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The case for the Royals to let their free agents go

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MLB: Kansas City Royals at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As winter meetings get further in the rearview mirror, where rumors about the Royals offseason plans were abound, it’s been reported that the Royals offseason plans focus around one player: Eric Hosmer.

On Monday afternoon, one possible suitor for Hosmer all but closed the book on that chance, when the Boston Red Sox signed Mitch Moreland. The other oft-mentioned landing spot effectively sealed their payroll last week when the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton.

That leaves left, who?

Saint Louis Cardinals? Well disregarding the fact that they have Matt Carpenter, who is better and cheaper than Hosmer, they are more likely looking for a third baseman.

LA Angels? They’ve reshaped half their infield after signing Zack Cozart and trading for Ian Kinsler, but they aren’t likely to move CJ Cron and Albert Pujols aside now that they have Shohei Ohtani too to DH at times.

Colorado Rockies? They are giving the majority of 1B time to Ian Desmond who just signed for 5/$70M last offseason.

Seattle Mariners? I suppose, but they recently acquired Ryon Healy, who while not great, hit as many home runs as Hosmer did last year and is cheaper/younger.

At this point, the odds on favorite perhaps, at least as of December 19th, is for Eric Hosmer to reunite with the Royals.

Meanwhile Mike Moustakas remains without a home (with one of the most likely candidates being out in the Angels signing Cozart), and though there remains a few potential suitors (Giants and Cardinals), Kansas City remains the most likely candidate.

Lorenzo Cain is the final “big” name of the Royals free agents, and his list of potential landing spots is a bit longer (Blue Jays, Mets, Giants, Mariners) and still intact mostly. In this case, the Royals remain the least likely candidate.

However, I think it should be asked, should the Royals even bother?

Yeah, that sounds a bit crass, but what’s the upside of the Royals signing one of these guys, something they’ve said would likely need to find a lot of room for.

As Flanagan mentioned, they would have to shave significant payroll, likely having to get rid of several players on the 25-man roster. Those players would likely include:

Ian Kennedy (3/$49M): 0.7 projected WAR

Alex Gordon (2/$44M): 1.6 WAR

Kelvin Herrera (1/$8.3M arbitration estimate): 0.9 WAR

Brandon Moss (1/$8M): 0.5 WAR

Jason Hammel (1/$11M): 1 WAR

Soria (1/$10M): 0.7 WAR

The Royals have ~$75M committed for a projected 5.4 WAR, or roughly $13M per win (the going rate of a win right now being worth ~$8.5M).

The Royals wouldn’t need to move all those guys, but they’d need to move a couple. That would just offset any production Hosmer, Moustakas, or Cain would add, and if they are going to have to give away some players for just Hosmer, they’d need to move even more to add Cain or Moustakas too.

Let’s imagine a scenario where the Royals found the money for Hosmer under some proverbial cushion. Hosmer is projected for 2.7 WAR next year, so let’s call it an even three.

ZiPS projects the Royals for 69 wins, the lowest in all of baseball by two wins. Adding Hosmer gets them to 72 wins, tied with the Detroit Tigers who are/were in full teardown mode. Even if you double Hosmer’s projection to six wins, that gets the Royals to 75 wins, basically even with the Chicago White Sox, who too are/were in teardown mode. This is without considering the impact of Brandon Moss not being the full time 1B, who while isn’t great, is worth half a win.

So let’s go even further and say the Royals could afford to sign Moustakas, Cain, and Hosmer.

Hosmer: 2.7 WAR

Moustakas: 2.7 WAR

Cain: 3.2 WAR

That’s 8.6 wins, which would move the Royals from 69 wins to ~78, just a little better than the White Sox, and again you’d realistically need subtract any playing time given to Cuthbert/Dozier/Orlando/Moss.

Hosmer: +2.7

Moustakas: +2.7

Cain: +3.2

Cuthbert: -1.2

Moss: -0.4

Orlando: -0.2

—---------------------

+6.8

Call it seven, so the Royals are at 76 wins if returning back all three, still even with the White Sox.

Now, I know what you are saying in the back of your mind “the Royals have always outperformed their projections”, and that’s true. In some years they’ve done markedly better (I wouldn’t call beating a projection by 1, 2, 5, & 5 wins that meaningful).

This time last year though, ZiPS projected the Royals to go 81-81 in 2017, and they went 80-82 (underperformed if we’re being pedantic). For 2016, ZiPS projected 83-79 for Kansas City. They went 81-81, again pedantically underperforming. For the past two years, ZiPS has nailed the Royals record, and while they outperformed in 2014 and 2015, those were completely different teams. The 2016 and 2017 teams will be closer to the 2018 iteration of the Royals than the 2014 and 2015 squads.

The 2016 and 2017 Royals collectively went 161-163 with Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain the past two years. Even if they retained all three, how would they be any different or better than the past two years?

You’d have to be betting for rebounds by Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, Kelvin Herrera, and Brandon Moss. Then Eric Hosmer would have to have another career year, Raul Mondesi would have to show he belongs in the majors, and Jorge Soler too.

Would you really want to forego any chance of a rebuild for the next few years betting on all of that? Then also consider many of the 2018 squad are free agents (or likely to be)the next winter (Soria, Moss, Hammel, Herrera, Peralta, and Butera). The Royals don’t have the internal options to fill three relievers, a starter, a first baseman, and a backup catcher competently to say that they feel good going into 2019 (well...maybe the backup catcher).

If the Royals take this scenario and resign everyone, and it doesn’t work out, they are going to be unlikely to get anything of real value from their newly minted free agents the next winter (or at the deadline). This is because likely the reason it didn’t work out is because of those players, putting their contracts underwater or close to it.

There’s even a rumor that if the Royals resigned Hosmer, they would still rebuild

This makes even less sense. Paying Eric Hosmer $70M+ on a bad team makes no sense. They should be using that money for potential trade deadline chips and that playing time for guys who will still be around (and good) 4-5 years from now. How does 2018 Hosmer help the 2024 Royals (when he’ll be 34 years old), or 2024 Hosmer even? As a clubhouse guy? As a veteran bench bat leader that will be making $20M?

Remember that Alex Gordon was a much better player than Eric Hosmer. He was one of the best players in baseball over a four year span and almost as if overnight he went from asset to liability when he turned 32.

It’s time for the Royals to move on from their free agents, take whatever draft compensation comes, trade away their assets (that means Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, Whit Merrifield, Kelvin Herrera, and Scott Alexander), and begin the rebuild.

If they start now, and I mean really tear it down, they could potentially see themselves being competitive again in 3-4 years if everything breaks right. Realistically, we are talking five years or so if things go about as expected.

Remember this is a farm system that was ranked 26th , 27th, and 29th, at different points in the year.

In 2010 the Astros system was ranked 30th, dead last. The next year they were ranked 28th, and then in 2012 ranked 18th.

They moved up by adding Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Jonathan Villar, Brett Oberholtzer, Domingo Santana, Paul Clemens, Kevin Comer, Brad Peacock, Joe Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski, Max Stassi, Carlos Perez, and Josh Fields via trade. All whom were top 20 prospects for the org. Of their 2012 MLB.com top 20 list, 11 of the 20 were acquired via trade (four of the top ten). By 2015, the Astros made the playoffs.

In 2010, the Diamondbacks ranked 28th overall and 22nd in 2011. By 2012, they jumped all the way to 4th. They did it by have a bunch of draft picks (three first round picks and four in the first 63), and trades. They drafted Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, and Andrew Chafin, then traded for Tyler Skaggs, Didi Gregorius, Nick Ahmed, David Holmberg, Zeke Spruill, and Anthony Meo. All who would be in their top 10 at some point. By 2017, the Diamondbacks made the playoffs.

The Astros are basically the best case scenario (or the Cubs), and that took ~4 years really. The Diamondbacks took~7 years.

Of course here, the folly is that many of these names didn’t pan out to be much. That poor logic though. Yes, prospects don’t always pan out, but there is no argument that a better farm system doesn’t make for a better future. Better farm systems are comprised of better prospects, and better prospects bust at a lower rate, so a better farm system should present a lower bust rate on the aggregate.

Start now and you could be done by 2024. Yeah, that seems like an eternity from now, but it beats an eternity of mediocrity that the Royals saw from 1986-2012.

Short of big free agent signings, breakouts and sustains from guys on the MLB roster, and prospects taking huge steps forward, the future looks bleak. That happens to every team at some point, but the good front offices recognize what they need to do.

Will this front office?