From the moment Eric Hosmer walked off the field on October 1 with Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas until late Saturday night, there was hope within much of the fanbase and within much of the front office that it would not be for the last time. News broke that he had agreed to a deal with the Padres and that hope died. I could dissect why it’s good for the Royals or bad for the Royals, but you’ve pretty much made your mind up on that already. I’m of the belief that it’s clearly a disappointment in the moment for Royals fans, but also the best thing for the future of the club. Hosmer is a good, not great, player who should be replaceable in the long-term, even when factoring in the leadership and clutch qualities that often can’t be quantified.
But after spending the entire off-season without really knowing the direction they were heading because of waiting on Hosmer, the Royals now have closure, and they now have options. I said on Twitter on Sunday morning that nothing would shock me. They could go out and sign stopgaps like Logan Morrison and Carlos Gomez to play first and center, and they could even go out and get Mike Moustakas to bring him back to be the familiar face of the franchise along with Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and, somehow, Alcides Escobar. They could just stand pat and let the young(ish) players play and find out what they have. Or they could amp up their efforts to deal players like Danny Duffy and Whit Merrifield, and maybe even shop Salvador Perez as Clint Scoles mentioned on Twitter the other day.
Let’s break down each option, starting with the one I’d choose.
Hold the Fort
2018 is a big-time transition year for the Royals. The prospects I like are at least a couple years away, and the big league talent is questionable at best. This, and probably 2019, is the perfect time to find out exactly what they have in certain players. After 2019, they’ll be out from under the Alex Gordon contract and almost out from under the Ian Kennedy deal. They’ll also have a new television contract, which should give them a little more financial flexibility as well. So take the time now. Figure out what you have and what you don’t have.
Without any real changes to the team, the Opening Day roster should feature a minimum of five players who the Royals don’t really know about yet. They need to determine if guys like Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler can even be big leaguers and determine if Jorge Bonifacio and Whit Merrifield are role players or guys who can be key cogs on the next good team. There are also questions about Bubba Starling and Raul Mondesi in addition to even Ryan O’Hearn and Frank Schwindel. I don’t especially understand the O’Hearn love and Schwindel’s plate discipline probably makes him a non-starter, but why not find out?
If Bonifacio takes a step or two forward, that’s a position the Royals don’t have to worry about for awhile. If Cuthbert and Dozier both can’t cut it, that’s a spot the Royals need to keep plugging away to find. Take the next couple of years to sort through the options before the lower level guys are pushing to the top of the organization. Best case scenario, it turns out they can all play and the Royals have to sort through the prospects and big leaguers and figure out who the best group is and trade the others for help where they need it. Worst case scenario, they lose a lot of games, acquire more valuable draft picks and know exactly what to target to supplement their emerging prospects. At this point, this is the obvious and the easiest path for them to take.
Push For Respectability
When Hosmer signed elsewhere and netted the Royals a comp pick after the first round, this option became far less bad. Notice I didn’t say good or better, but far less bad. Why? It’s simple to me. By adding the pick and the draft pool money, the Royals now have enough of both to make a big move forward in their farm system with this year’s draft. They’ll pick 18th in the first round, but likely will have the third or fourth highest draft pool. All the draft rules that are in place are designed to keep teams from being able to spend so freely that they can scoop up players in later rounds, but the Royals can do that in 2018. Coupled with the talent in the lower levels of the system and the fact that even with respectability, the team won’t be good enough to miss out on a good draft pick in 2019, I don’t think it would be terrible to go get a few guys to make the team more watchable.
I wouldn’t do it, but I can understand why they might, and I don’t think it would be the setback that it would have been had they acquired stopgaps AND Hosmer. The difference between 64 wins and 68 wins and 72 wins or whatever the jump could be from getting certain players likely won’t be enough to take them out of good draft position. I see maybe four or five teams likely to win fewer than 70 games in 2018, so even a 73-win team is picking in the top 10. And it seems there’s a very large portion of the Venn Diagram that features people who believe the Royals should tank and that they don’t draft well enough for it to matter. So maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world if they have a few players to make them a little easier on the eyes. As I said, I don’t agree with this, but I get it.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with this because I don’t think there’s any veteran on the current roster who will be on the next good Royals team with his current club control other than maybe Bonifacio and Dozier if they can hack it. And I guess there’s a difference between trade everyone and trade everyone right now. I don’t think it makes sense to trade anyone right now because I just don’t think the value is there for any of their top chips, save for Perez. Think about it. Danny Duffy is coming off a bit of a tumultuous season off the field and had elbow surgery after the season. Whit Merrifield had a really nice season, but that may very well have been the best he’ll ever offer, so teams are wary of giving up top talent for that. Kelvin Herrera is coming off his worst season.
If you want to trade these guys, it probably makes sense to let them show that they’re worth the return to at least start the 2018 season. Sure there’s a risk there, but I think I’d rather have Duffy at a reasonable cost to headline a young rotation than get back a subpar return. If Merrifield regresses, well, he’s still a useful player at an affordable cost. The risk on Herrera is that you get absolutely nothing for him, but I’m guessing the return for him now isn’t much more than that anyway. And you never know what could happen. Maybe the hamstring issue really is what cause Kennedy’s struggles and he can get back to being a quality fourth starter at what becomes a reasonable rate, especially for a team with money. My thought is anyone should be available at this point, but they don’t need to jump at shopping them right now.
Whatever route they choose, at least the team and the fans have some closure now. It’ll be very weird to see Hosmer wearing the Padre uniform when they see him in spring training and on television throughout the next few years, but nobody was done any favors by this dragging on as long as it did. Now the team can move on and forge their next path, and really get started with building the next great Royals team. We can all just hope it doesn’t take another two decades.