Among the more fascinating aspects of an offseason best described as “a wistful stroll to nowhere” is not the deafening silence or endless speculation, although I’ll admit both those aspects have merit.
It’s that nobody, not the most well-connected beat guy or highly-placed Ken Rosenthal source, seems to have an inkling as to what the Royals are doing.
The Royals are going to slash payroll! The Royals are re-signing Eric Hosmer! The Royals are trading everyone not making the league minimum! The Royals can sign some mid-tier free-agents and remain competitive! The Royals just drove Danny Duffy out to the Jack Stack’s in Overland Park and dumped him out of the car like a dropped puppy at an animal shelter!
Everyone has their opinion on it—I think they should sell everything that isn’t bolted down and give the Marlins a little competition for “Worst team in baseball” for the next 24 months, but I’m a masochist—but I think we can all agree that the waiting, as Tom Petty once said, is the hardest part.
With salaries already near $115 million for next year, the Royals could reasonably retain Hosmer and drop some salary if they could find takers for Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy, Jason Hammel, Joakim Soria, Brandon Moss and/or Salvador Perez. Other names—Whit Merrifield and Scott Alexander, to name two popular ones—don’t make a lick of sense to me, given that they’re on pre-arbitration deals and can conceivably contribute the next time the Royals elect to field a competitive squad, whether that’s 2018 or 2022.
Three of those on relative “big-money” deals (Gordon, Kennedy and Moss) were widely panned for most of 2017, largely because they were terrible for most of 2017. For kicks, Gordon has probably the most untradeable contract in baseball and if he doesn’t, Kennedy has to be on the shortlist. If someone was willing to take that on, I imagine we would’ve heard about it already.
Hammel and Soria have seen better days, but could probably fetch something approaching a decent prospect at the trade deadline if they are not completely woeful in 2018. Given what we saw out of them in 2017, I wouldn’t feel remotely comfortable making a bet one way or another.
That leaves Duffy and his $14 million salary and Perez at nearly nine. They are, imminently, the most tradeable of the mid-to-high-priced assets, mostly because they’re still functional ballplayers in something resembling their prime. To trade either would cause a miniature revolt, even if Duffy’s much-publicized brush with the law lessened his standing with those whose glass houses are outfitted with anti-rock devices.
The problem with that is that moving Duffy or Sal—and if you move Sal on what I would consider a discount contract, you damn well better make whomever you’re trading with take Kennedy’s garbage contract as a sweetener or at the very least buy the rest of what’s owed to Travis Wood—is that it makes an already dour-looking rebuild somehow even bleaker. Why would Hosmer, or anyone else, want to come play for a Quad-A franchise with no designs on contending against until 2020?
Other than money, I mean. Which the Royals habitually have less of than many franchises.
The point eludes me. As best I can tell, the Royals—a small-market squad that has to compete with the deep pockets of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston through ingenuity, intelligence and making the right move as often as possible—have elected half-measures in hopes of… well… I dunno? The Royals with Hosmer, et al., were not exactly pennant material in 2017. So running it back is a dumb idea. But at the same time, electing to suck is a one-way ticket to the heady days of the mid-1990s, when the Royals were a punchline more often than Carrot Top. That wasn’t enjoyable.
I don’t want to say that this is a no-win situation. It’s just that the opportunity for victory is murky. For the Royals to be successful in the near future involves not only a cornerstone player—Hosmer, Moustakas, whomever—not only electing to stay but also continuing to play at a high level, in addition to a host of unknowns stepping to the forefront and playing better than expected. You excited to hitch your wagon to Hunter Dozier and Bubba Starling?
Long-term success is an easier vision—since there’s a longer opportunity for success I suppose—but it’s not a guarantee. All the chances to add to what has become a stagnant minor league system gives Dayton Moore more chances at being able to build the next chapter in Royals success. But no rebuild guarantees success. Houston had to wander through the wilderness. The Braves may never escape. The Marlins… ahahahahaha, get outta here.
But since no one knows—and until a shoe drops, one way or the other, no one will—what are Royals fans to do, exactly? Everybody is spending the holidays in limbo. That sucks in any relationship, even the convoluted one you might have with your favorite baseball team.