The Royals may be winding down the regular season, but they will face a crossroads this off-season with several key players eligible for free agency, including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jason Vargas.
There have been many reports that the Royals would like to retain one or more of these players, particularly Hosmer. Dayton Moore has also stressed in the past that he wants to compete every year and has been sharply critical of “tanking”, a method used by other franchises recently to rebuild with losing teams to gain higher draft picks and build assets. These comments, and acquisitions of young players like Jorge Soler and Nate Karns have led many to believe the Royals will not rebuild in 2018, but rather will continue to extend their window of contention into the next few years.
But Dayton Moore opened the door to a possible rebuild in some recent comments to ESPN’s Buster Olney. In their discussion, Dayton Moore talked about what they had accomplished with this core group of players, an effort that led to two pennants and a championship. But Moore admitted the run for a championship had taken its toll.
We did everything we could do support this core of players....We’ve traded 16 or 17 players in the last 4-5 years from our minor league system and that takes its toll, but we were all in. We were going to do everything we could to support this core.
Notably, the Royals traded away Sean Manaea, Cody Reed, and Brandon Finnegan during their stretch run in 2015, as well as Jake Odorizzi, Wil Myers, and Mike Montgomery in their big trade for James Shields and Wade Davis in December of 2012. This year they even traded away Matt Strahm and Esteury Ruiz to the Padres for three pitchers. The Royals currently have one of the lowest-ranked farm systems in baseball.
If the core does end up departing, Moore admitted it would hurt, but took the possibility in stride.
It’s gonna hurt a little bit, if and when we say goodbye to some of these guys, but it’s part of the game.
Moore discussed how they had re-built the organization from the ground up, and how they may have to go through “The Process” again.
We’re proud of that, the fact we’ve grown a new generation of Royals fans. But now, perhaps we get to do that all over again.
He also added that fans may enjoy the process.
Baseball fans, although they may get frustrated with the lack of wins at the Major League level at times, they enjoy the process of building a team, building an organization, being able to relate to the future stars, whoever they’re going to be, and they get to play General Manager, and Scouting Director and Farm director right along with our leadership team.
Of course, it took seven seasons before Dayton Moore could field a winning team in Kansas City, a process that seemed to take forever. Some might argue the cupboard was bare in 2006, when Moore took over, although he did have players like Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon to build around. This time around, he will have Danny Duffy, Salvador Pérez, Whit Merrifield, and Raúl Mondesí to begin a potential rebuild.
Moore stressed that the franchise would stick to its core principles. He wants to continue to build a team strong on defense, and rebuild the bullpen back to a position of strength.
We’re not going to stray away from our previous philosophy. We’ve got to have impact defenders, especially in our outfielder. We have to be able to defend Kauffman Stadium.
Olney also asked him about the future of Salvador Pérez, and whether there have been discussions to move Salvy to first base eventually to protect his health.
Nothing that we’ve discussed internally right now, although I have asked myself that question a lot over the last 2-3 weeks as we transition and go forward with a new era of Royals baseball with a rebuild perhaps. But it’s something we have to look at, and I think it makes good sense to be able to preserve him in a way that he does stay healthier.
If the Royals lose Hosmer and young players like Ryan O’Hearn, Hunter Dozier, or Frank Schwindel cannot make the leap to the big leagues, the Royals may see Pérez as an option at first.
The fact Dayton Moore explicitly calls the future a “new era” of Royals baseball makes me believe he knows this chapter is coming to a close. Even if they do retain one free agent, they are unlikely to retain more than that, and certainly not everyone, which would mean major holes in the lineup.
With the 2018 payroll not leaving much room for financial flexibility, and Dayton Moore calling free agency a “flawed” way to build a team, the Royals could very well look to get younger next year with a potential rebuild. They will be armed with like three compensatory draft picks and the accompanying bonus pool slot value of those picks next year if Hosmer, Cain, and Moustakas depart. That could give them up to $14 million to spend on amateur talent. The Royals will also have $5.75 million to spend internationally, with no more restrictions on how much they can offer one player.
Still, I don’t expect a complete teardown. The Royals still have Pérez, Danny Duffy, Whit Merrifield, and a few other assets that I would not expect them to move. The Royals may try to call it a “re-tooling” and insist they are still trying to win, but I would expect many new faces next year and particularly beyond 2018 as the team ushers in a new generation of Royals players, with probably at least a few lean years before the team seriously returns to contention.
A rebuild may be painful for a few years, but it also may be necessary to build the next great Royals ballclub. Royals fans will never forget the wonderful memories of 2015, but the business of baseball cannot be nostalgic. To move forward, the Royals may need to reset and do a rebuild, otherwise they will be stuck chasing ghosts that have long departed.