Royals fans could be seeing their core group of stars together for the last time over these final three weeks of the season, as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jason Vargas all hit free agency this winter. Speculation about their future has swirled for months, with many expecting big paydays for Hosmer and Moustakas, and possibly Cain as well.
National reporter Jon Heyman, of FanRag, gave his educated opinions on where this winter’s top free agents will land next year. He ranks Eric Hosmer as the top free agent available this winter, ahead of names like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and J.D. Martinez. Heyman says the Yankees “could be in play”, according to a source close to the team, especially with the struggles of young first baseman Greg Bird. But one limiting factor for them could be the luxury tax threshold, which is more punitive under the new labor deal. The Yankees could be biding their time to make a big splash in the 2018 free agent class, which could include stars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
Still, Mike Axisa at River Avenue Blues calculates the Yankees have about $40 million to spend this winter, probably enough to make an aggressive offer on Hosmer. Axisa writes that Hosmer would be a good fit for the Yankees and could push Bird to DH or relegate him to trade bait.
Heyman does not discount the possibility Hosmer could return to Kansas City, in fact he writes that Hosmer is at the top of their list on free agents to retain. The Royals have been rumored to be optimistic they can retain at least one of their free agents this winter, and Hosmer would make a lot of sense as the player they would target due to his age, production, and lack of alternatives at first base. Heyman also lists Boston as a target for Hosmer. They currently have impending free agent Mitch Moreland at first base with prospect Sam Travis MLB-ready, although Club President Dave Dombrowski has shown a preference for veterans in the past.
Mike Moustakas, ranked as the fifth-best free agent, could be headed home to California, according to Heyman. With Boston less of an option due to the emergence of Rafael Devers, Heyman expects the Angels and Giants to be in on the All-Star third baseman.
“The Giants will be all over (Moustakas),” predicts one rival.
Both the Angels and Giants should have openings at third base next year, and Moose has been long-rumored to have a preference to returning home. Heyman also lists the Yankees as a possibility, although they already have Chase Headley signed through next year.
Lorenzo Cain was once open to a long-term extension in Kansas City, but according to Heyman, any such talks have disappeared now.
“He’s gone,” said one person familiar with past negotiations, which ended with the sides far apart.
Cain’s age (he’ll be 32 next April) and injury history seem to make him a dicey proposition for a small-market club like the Royals that has already invested $70 million in an Alex Gordon past his prime. Heyman speculates the Rangers and Dodgers could be in on Cain, who he ranks as the 11th-best free agent, and third-best outfielder behind Martinez and Justin Upton.
Heyman ranks Jason Vargas 13th, the fifth-best starting pitcher, with the Angels, Pirates, and Blue Jays as possibilities for the left-hander. Vargas will be 35 in February and is in his first full season since Tommy John surgery. He was an All-Star this year after a hot start, but has been terrible in the second half with an ERA of 7.27 since the break.
As for new players the Royals could target, Heyman sees the Royals being in on Carlos Santana and Kansas City-native Logan Morrison as potential replacements at first base. The Indians are hoping to re-sign Santana. Former Royals relievers Wade Davis and Greg Holland are also expected to be hot free agents this winter, although Heyman does not envision them returning to Kansas City.