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Dayton Moore wants payroll to be under $120 million. But how?

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And how does that include Hosmer?

MLB: Spring Training-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a slow off-season, with the Royals taking a “wait-and-see” approach with their free agents, according to Dayton Moore as he appeared on Fescoe in the Morning with Bob Fescoe on 610 Sports last week. The entire off-season seems to hinge on Eric Hosmer. Moore reiterated his desire to keep free agent Eric Hosmer in Kansas City, and said he had kept in contact via text to congratulate his first baseman on his off-season accolades.

However it may be difficult to keep Hosmer considering the Royals’ financial situation. Moore repeated his claim that the team had been living beyond its means the last two seasons, without any post-season success to show for it. When pressed on where he expected payroll to be in the 2018 season, Moore was very candid.

“We’ve got flexibility in that $110 to $120 [million range]. But I don’t necessarily think it makes sense to be in that $120 if we don’t feel like we match up well with the other teams in the division. If we’ve got to take this thing down further for the sake of financial responsibility, we have to look at that. We’ll see how free agency goes.”

The Royals last year had a franchise record $145 million payroll on Opening Day. They already have obligations that will likely take payroll to about $120 million already, without adding a single player or re-signing any free agents. Getting under $120 million may require non-tendering Brandon Maurer (the deadline for non-tenders is this Friday), or perhaps trading Kelvin Herrera or Joakim Soria.

That still would not leave any room for Eric Hosmer, although you have to think that perhaps the Royals would be willing to go over their budget for what they perceive of as a franchise player. Moore also indicated last year that payroll had to go down at the outset of the off-season, only to have payroll actually go up. Hinting at a lower payroll may be a negotiating ploy with Scott Boras, Hosmer’s agent, to get the market to come to their price.

Moore outlined the team’s approach, letting players that wanted to stay in Kansas City come to them and allow the Royals a chance to top the best offer they had received elsewhere. He indicated that if it made sense for the Royals to match that offer, they would, using the free agency of Billy Butler back in 2014 as an example. Moore revealed the Royals offered Butler a two-year, $16 million deal with a vesting option that could have made the total package worth $24 million. But the Oakland Athletics made Butler a three year, $30 million offer. Billy gave the Royals a chance to match, but Moore did not feel comfortable with that price. According to Moore, the trend in baseball is to wait the market out, allowing free agents to come to teams, as the Royals did last winter when they signed Brandon Moss, Jason Hammel, and Travis Wood all after the start of the calendar year.

If Hosmer does not return, Moore indicated that could change their off-season strategy.

“If he’s not in Kansas City, then perhaps we have to re-think our strategy for the next 2-3 years.”

That could open the door for a rebuild, although Moore insisted the team would not “tank.”

“We’re always going to do whatever we can to field a competitive team, there’s no doubt about that, that’s how we’re wired. We’re not going to tank like the way some people like to talk about.”

I think when Dayton says this, he simply means he’s not going out of his way to trash the roster and field a poor team just to get a good draft pick. He believes in at least trying to win, although the club may have to rely on younger, unproven players that will have difficulty winning games.

However, he did seem to indicate that getting high draft picks was key to a rebuild.

“The only way to spend money in the draft, you have to pick high. You can’t set your own budget and strategically out-scout guys and out-manuever them, and strategize in a way that gives you an advantage like we did with Wil Myers....”

“The only way to really build your farm system through the draft and do it quickly is to draft high.”

The Royals used to try to pick up high upside players after the first round by throwing large bonuses at them, but with new draft bonus pools in place, that practice has become more difficult.

Keeping Eric Hosmer or any other free agents, and/or adding any players for another run in 2018 while keeping payroll under $120 million seems like an impossible task. My guess is the Royals will keep their ears open on Hosmer, but the most likely path seems to be to cut payroll and go young. It may or may not be a complete rebuild, but it seems unlikely the Royals will have any kind of room to make a run in 2018.