Moving On At The Winter Meetings

By the time you read this, the entire post will be out of date. Such is the hazard of writing about the Winter Meetings.

The annual event kicks off Monday in Orlando. That’s the only thing we can say with any certainty as this year’s edition promises to be a wild affair. Shohani Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton may not have been the roadblocks to a freewheeling offseason. Yet, now that both situations have been resolved, let’s just say there are no more excuses for inaction.

For the Royals, it figures to be something of a quiet affair. Various reports have the team still active (and hopeful, or if you’ve read the latest from Jon Heyman, not so hopeful) in their pursuit to retain free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. Here’s your Monday Harsh Dose Of Reality Check: That’s just not going to happen. Especially if you believe the Stanton trade was the first domino to fall in the coming free agent player movement.

It seems the Yankees have a rival in Boston (that is if ESPN is to be believed) and based on the laws of physics one team can’t act without the other reacting. In this case, the unexpected trade of Stanton has set off some kind of panic in the Fens. Apparently, their window is closing and they have to do something…anything…to stay competitive with the Yankees. That means making a free agent splash. And we all know they have had their eyes on Hosmer for some time.

It’s not a stretch to see Hosmer and his agent, Scott Boras, sitting down and hammering out a deal this week. Boston GM Dave Dombrowski has been in a similar situation before where he felt compelled to act. And in that situation he ended up with a first baseman represented by Scott Boras.

Flashback! The Prince Fielder signing in January of 2012 came on the heels of a season-ending knee injury to Victor Martinez. The Tigers window wasn’t necessarily closing at that point, but with several stars in their primes, the urgency to stay atop the AL Central was acute. They couldn’t afford to go into the season at less than 100 percent.

Dombrowski hit the panic button. Fielder, who had been asking for an outrageous sum and found himself in the middle of a stagnant market, suddenly had a suitor. And in the great tradition of the Boras Free Agent Dance, the Tigers seemingly, somehow, bid against themselves to push the final price to $214 million for nine years. Fielder is a cautionary tale in free agency these days. Traded to the Rangers, sidelined (technically not retired) after a second cervical fusion surgery, Fielder is still collecting $6 million per year from Detroit and $9 million per year from Texas.

This isn’t to compare the situations of Hosmer and Fielder. It’s simply to point out some obvious parallels. Dombrowski has never shied away from the bold move and is perhaps at his boldest when he feels forced to make such a move. And make no mistake. The pressure is on in Boston.

The Royals continue to insist they are in on Hosmer and are waiting to see what happens before they can truly chart their offseason course, but this is the talk of a jilted lover who simply can’t let go of better days. Hosmer is in the wind. The realpolitik can be found in the rumors that continue to swirl around almost the entire Royals roster. No player is untouchable as the team edges closer to rebuild. It’s only a matter of time and that time may be this week in Orlando.

Names that have surfaced in trade rumors over the last week include Whit Merrifield and Scott Alexander. Those two make sense as team controlled assets who would be dealt away at close to their peak value. They are team controlled and would net the Royals a modest return. Stalwarts Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez have seen their names mentioned as well. Those two have the highest value among the players on the current roster and would net the best return. If the team is serious about rebuilding and set a three year timeline at a minimum, it would make all kinds of sense to think about moving both.

Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria have also been floated in rumors. Soria could perhaps bring something in return, but if the Royals deal Herrera, they would be doing so at a low point in his value. They’ll shop both around this week, but the smart play could be to hold their relievers until closer to the trade deadline. That allows both to build some value and the Royals can cast around for a team desperate for relief help that might be willing to overpay. Trading is about timing. It’s not in the Royals favor at the moment.

However, neither is the ledger. If the team is destined to lose more than 90 games, do they have the stomach to keep the payroll around $130 million? Selling low on Herrera and Soria may not matter to the team if the front office is under a mandate to shed salary. Soria at $9 million with a $1 million buyout next year and Herrera, estimated to earn around $8.3 million in his final turn at arbitration, would knock a few dollars off the books.

The thinking here is the Royals stand pat this week as they survey the landscape. That’s neither good nor bad. They just need to stop waiting around on Hosmer and decide on a path forward. A rebuild makes sense, but without a coherent plan in place today, it makes for all kinds of uncertainty in the future. And we know where uncertainty in a rebuild gets the Royals.

So this edition of the Winter Meetings is about moving on. Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain will all see their names associated with various clubs. Depending on the speed of the unfolding market, all three could have new homes by Friday. The groundwork of trades could be laid this week, further setting the stage for more departures. The fog of uncertainty surrounding the Royals today could be lifted over the coming week. You may not like what you see, but at least there will be a way forward.

And if you bookmark this post and revisit it in five days time, it will feel entirely out of date.

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