The Kansas City Royals begin their first Spring Training game on Saturday. Though everything is made up and the points don’t matter, this is real life baseball where they keep score and stats go into a computer somewhere to be remembered for the rest of time. For instance: Mitch Maier hit .475 with 3 home runs in 26 Spring Training games in 2010. Never forget.
More importantly, this is the first time the 2017 team will be on the field together. It will be the only time this particular group will be together, as minor leaguers go back to their clubs, trades will inevitably scatter a few more, and injuries begin to accrue. Regardless, we’ll get to see newcomers Jorge Soler and Jason Hammel alongside the oldies of Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer and the youngsters of Josh Staumont and Ryan O’Hearn.
Helping us navigate these waters is the great staff from the Kansas City Star. Columnist Sam Mellinger, who has corresponded with us multiple times before, is here to answer some of my questions about the 2017 Royals and Spring Training.
Danny Duffy's contract extension is a big deal, not only in its obvious value to team and player but also what it means for the rest of Kansas City's Free Agent Class of 2018. The Royals probably enough money in 2018 and beyond to keep one of those players if they wanted, either via an additional extension or by re-signing during free agency this fall. If it happened, who would it be, and is that at all likely?
We're all guessing here, and I'm typing this on the day of the excellent Ken Rosenthal's piece about Hosmer and the Royals talking, but I'll be the wet rag here. I'm actually skeptical that any of the key pending free agents — I assume we agree we're talking about Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain here — will be around next year.
Moustakas seems the most likely. The front office loves him, and his personality has in some ways become the Royals' personality — relentless, fearless, obsessed with everything about the sport. His price may be in the Royals' range, too. I suppose there would be some hesitation about how well he'll age, but at the very least he could transition to first base at some point.
Lorenzo Cain just seems like a bad match, to be honest. He'll be 32 at the start of next season, and his value decreases if he can't play regular center field. I don't know that the Royals will want to make a big-money commitment there, and I assume Cain will be looking for the best contract — he was a late round pick, and at least by baseball standards, has not had a big payday yet.
Hosmer makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways, but it just feels like his price and the Royals' price won't match up. I appreciate what Boras is doing, and Rosenthal's story is a great PR move by the agent. They're making it known they're open, and to be sure, if the Royals offer what Boras believes Hosmer can get on the open market, I assume they'd do a deal. I also assume that offer isn't coming. Big money clubs like the Red Sox and Yankees will likely be looking for a first baseman. Carlos Santana will also be a free agent, but there's likely a big payday if Hosmer waits.
The Royals already have nearly $90 million guaranteed to 10 players next year, and even more if Ian Kennedy doesn't opt out of his contract. They have some money to spend, for sure, particularly if they're taking this route of consistent contention (and consistently higher payrolls) but the money doesn't go forever. Particularly if Cheslor Cuthbert continues to show promise, and if Moustakas signs, and Sal Perez needs to work in at first base at some point, it may make more sense for the Royals to move on rather than commit enormous money to a talented and devoted player.
Dayton Moore seems to by trying to thread the needle between "contend in 2017" and "rebuild for 2018," which are two diametrically opposed approaches. If this team goes south and the Royals come to the July trade deadline on the outside facing in, is Moore going to put up a "for sale" sign on the team, or ride it out and collect draft picks when the big names leave anyway?
Meh, I'm not sure. There are so many factors that would play into this, I'm not sure how to answer in February. The draft pick collection isn't as rewarding as it used to be, but there are so many moving parts that have to work together for a trade to happen — let alone three. Sorry man. I'm going to take the L on this question and hope to make up for it with the next one.
Hunter Dozier, Bubba Starling, Jorge Bonifacio, and Ryan O'Hearn are four high-minors names who could theoretically make a positive impact if given the chance. With nothing to play for last September, the Royals nevertheless largely ignored Dozier to play others. Who is the front office most likely to give Major League playing time to?
The real answer is none. The organization is in constant Bubba Watch, meaning a hot few months could change the story with him, because they believe in his defense and speed. But at this point, that has to be considered a longshot. I suppose Dozier is the answer here — he's the only one in the group who got a September call up — but even that would require some injuries or other action at the big league level.
This thought just hit me. Remember the days when following the Royals meant, basically, following the minor league guys as much or more than the big league team? I don't think I've ever seen Bonifacio or O'Hearn play. If I have, I've forgotten.
Do the Royals really see Billy Burns as the Jarrod Dyson replacement, or will Burns' role be more diminished than what Dyson would be if he was still on the team?
Let's get one thing straight: there is no Jarrod Dyson replacement. Billy Burns is not shaving ZOOM into the side of his head. Dyson may be the first fourth outfielder in baseball history to be the loudest voice on a world champion. I am genuinely looking forward to the game on Monday. If Dyson plays, and gets on base, he's absolutely trying to steal and will 100 percent do that motorcycle zoom move at second base. It'll be great.
But you mean in a baseball way. No, Burns is unlikely to be as good for the Royals as Dyson was, or would've been this year. But with all the outfielders they have, and the need for pitching, that was a trade the Royals had to make, even if Dyson's Dysonness didn't come with some tradeoffs.
Cheslor Cuthbert started off hotly last year, but as time went on his deficiencies became more and more apparent. Are the Royals really going to give him significant plate appearances in 2017?
Depends on your definition of significant, I suppose. If he gets 510 more plate appearances, that means something went wrong. I'm with you, that Cuthbert seems to be overrated by a lot of fans, but he's still young, and talented, and they should take a long look at him. In a world where everyone stayed healthy, Cuthbert should get the most plate appearances outside the likely opening day starters — Perez, Hosmer, Moss, a second baseman, Escobar, Moose, Gordon, Cain and Soler. Of course, everyone will not stay healthy.
With Dyson gone, who is now the most gregarious Royal in the clubhouse?
Sal Perez is probably the loudest, at least on the days when he's loud. The thing about Dyson was that he never took any days off. He was a gamer that way, his noise consistent. Duffy is gregarious in his own way. Moose will have days when he pushes everyone. Hosmer will be a leader. Gordon will have the room when he wants it, which won't be often.
Actually, the answer here is Rusty. Always, Rusty.
We blinked, and suddenly we're entering the last of Moore's Golden Age (though hopefully his first) with the core from the Best Farm System in the History of Whatever. In another 15 years or so, who is going to be in the Royals Hall of Fame?
Ned, Dayton, Gordon, and Perez. Those guys are locks. Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and Wade will probably get in, too. Rene Francisco should be in, too. It would be a little outside the box, because he's not a GM, but he'd be an excellent choice, well-deserved, and a good representation of how the organization made a parade out of nothing.