t is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
Last Wednesday the Royals signed Alex Gordon to a four-year deal. That contract in a way is a tale of two contracts, two halves, and two directions . Not only was the deal financially bifurcated, but it also represents two different Royals franchises essentially. Gordon will receive ~35% of the overall possible money in the first two years with $63M coming potentially in 2018-2020.
The deal looks like this:
2020: $23M option
This keys us into what the Royals are thinking and probably what we are all thinking as far the the likely outcome(s) of this Royals franchise will be for the next few years.
Before we get started, here's how I have the Royals future payroll obligations:
Let's see how this plays out.
The 2016 Season
All signs point to the Royals expecting to compete again. They return practically the entire championship team save for Ryan Madson, Greg Holland, Alex Rios, Ben Zobrist, and Johnny Cueto. Most of those names represent substantial talent (especially in the latter two) however the Royals retain much of the core that got them off to a great start in 2015.
The Gordon deal was purposefully back-loaded not only because that's standard business/finance operations, but also because the Royals front office wants as much possible payroll flexibility for 2016. Whether that money is spent in the next few months before the season starts or on mid-season acquisitions is the question. They are eyeing more pitching in Yovanni Gallardo, Ian Kennedy, and other candidates. They may still find another outfielder to play full time alongside Gordon and Lorenzo Cain.
The outcomes are infinite.The Royals could win the World Series again, they could move to Los Angeles, they could fall into a black hole, or they could all be raptured. In reality though there are a few paths.
The Royals are competitive
The 2016 team starts out strong like they did in 2015. The AL Central doesn't look to be extremely more competitive than it was in 2015. By the trade deadline they are a dozen games above .500 and either a game or two back of first or in first place. The team possibly makes trades at the deadline for a final push like they did in 2015. They either make the playoffs or are close.
The Royals hover around .500
Maybe the team gets off to a strong start in 2016 but then slows down. Maybe Cleveland finally takes that step forward and the Twins momentum from a surprising 2015 carries over. Maybe the offseason moves by the White Sox put them over the top or Detroit older players have a collective push. The Royals still seeing themselves as contenders don't trade anyone away and perhaps make a move to separate themselves from the pack, depending on how close they are to first.
The Royals struggle
The team doesn't get off to a hot start at all. Regression candidates are abound, injuries sideline key players, and offseason moves shatter in their face. Maybe the team performs at their projected context neutral level. The Royals then have a decision to make: trade pending free agents in the next year or two away or hold tight for 2017.
The most likely outcome is probably somewhere between path one and two.
The 2016 Off-Season
Kendrys Morales possibly leaves.
Kris Medlen possibly leaves.
Luke Hochevar possibly leaves.
All the above players have mutual options. Those deals typically never get exercised as the incentives for both sides rarely ever match. For the team to pick up their side the player would need to be cheaper than the market rate, in which case the player would go for the market rate. For the player to pick up his side he would need to be paid more than what he could conceivably get on the free market, in which case the team would just go pay the market price for that talent. Meanwhile the player would also be forgoing free agency for another year, which for a player who's good (in which the team would pick up the option) means a risk that he's bad or injured the next year.
They aren't 100% gone, but effectively the Royals will be losing them. On the other hand, none of them are necessarily core pieces. Hochevar is likely the Royals' fourth- or fifth-best reliever and Medlen will have probably have something like 200 innings over two years for the Royals under belt. Morales may be the biggest loss here as he could be something like an average player despite being relegated only to DH. An everyday DH isn't necessarily hard to find, but finding an average player who only hits is.
Without benefit of prescience, we don't know how the Royals performed in 2016 nor what they would do in the following winter. Assuming they didn't collapse in 2016, they probably make a couple moves to fill some holes and try again in 2017.
The 2017 Season
Coming off anywhere from an okay to great 2016, the Royals look to compete in what is their final year of their contention window.
The Royals are competitive
The loss of the few players the past winter didn't hurt them and they coupled it with an addition of good players to fill holes. They likely make on last push at the trade deadline to reach the playoffs and be competitive for the fourth consecutive year. Something we wouldn't have dreamed of ten years ago. They don't trade away any major league pieces and look to deal from their farm.
The Royals hover around .500 or struggle
Really these two outcomes are one in the same. With the impending exodus coming in the winter the Royals probably trade away pieces at the deadline. Maybe they hold on to the players are try to recoup draft picks, but they should trade them instead gaining more known commodities in prospects than draft picks (while acquiring multiple prospects than just one pick). Also prices are higher than ever at the July deadline.
If they were to sell everybody they could likely receive (depending on the market) upwards of five or six top 100 prospects. In this path, the Royals get ahead of the exodus.
The 2017 Off-Season
I know some of you are expecting the Royals to re-sign the impending free agents, but that just doesn't seem entirely realistic. At the minimum they will test free agency and when given the choice between a player signing with one team or the field...you take the field. Our lord and savior Alex Gordon wasn't a lock to re-sign in KC and could have been close to signing elsewhere as far as we know. He waited until the deep part of the offseason to decide.
Here are all the players possibly/likely to leave:
That's an elite closer, three-quarters of your starting infield, two of your starting outfielders, and two-fifths of your rotation. Almost 40% of the 25-man roster could be on a different 25-man by April of 2018.
This is where the shift happens likely. In a pivot, the window slams shut at 7-8 G-force and the Royals have to fill the roster from within or outside sources. Likely the team won't seek to go all-in again. Losing most of your star talent isn't usually reversed through free agency. Dayton Moore has built it once, maybe he can do it again.
The 2018 Season
What does this team even look like? Using guys still on the roster and prospects currently in the system:
C: Sal Perez
1B: Ryan O'Hearn
2B: Ramon Torres
SS: Raul Mondesi
3B: Hunter Dozier
RF: Paulo Orlando
CF: Bubba Starling
LF: Alex Gordon
DH: Balbino Fuenmayor
SP: Yordano Ventura
SP: Miguel Almonte
SP: Kyle Zimmer
SP: Scott Blewett
SP: Christian Binford
CL: Kelvin Herrera
Let's be honest...that's probably a low-70ish win team, maybe worse. It's certainly not a playoff contender knowing what we know now about the above players. There isn't zero chance the Royals don't retain some of the departing players, but if they are unable to, 2018 marks the first year of a rebuild.
The push to go all-in for the most part in 2015 hurt their farm system. Trading away three of their top five prospects for few month rentals was a good short term move, but poor long term one. Of course the Royals won the World Series to help solidify that reasoning. However these are the ramifications we have to live with.
This is also the first year where the big money for Alex Gordon kicks in, making $20M. Such was the structure of his four (possibly five) year deal. In good news though, the Royals are finally done with the Omar Infante contract, though they have to pay him $2M for the right to retire basically. So it seems like the Royals win curve slopes downward at this point, if not drastically falling off. We're likely to suffer through some more rough times
The 2019 Season
Likely more of the same from 2018. Maybe as the younger players progress and develop they grab a few more wins, or one or two guys break out and a 70-win team turns into a 75-win team.
There doesn't seem to an exact strategy. The Royals will likely make similar moves as they did in 2010-2012 to appease the fan base through not horribly tanking, but not trading away prospects (except for 2013). However at the trade deadline you'd imagine they'd trade away the valuable pieces that are close to free agency, if they exist.
The 2019 Off-season
Joakim Soria and Sal Perez are the only two bigger name free agents from the team at this point. Maybe the team trades Yordano Ventura at this point. Maybe they decline to pick up his club options if he suffers an injury like many fireballers.
This winter may be the valley of the rebuild, where the team is equally far away from the past high point and the projected future high point. Hopefully the Royals don't follow the Reds this year and start their rebuild six months to a year too late. They can compete in 2016 certainly, but use 2016 as a gauge for 2017's plans. Then come either July of 2017 and the winter, begin the rebuild.
Listen, I know I'm the negative guy usually. I am reminded often about it on Twitter. However I think of myself more realistic or skeptical than purposefully negative. It just seems like though as soon as 2017 the World Series winner just two years prior is facing a potential sell-off and on the precipice of a full rebuild.
So I'll leave you all with a few polls.