The Kansas City Royals are in fourth place in the American League Central and are 10 games behind the first place Cleveland Indians. They are 7.5 games out of a wild card spot with six teams ahead of them.
2016 is not the year for the defending world champions, and there are plenty of discussions that the team will listen to offers on pending free agents Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales leading up to Monday’s trade deadline. (Luke Hochevar was in the mix as well before he was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, ending his season.) The team has even fielded calls on all-star closer Wade Davis, who has a club option for 2017, in hopes of replenishing a depleted farm system.
Davis is one of many key free agents for the Royals following the 2017 campaign. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Danny Duffy, and Jarrod Dyson are all set to hit the open market in one more year.
General Manager Dayton Moore and his staff have worked incredibly hard over the past 10 years to turn what was baseball’s laughingstock into a model organization. They would not want to punt away what would likely be one last chance to compete with this group of players next season.
But it would be wise for Moore to field offers on all of his impending free agents and start the rebuilding process from square one once again.
Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement will need to be renewed in the offseason. This means that there will be changes implemented next season. One of the hottest topics that will be discussed is likely to be the qualifying offer system for free agents.
If the current system does stand, Kansas City will likely be able to load up on draft picks in 2018. Most of the aforementioned players would receive and decline a qualifying offer, with the exception of Dyson and maybe Escobar. That gives the Royals four additional draft picks to presumably go with their first and second rounder, giving them six picks on day one of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft. This would also give them one of the larger bonus pools to play with, enabling them to sign high schoolers away from college with over-slot bonuses in the later rounds.
The problem with this is that the Major League Baseball Draft is a major crap-shoot.
“The toughest job in baseball is projecting a 17-year old boy; what he will be and what he will look like when he is 22-years old.” – Art Stewart
In 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays had 11 picks on day one. If most of these names do not look familiar to you, they shouldn’t. Blake Snell is one of baseball’s top pitching prospects. Taylor Guerrieri underwent Tommy John Surgery and faced a suspension for PEDs, but has pitched well when able. Mikie Mahtook has appeared in a handful of games with the Rays and could be a fourth outfielder. Tyler Goeddel was a Rule-5 pick of the Phillies. Nobody else has reached the majors. Three of these players are out of baseball.
While the Major League Draft feels like Christmas to me every year, it guarantees absolutely nothing. It does not matter how many draft picks a team has or how much money they have to spend. The Rays draft of five years ago is a prime example of why the MLB Draft is a crap-shoot. And it generally takes five years to fully assess a draft class. This is year five. We can now say that the Rays had an incredible opportunity to restock their farm system, and failed miserably.
It is no secret that Kansas City’s farm system is one of the weakest in baseball. The quickest way it can replenish is to trade its assets in exchange for young talent. While moving pending free agents such as Volquez and Morales will help, they will not bring back the impact return that this team should be looking for.
Davis could bring back such a haul (as evident by the Yankees’ return for Aroldis Chapman), but why stop there? What could the Royals get for a year and a half of Hosmer or Cain’s prime? What about Escobar, who could easily have multiple gold gloves at a premium position at this stage in his career? Duffy has quietly been one of baseball’s top southpaws in 2016. What could he bring back?
The answer to all of these is likely more than a compensation pick in the 2018 draft would yield. 3-4 players for Davis, Hosmer and Cain would be reasonable. Maybe 2-3 for Escobar and Duffy. If Moustakas was healthy, the Royals should see what he could fetch, especially since Cheslor Cuthbert is filling in admirably in his absence.
Let’s compare what the 2017 Royals would look like if they did decide to sell against if they kept their core intact for one more run:
Salvador Perez – C
Hunter Dozier – 1B
Whit Merrifield – 2B
Cheslor Cuthbert – 3B
Raul Mondesi – SS
Alex Gordon – LF
Billy Burns – CF
Jorge Bonifacio – RF
Salvador Perez – C
Eric Hosmer – 1B
Raul Mondesi – 2B
Mike Moustakas – 3B
Alcides Escobar – SS
Alex Gordon – LF
Lorenzo Cain – CF
Jorge Bonifacio – RF
If they did decide to sell, some of these players on the left could be different with the pieces they receive in hypothetical trades. But for argument’s sake, let’s say they mainly get minor leaguers in return and roll out this lineup.
Dozier and Bonifacio are players who have yet to appear in the majors. Kansas City acquired Burns from Oakland as I am writing this, and he is an ideal candidate to replace Cain in center field. Would I prefer the team on the right? Sure. But can I live with the team on the left? Yes, and even more so if I know that I have more players coming who are close to big league ready.
At the end of the day, tanking has proven to work. The Cubs did it and are now arguably baseball’s best team. The Astros did it and have become a force in the American League, and will be for years to come. The Braves, Phillies, Twins, Reds and yes, the Yankees, are taking the same approach.
The Royals will likely not sign any of these players once they hit the open market, and they shouldn’t. Their market simply does not enable them to be able to keep players of this caliber for the majority of their careers. The Reds and Twins signed Joey Votto and Joe Mauer to mega contracts, and that is a big reason why they are in the spot they are in right now; they handcuffed themselves financially with one contract that has crippled two of baseball’s best franchises. Kansas City cannot follow in the same path by giving Hosmer and Cain deals in excess of $150 million, especially when they already have Gordon and Ian Kennedy tied up for a combined $142 million.
That begs the question: play it out in 2017, maybe make one more run and get draft picks that could amount to nothing? Or trade everybody now, get back a bunch of players who have proven track records in professional baseball and are closer to contributing to the next great Royal teams, while taking a few steps back in 2017?
The Royals gave their fans more than they could have asked for the past two years. But the time has come to turn the page and look forward to the future.
And this time, it won’t be a 29 year wait.