyson and Yunel Escobar manning positions that used to be owned by Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas will be an enjoyable experience for anyone.
- Everyone has already said everything there is to say.
Everyone. Every Royals-related website, every free-agency tracking article, every tweet, everyone. A guy in my neighborhood wanted to know if Moustakas re-signing quickly might make Hosmer take a bit of a discount (LOL). Once Scott Boras’ house organ Jon Heyman started speculating about Moustakas and Hosmer both returning, the fanbase went Nero-fiddling-while-Rome-burns-crazy. I don’t blame anyone (except Heyman, obviously); it’s called the silly season for a reason.
And right now, it’s all we’ve got. Once the Atlanta Braves stopped batting their eyelashes in Dayton Moore’s general direction, the offseason consisted of waiting with bated breath to find out what the big three might do. Once the chips fall, we’ll know where we stand. If two of the trio are back, the Royals are likely planning on contending. If they’re all gone, then they might as well tear it all down and be really, really bad for a year or two. Returning one (the most likely scenario, in my opinion) means the franchise recognizes its faults, wants to keep a foundation together and tread water next year until they can figure out the pitching situation.
So I’ll summarize what I think will happen in one sentence: somebody among the Moustakas/Hosmer/Cain group is going to get Capital-P Paid by the Royals.
This is not a rumors website; we deal in hard facts around here. But I can’t shake the feeling that part of the reason Moore didn’t raise more of a stink about letting the Braves job go by without so much as an official interview (do grow up, of course they had some back-room, off-the-record discussions) is that David Glass not-so-subtly let him know that the purse strings will be loosened, allowing Moore to rain Benjamin’s down on at least (or most?) one of his homegrown talents.
Whoever that might be (head says Moustakas, heart says Hosmer, the parts of me that values being cost-effective say Cain), it’s going to touch off what one hopes will be a round of much-needed spending in the draft, on international players and player development. Although the new-fangled international cap places a limit on how much the Royals can spend there, they’ll likely add some supplemental draft picks (although, as this SI piece details, exactly what that looks like now is a matter of much debate) due to free-agency attrition, which is necessary because right now the farm system looks like Nicky Lopez, Michael Gigliotti, Nick Pratto and a bunch of late bloomers, injury question marks and fourth-starter types. A deep draft haul and some international free-agency luck would help along a rebuild.
There’s a better-than-decent chance that the Royals ceiling next year is “aggressively mediocre” (slap that on some branding materials, marketing). And if you want your argument for why none of the free-agent troika would stay, regardless of how much they may love the organization, it starts there. Money is great, and maybe it would keep Hosmer, Moustakas and/or Cain for the long haul. But they may not be interested in much of a rebuild, not with comparable money potentially coming from whatever suitor Boras’ binder turns up.
Christ. That was a lot more talk about these free-agents than I wanted. I want to enjoy the offseason; maybe not with a pennant or a World Series comfortably in the rearview mirror, but certainly without the threat of the core of the team getting uprooted and dispersed to different parts of the country. It wouldn’t be disappointing; it would signal a franchise reset, regardless of what lip-service others would pay to it. Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield are not Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, and I apologize if that news shakes you to your very fanboy core.
The Royals aren’t the Yankees or Dodgers—they can’t afford a monumental screw-up, because they can’t buy their way out of it. And next season’s payroll is already over $100 million thanks to Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy and other people who were far better five years ago than they are now. In fact, according to Spotrac’s payroll numbers, nearly 28 percent of the Royals payroll for already allocated for next season will go to Gordon, Kennedy and Travis Wood, who does not play for the Royals anymore and was terrible when he did. With that as background, I might be a little squeamish about getting in deep with any free-agent, homegrown or otherwise.
So the Royals remain in limbo, and in limbo they will stay until they can either manufacture a return to competitive October baseball (dubious, not out of the question pending signings and luck) or simply elect to move forward into a rebuild. It’s a true shame sports don’t offer a better word for “rebuild”; the ugly, negative connotation calls up the notion of tanking, of intentionally sabotaging competitive sport for the sake of the future—and, if we’re being honest, saving a GM’s job for another season or two, which shouldn’t be an issue given how clear Glass made it that he wanted GMDM around for the foreseeable future. It’s now GMDM’s job to shepherd this thing to whatever its conclusion is going to be.