For months, the impending free agency of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jason Vargas has hung over the Royals like the sword of Damocles. While Dayton Moore stressed that he wanted to extend the window past this season, having such important players possibly departing after this year put the pressure on to win this season.
When the Royals stumbled out to a 7-16 April, the script for the Royals looked finished. They would have to sell off their core and look to rebuild this July. But a funny thing happened on the way to the July trade deadline. The Royals got good again and climbed back into contention.
Nonetheless, other teams are rubbing their hands in anticipation, gleefully picking which Royals players they can pick apart from this team. HANDS OFF!
For their part, the Royals are not interested in selling.
“We held on to all those guys over the winter because we wanted to take one final shot at one more World Series,” said a member of the Royals organization, referring to his team losing in the 2014 Fall Classic then winning it the next year. “We’re playing a lot better. If we keep playing like this, we’re going to look to add rather than subtract. We’re not ready to give up on this season yet by any means.”
That is easy to say in late June, when we have over five weeks left until the trade deadline. But there is also reality to account for. The Royals’ playoff odds are still at 7.6%, according to Fangraphs. As Sam Mellinger points out, the Royals would have to win about 60% of their remaining games - a better rate than they won in their championship season of 2015 - to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs. And while it is still early, last year on this date, the ten teams that made the playoffs were all already in line to make the playoffs.
Even against those long odds, the winning does put into doubt whether the Royals will be sellers at the deadline at all. Dayton Moore has an unflinching optimism in his club, and his loyalty to keeping the team together has been rewarded in the past. It is not hard for him to see the hot streak in June as evidence the Royals could make another run later this year, as they did in 2013, 2014, and even a bit of 2016.
This wouldn’t leave the Royals completely empty-handed if they end up at home in October. Despite confusion from many national writers on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Royals would still likely get picks at the end of the first round for Hosmer, Cain, and Moustakas should those players depart. Of course, you’d prefer to get prospects over draft picks, but that is only if (a) there are teams that need players at those positions; (b) they are interested in these specific players instead of other players on the market; (c) they are willing to give up prospects for two months of a player; and (d) the Royals want those prospects. Trades are easy to make in fantasy baseball, harder to make in real life.
There is still a lot of baseball left to play out. We can put the “firesale” talk on hold for a bit. But we probably shouldn’t completely rule out the possibility. As the anonymous member of the Royals organization quoted above continued:
“At the same time, we’re staying flexible if things take a turn for the worse.”
And things can always take a turn for the worse.