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It won't matter if Kansas City can keep its old core without a new young core

There's a lot of talk about retaining current players, but focusing on that sort of misses the point.

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This year has been a banner year for the Kansas City Royals' continued resurgence. Not only did they seize a new banner, one that says 'World Champions' on it, but they put to rest concerns about miserly spending and an inability to keep high-profile players. In the past two months, David Glass and Dayton Moore brought back Alex Gordon with the largest contract ever signed in the history of the club as well as re-negotiated Salvador Perez' contract to keep him until 2021.

Both of these signings are important because of the Great Exodus of 2018. Due to contract rules,  Moore's celebrated batch of internally-developed players, all of whom debuted in the same year, 2011, will all graduate to free agency following the 2017 season. Whether by intent or accident, other pieces will also fall away that year as well. After what I can only assume will be the Royals' fourth consecutive trip to the World Series in November of 2017, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Wade Davis, Alcides Escobar, and Omar Infante will all become free agents at the same time. While this is the big group, there is a sizable group leaving after 2016 as well; that group includes Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Luke Hochevar, and Kris Medlen.

All those synchronized roster openings means that plenty of available cash will be freed, and we've already seen some of that diverted to player acquisition as the majority of Gordon's deal, as well as Ian Kennedy's deal and Perez' salary bumps, all occur after the 2017 season.

But the Royals are open to retaining this core of players, and do not intend to lose them all. Over the weekend, Rustin Dodd wrote about it in the Kansas City Star. In the piece, he alludes to player interest in extensions, sometimes the most difficult part to secure, but they are realistic about it:

But as the Royals announced the extension for Perez, Hosmer said he, too, is open to discussing an extension.

"You listen," Hosmer said. "You definitely listen. At the same time, you have to make whatever decision is best for you. Obviously, I have a commitment to this team. I have a commitment to these guys. But at the same time, you have a commitment for the players’ association and the league. You want to do something that’s fair. You want to do something that’s fair for both sides."

Moustakas and Cain echoed the sentiment. Both expressed a willingness to sign a long-term extension in Kansas City. But each player said his focus was elsewhere with two years remaining on their current contracts.

"It’s something you want to be a part of," Cain said. "I know it’s going to be tough to lock up everybody."

Read more here:

Dayton Moore, for his part, values team chemistry and the group. Though that means that giant individual contracts aren't likely if they don't benefit everyone, it sure seems like Moore is at least interested in keeping this dynamic intact:

“The world tells us the biggest lie,” he said. “The world tells us that you have to look out for yourself: ‘You better take care of No. 1. You don’t take care of yourself, nobody else will. That’s the biggest lie.

“It’s about us, it’s about togetherness. It’s how we work as a team that defines our success. Can we sacrifice for the good of the group?”

That is a revealing glimpse of how Moore sincerely thinks.

Read more here:

Still, as Cain says, the Royals won't be able to keep everybody, but they could come to fair deals and retain some.

But there's an angle that needs to be considered. Retaining this group of players would be great, but it will be at significant cost expense for a group of players entering their 30s.

Let's step back a little bit and do a quick exercise:

In 1996, the New York Yankees won their first World Series in 15 years. After that championship, the Yankees would participate in four of the next five World Series. The core players of that 1996 team included Derek Jeter, age 22; Bernie Williams, age 27; Andy Pettite, age 24; and Mariano Rivera, age 26. Jorge Pasada was 26 in 1998 in his first full MLB season.

In 2010, the San Fransisco Giants won their first World Series since 1954. They would go on to win another two championships in the next five seasons and have reloaded for a significant 2016 run. The core players of that 2010 team included Buster Posey, age 23; Pablo Sandoval, age 23; Matt Cain, age 25; Tim Lincecum, age 26; and Madison Bumgarner, age 20.

In 2014, the Kansas City Royals made their first playoffs and World Series since 1985. They would go on to win the next year's championship. The core players of that 2014 team included Salvador Perez, and 24; Eric Hosmer, age 24; Mike Moustakas, age 25; Lorenzo Cain, age 28; Yordano Ventura, age 23; and Danny Duffy, age 25.

The pattern, in each of those instances, is that a core group of young, talented players helped power each of those teams to multi-year runs of varying success. Veterans contributed to each of those teams as well, but veterans did not comprise the core, the identity, of those teams.

Here is the thing that is never considered in talks about extensions with the Royals' core: re-signing the current core is not enough to extend the team's success. Yes, we love Hosmer and Perez and Duffy and Moose. Yes, re-signing them at a fair price to both sides would be excellent. But it isn't enough.

The Royals got here with a core of young, affordable talent. In three years, Hosmer and the Gang won't be young or affordable any more. Kansas City is not New York or Chicago, and Moore is not a Steinbrenner--the money just isn't there to pay giant sums of money to retain everybody, and even if it was, one only needs to look at the Detroit Tigers to see what the long-term or mid-term future for a club looks like with expensive, aging core players and a desperate patchwork of other expensive, aging players

It is thus imperative that the Royals develop a new core. This spring training, we have seen three players who might form that new core perhaps starting this year. Shortstop Raul Mondesi famously made his MLB debut in the World Series last year at age 20. Outfielder Bubba Starling still has huge potential, as his athleticism is unmatched in the Royals' minor league system. Pitcher Kyle Zimmer has a legitimate ace ceiling, and no one questions his impact if he is healthy. All three will be in AA or AAA to begin the year. All three could be on the September roster, if not earlier.

With a new batch of players, the Royals can continue their success. If the Royals re-sign their older players, they can sustain it for a little longer, but at a greater short-term and long-term cost.

Thankfully, those two are not mutually exclusive. Hopefully, we see All-Star Kyle Zimmer and All-Star, newly extended Eric Hosmer on the same field.