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How 2018 will impact the Royals in 2015

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The Royals will have some moves to think about coming up to the trading deadline. 2018 must be a part of their plans.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Recently, the main shift for the Royals has been the change in mindset from constantly mulling the future to nervously examining the present. When the Royals were an abomination of a baseball club in the mid-to-late '00s, the only thing that really mattered was what was happening everywhere but Kansas City. Eager eyes turned towards Omaha, Springdale, Wilmington, Lexington/Kane County/Burlington, Idaho Falls, and Burlington to watch the next generation of Kansas City Royals. Hope springs eternal in the minor leagues.

This talent began gathering in force in 2011 and continued through the next few years. It was a cornucopia of talent, one filled with exciting power hitters, durable starters, and nasty relievers. This talent propelled the team to their first winning season in a decade in 2013 and their first playoff appearance in 29 years in 2014. In 2015, this talent is in the midst of leading the Royals to their first American League Central Division Championship as well as back-to-back playoff appearances for only the fourth time in the Royals' 47-year history.

The shift from future to current was a tumultuous one, and fans could almost hear the gears grinding and straining as years of baseball irrelevance and the forward march of progress pulled in opposite directions.  It finally happened, to everyone's relief and joy. That was a few years ago.

Now, if you'll allow me, I'm going to take a look into the future. Unlike in the Dark Days, though, this look will be to glean information to benefit the present and will not be future for future's sake. It is a welcome change.

***

By the beginning of 2012, almost every one of the main setpieces for Kansas City's current run were locked up for years. Unfortunately, that's beginning to change. Billy Butler's departure from the Royals was merely the first.

The following will be a look at the significant pieces of the team--all nine starters plus fourth outfield and utility infield, the five main starters, and the back end of the bullpen. Each year's list will only include players whom the Royals are guaranteed to control for that year. For instance, Alex Gordon's player option for 2016 and Alex Rios' mutual option for 2016 do not count as both depend on factors outside Kansas City's control.

2016

  • DH - Kendrys Morales
  • C - Salvador Perez
  • 1B - Eric Hosmer
  • 2B - Omar Infante
  • 3B - Mike Moustakas
  • SS - Alcides Escobar
  • LF - ?
  • CF - Lorenzo Cain
  • RF - ?
  • 4OF - Jarrod Dyson
  • UIF - Christian Colon
  • SP - Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez, ?
  • HDH - Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland

The Royals look pretty good next year from a club control standpoint. The only losses are an aging Rios (who was on a one-year deal and has been bad this year), an aging Jeremy Guthrie (who has been bad this year), and Gordon. Gordon is obviously the big loss, but the club will be able to extend a qualifying offer and net a comp pick if he does leave.

Salaries will rise across the board, which will become problematic. Holland, especially after his questionable performances this year and reduced velocity, is almost certain to be a trade chip. $11 million or so is a lot to spend on a reliever.

2017

  • DH - ?
  • C - Perez
  • 1B - Hosmer
  • 2B - Infante
  • 3B - Moustakas
  • SS - Escobar
  • LF - ?
  • CF - Cain
  • RF - ?
  • 4OF - Dyson
  • UIF - Colon
  • SP - Ventura, Vargas, Duffy, ?, ?
  • HDH - Herrera, Davis, ?

Volquez, who has been startlingly good so far this year, will no longer be employed by the club in 2017.  Similarly, Morales is gone as well.  I expect Holland to be traded in 2016, but if he's not, the Royals lose him to free agency (Davis should slide easily into the closer role, though).

Otherwise, the only real issue here is that these players will be even more expensive through the final stages of arbitration or the escalating salaries tied up in the club options.

2018

  • DH - ?
  • C - Perez
  • 1B - ?
  • 2B - Infante
  • 3B - ?
  • SS - ?
  • LF - ?
  • CF - ?
  • RF - ?
  • 4OF - ?
  • UIF - Colon
  • SP - Ventura, ?, ?, ?, ?
  • HDH - Herrera, ?, ?

And here we come to the year of reckoning. The Royals lose control of Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, Cain, Dyson, Duffy, Vargas, and Davis that year.  That's eight of the most important Royals all leaving at the same time. Infante's option will almost certainly be declined, so that makes nine spots that need to be replaced in the same year.

Unfortunately, this is the negative side of 'waves of talent'. The prospects all arrive within a similar time period, accrue service time at the same rate, get expensive together, and then leave together.

It's important to note that, for many teams, looking into the future a few years will yield a lot of holes. This isn't a unique problem for teams, but the Royals have been blessed with a steady core lineup which exacerbates this particular situation. If trades are not made, Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, Cain, Dyson, Perez, Duffy, and Herrera will have played seven consecutive seasons together. Gordon, Holland, Davis, and Luke Hochevar will have played at least five of those seven seasons; Hochevar, Billy Butler, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Johnny Giavotella, and Bruce Chen have played four of those seven seasons. Such a core is fun to watch, as multi-year relationships between the players and the fans develop.

Still, the Royals must pay the piper. And the piper will be angry.

So why does this matter now?

The Royals are reportedly casting a wide net in regards to midseason acquisitions. They're looking into Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake as well as other unnamed players. This is a good idea, as Rios and Infante have been thoroughly terrible (both have -0.4 WAR and both have a wRC+ of 43), and a rotation which includes Vargas, Guthrie, Chris Young, and Joe Blanton is a major weakness to a team with World Series aspirations.

In order to get anybody in the trade deadline, though, prospects are required. And that's where 2018 starts to rear its ugly head. The Royals list of top prospects has basically been awful so far. Omaha is bereft of any legitimate talent, and Northwest Arkansas owns top prospects but also their uninspiring performances. There's no Wil Myers here to anchor a deal. It will become increasingly difficult to hold onto every single one of the arbitration-eligible players whose salaries are skyrocketing and impossible to extend or re-sign everybody when free agency knocks at the door.

The Royals are faced with a dilemma: either they spring for upgrades and go for it now, a year in which there are no titans in the American League, or make minor moves and hold onto the prospects they desperately need to contend in the desolate land of 2018 when an entire team leaves at the same time.

Either way, the Royals will need to make crucial decisions. Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, Duffy Holland, and especially Perez have sizable trade value. We may see a Billy Beane-esque trade or two in 2016-2017, shipping away our stars for impressive (and cheap) minor league talent. Another interesting approach would be stubbornly holding onto these core players and then offering qualifying offers like candy. In this way, assuming the players refuse the offer and sign elsewhere (which is always what happens), the Royals could gather as many as four comp picks in the 2018 player draft, resulting in five first-round picks.

The nice thing about a contending team is that looking back to the present is equally as enjoyable as looking to the future. In this case, that may not be true. But we will have these first place Kansas City Royals for another few years. And that is a huge relief.