As Kansas City enters 2018, there are essentially two paths the Royals could embark on after the offseason takes shape: A temporary rebuild or a long-term, trade everyone, rebuild.
The end of the 2017 regular season marked the end of an era for baseball in Kansas City. No matter how the team’s offseason fate, winning baseball is no longer a guarantee for the boys in blue, regardless of who comes back.
There are valid arguments and examples on both sides for what Kansas City should do. And in both situations, Kansas City will not figure to be serious playoff or World Series contender in 2018 or 2019.
If the Royals trade everyone, from Danny Duffy to Salvador Perez to Whit Merrifield, Kansas City will receive numerous top prospects, to go along with draft picks lost from departed free agents, in addition to their own high picks.
This path led to the Cubs’ and Astros’ rise, and could be the only way for Kansas City to reach the mountaintop again in the near future. However, as the Royals have shown over time, draft picks and prospects are far from a guarantee.
If the Royals choose to keep those key, fairly young players that will stay under contract through the two-year dip, the team has a realistic chance to compete in 2020 when current prospects come through and the team has financial flexibility to sign free agents.
For perspective, if Kansas City does not sign a single free agent over the next three off-season’s, don’t trade for anyone, no recent top prospects pan out and no one from the drafts reach the big leagues, the 2020 Royals 25-man roster, with ages for the ‘20 season, would likely look something like this:
C- Salvador Perez (29)
1B- Hunter Dozier (28)
2B- Whit Merrifield (30)
SS- Raul Mondesi Jr. (24)
3B- Cheslor Cuthbert (27)
LF- Jorge Bonifacio (26)
CF- Bubba Starling (27)
RF- Jorge Soler (27)
DH- Ryan O’Hearn (26)
SP- Danny Duffy (31)
SP- Ian Kennedy (34)
SP- Jake Junis (27)
SP- Nate Karns (32)?
SP- Kyle Zimmer (28)
PEN- Eric Skoglund (27)
PEN- Andres Machado (26)
PEN- Sam Gaviglio (29)
PEN- Ryan Buchter (32)
PEN- Kevin McCarthy (30)?
PEN- Brian Flynn (29)
PEN- Miguel Almonte (26)
PEN- Scott Alexander (30)
B- Cam Gallagher (27)
B- Ramon Torres (26)
B- Paulo Orlando (34)
The Royals obviously will make moves of some kind over the next three years, but it’s worth seeing how the franchise looks even without the metaphorical steroids that any free agent could bring now or in 2020.
No recent top prospect was included either, but a few are sure to supplement the system in some way, and here are the current top options with ages for the 2020 season:
1B Nick Pratto (21)
OF Khalil Lee (22)
SP Josh Staumont (26)
SP Scott Blewett (24)
SP Foster Griffin (24)
C M.J. Melendez (20)
1B Samir Duenez (24)
SS Nicky Lopez (25)
OF Michael Gigliotti (24)
OF Seuly Matias (21)
On paper, with no additions, this team is not good enough to win the World Series or even compete for division titles. But it’s not as far off as some might think. Trading away established building blocks on this roster like Perez, Duffy and Merrifield would only push Kansas City’s window back further.
In 2020, the Royals have roughly $50,000 worth of contracts already on the books for a few top players, and that will go up by 10,000-30,000 when all arbitration cases are factored in. That would put the payroll on the high end of 80,000 for the season with, again, no free agent additions.
The team’s overall payroll is the key to this formula, as it’s partly the reason KC won’t succeed in 2018-19, but why there is actual flexibility in 2020 on.
It’s widely considered that owner David Glass has spent more money in recent years than he’d like, hoping to be compensated with playoff revenue. So the team’s 136.5-million-dollar payroll in 2017 is probably too high for the organization on a regular basis, or even for just a two to three-year span.
If $25 million of 2017’s total is trimmed to around $111 million, where Glass would be more comfortable operating from a year to year basis, then that still leaves KC roughly $30-50 million dollars to spend in free agency when 2020 rolls around.
That’s more than enough to sign at least two top-shelf players or a handful of impact, starting players. Begging the question, will a couple of impact free agent additions, possibly a trade and a handful of prospects be enough to complete this roster and compete in 2020-2023?
That’s the impossible question to answer and there are pros and cons for taking both paths. The daunting part is that the decisions made now in the 2017-2018 offseason, will drastically impact the 2020-2023 Royals.
If Eric Hosmer were to resign in Kansas City, the notion that he would be a part of a losing team for his entire tenure is probably not true. In 2020 he’d be 30 years old, the prime of his career, and even if he makes $15 million a year, there would still be significant resources to improve the team around him from where it sits right now.
Even if Hosmer does not resign, that doesn’t necessarily mean general manager Dayton Moore should wave the white flag. In 2020 there might be even better options on the free agent market than Hosmer, and not signing the All-Star first basemen would leave one more spot open to develop for the next two years and then more salary space for future signings.
Either way, the roster Kansas City has in place is not as far off, even without Hosmer. Perez and Duffy are legitimate All-Stars if healthy, Mondesi Jr., Bonifacio and Merrifield have the potential to make an All-Star game, and the sky’s the limit for young, but fairly unproven talents like Starling, Soler, Cuthbert, Dozier and Zimmer.
Adding a prime of his career Hosmer to this group, after two years of team development, added with a top pitching free agent and prospects like Pratto and Lee, and this team absolutely can compete in 2020.
But if this team turns in just a couple playoff appearances, and at best one series win, then fans will wonder if it was worth it to keep the most of the old group together. The allure of an all-out, long-term rebuild is there, and doable, but it takes years of suffering and bad baseball to see it to fruition.
Kansas City already had 25 years of bad baseball to suffer through, and while it will return in some capacity, another prolonged decade of bad baseball, with no real reason to come to the ballpark, is not necessary for long-term success.
Prospects are exciting and fans can only hope they turn out to the level of Hosmer. Maybe Pratto will, but if the opportunity to keep an established All-Star like Hosmer is there, coming off his best season, entering the prime of his career, with a desire to play in Kansas City, the franchise will be better because of it no matter the path.
Regardless of Hosmer’s decision, the future is brighter than what might appear on first glance.
The building blocks are already in place for a team that can compete down the road, and bringing back Hosmer or Mike Moustakas would only make that more of a possibility, not hinder the franchise’s future.
But exactly how bright that future is, and what the right path to take is, well, those are questions only Moore can answer.
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