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It’s Time To Talk About The “R” Word

To rebuild, or not to rebuild. That is the question.

At least that’s the question facing Dayton Moore. It may not be a life and death matter like Hamlet was facing, but Moore’s decisions over the next two months will set this franchise on a course that will not be decided for the next several years. Trades, misguided drafts and player development failures have left the cupboard bare. And now, with the championship team of two years ago on the cusp of disbanding largely due to free agency, the Royals are at a crossroads.

For some reason, they are holding on to the idea – however slim – that they would do well by re-signing Eric Hosmer. That would stunt a rebuild in that the Royals would lose a draft pick they would collect since they offered Hosmer a qualifying offer (and he will surely sign for more than $50 million at his next stop) which also means their draft pool for 2018 would shrink.

The alternate view is that if the Royals do lose out on the services of Hosmer, they would downshift and go into a full rebuild.

For Moore to state he would like the Royals farm system to return to the levels seen seven years ago is not unlike him stating he would like the Royals to win another World Series. Such was the state of the Royals minor leagues in 2010 that the term “best ever” was bandied about with great frequency and minimal irony. Baseball America lauded the 2010 Royals as having, “the deepest farm system in baseball.” Baseball Prospectus concurred, “It’s not only the best system in baseball, it’s the best by a wide margin.” The 2010 system was loaded with generally no fewer than six players landing on top 100 prospect lists.

Moore wants to return to those minor league glory days. Aim high, GMDM.

The rebuild referenced in the opening paragraph isn’t really in question. It’s going to happen. Moving forward, the question, rather, is how committed the Royals will be to their rebuild. Will they go full throttle into the abyss and fully commit to the goal of having the best farm system in the history of the game, version 2.0? Or will they be stubborn and hold on to some of their most valuable assets?

The best, and fastest way for the Royals to face their new reality is to seriously explore trading Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez.

As a left-handed starter who has experienced some success and is still perceived to have some upside, Duffy is owed $60 million over the next four seasons. After scuffling in 2015, Duffy bounced back the last two years to total 6.1 WARP. He missed time last year due to injury and then there was his DUI citation while on the DL, but there is definitely value for Duffy as a mid to front of the rotation option. He’s the Royals best starting pitcher, but a rebuild will take at least three seasons, probably four. That timeline, Moore’s stated goal of building another great farm system and Duffy’s contract mean it is unlikely he will be in Kansas City if The Process, version 2.0 bears fruit. It’s not unlike having a lights out closer on a 70 win team. He should be on the trading block.

Likewise, his batterymate. The Royals most valuable trade chip would be their World Series MVP, Perez. He’s owed $48.3 million over the next four years. As our Clint Scoles has pointed out, the Royals farm system is already relatively strong at the catcher position. The best options are a few years away, but that just means it’s an area they won’t need to focus on as they undertake their rebuild. The pieces for the future may already be in place.

Perez is a good player and a special person. The Royals talk about wanting to maintain their culture, which means, after losing players like Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, they are loathe to trade their leader. This is why the general manager gets paid the big bucks. Moore has to find the balance between culture and advancing a rebuilding plan. I will submit this is not an either/or proposition. It is possible to tear down and start a rebuild while maintaining a culture. It’s not necessary for Perez to be around to teach anyone about the Royal Way or whatever Kool-Aid they are pouring.

The Royals culture (which has most definitely advanced in the years with Moore in charge) is larger than any one player. With leadership in place, it will continue to live, breathe, and thrive. It’s up to the Royals front office to identify the next generation of leaders. Would it be easier with Perez in the fold? Sure. However, given the failures of the draft and player development of recent years, the team isn’t in a position where they can have both. Organizational failings means difficult decisions must be made.

As Moore himself once said, “If you make enough good decisions, three year plans turn into two year plans and five year plans turn into three year plans. If you make bad decisions, 10 year plans turn into no plan.”

As the Royals stare at their future, it’s up to Moore once again to decide on their direction and how fast he would like his team to reach their goal. There is no easy fix, but there’s a way they could accelerate The Process. The question is, do they have the stomach?

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2 comments on “It’s Time To Talk About The “R” Word”

nikadimuz

I understand that baseball is a game of chasing the latest craze that worked for another team. I think we are seeing the most recent crescendo’ing of that craze this winter with teams paying big bucks and multiple years for relievers. The next such craze is already taking root in the “total rebuild” model followed by the Cubs and Astros.

I will be very sad if Moore chooses to go that route. People seem to forget that the Cubs and Astros are two very rich teams that can afford to keep their players as they get older plus supplement their homegrown group with high-priced free agents.

The Cubs’ payroll for the past two years has been over $170 million. The Royals are in no position to touch that statusphere of payroll. By all reports they were well well within the red at $143 million. The most recent reports are that the Royals break-even is in the $110-$115 million area. Whether that is accurate or not, the Cubs have room to spend at $170 million. The Royals are not able to stay consistently at even $140 million.

The Astros’ payroll this year was $124 million (per Cots without including whatever they paid Verlander). That is with most of their talent still years from free agency (some even not even at arbitration). The Astros have been masterful with their acquisitions and arguably had no bad contracts (Johnathan Singleton being the lone exception at $4.5 million owed for 17-18). The Astros will be able to afford it when Springer, Altuve, Bergman, etc. get deep into arbitration and potential free agency. The Royals never had that level of talent during their recent run, but couldn’t afford to keep all those players as they get to the last few years of arbitration.

Teams like the Royals can maybe keep some of their home grown talent to long term contracts or supplement the cheaper talent with free agents, but not both. You cannot look at the Astros/Cubs model and expect it to be cookie cutter approach that works for all teams.

The less than successful rebuilds far outnumber those two teams. The Cincinnati’s, Tampa Bays, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, San Diego’s of the baseball world have been trying to rebuild for multiple years without much sustained success.

The Royals are the only small market team to win a WS since the strike of 1994 (Miami IS NOT a small market). Few have even made it to a WS, much less back to back (I think Cleveland may have made something close in the lat 90’s). Moore has earned our trust in what happens the next few years.

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