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Who will still be a Royal after this rebuild?

It’s a different way of thinking about players than we’re used to.

Milwaukee Brewers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Kansas City Royals are likely going to be pretty bad in 2018. If they stay healthy and get some bounceback seasons, they could top out at 85 wins or so, true. This is not a hopeless team. But they are unlikely to do so. Just think of it this way: in 2016 and 2017, the Royals were remarkably similar and aggressively mediocre, clawing their way to a 161-163 record. Now, their most reliable starting pitcher and two best position players play for different teams, their vaunted bullpen and defense shadows of what they were.

Whether or not you want to call it a ‘rebuild,’ the Royals are moving away from long-term contract commitments and are begrudgingly turning their eyes to future seasons. And once that happens, all hell breaks loose in regards to team construction and evaluation. Things that once mattered don’t matter at all, things matter now that didn’t used to, and being weird is a good thing.

But that starts with a conception of how useful a player will be to the rebuilding team. In Major League Baseball, rebuilds take years. You can’t just draft LeBron James and become a powerhouse. That’s not how it works.

Below is a tiered ranking of each player currently on the Royals 40-man roster and where they fit into the organization’s long-term purposes. These tiers answer one question:

who will still be a Royal after this rebuild?

Absolutely not

  • Ian Kennedy
  • Alex Gordon
  • Mike Moustakas
  • Jon Jay
  • Paulo Orlando
  • Drew Butera
  • Lucas Duda
  • Brandon Maurer
  • Jason Hammel
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Wily Peralta

None of these players matters to the Royals long-term plans beyond providing value that can be leveraged into trades for minor leaguers. It’s nice and all that Moose is back, but he won’t be long-term.

Most of these guys are veterans or players about to become expensive. None of them will be on another Royals playoff team in their careers. Thankfully for these guys, most of them already have a ring.

Maybe, depending on how long it takes

  • Nathan Karns
  • Alcides Escobar
  • Jorge Soler
  • Brian Flynn
  • Salvador Perez
  • Danny Duffy
  • Sam Gaviglio
  • Burch Smith
  • Tim Hill
  • Kyle Zimmer

This list is mostly made up of upper-20s guys who are under multi-year contracts, and the deciding factor in whether or not you’ll see them in a playoff run is when that might happen.

It’s fair to say that 2018 and 2019 are going to be pretty stark rebuilding years. By 2020, all the players in this tier will be in their early 30s or will be in the last years of their contracts (or both). If the Royals are a playoff team in 2021 or later, most of these guys won’t be Royals anymore, or will have already been traded for minor leaguers who will be.

Kyle Zimmer is on this list because, should he make it to the big leagues, he likely won’t have a long career. Players who are consistently injured in their early 20s almost never get more healthy. And Escobar is on this tier because he will never be expensive, management loves him, and he could easily transition to the bench and utility role the Royals love giving to gritty veterans.

Probably, but not necessarily

  • Whit Merrifield
  • Ramon Torres
  • Bubba Starling
  • Cheslor Cuthbert
  • Cam Gallagher
  • Miguel Almonte
  • Brad Keller
  • Jesse Hahn
  • Heath Filmyer
  • Andres Machado
  • Scott Barlow
  • Eric Stout
  • Meibrys Viloria
  • Hunter Dozier
  • Samir Duenez

This list comprises guys who are under contract past 2021, but who have varying reasons why they aren’t locks for the next rebuild. Most are guys in their mid-20s who have gotten to the upper levels of the minors and who are untested. If they were big prospects, they would have already debuted. However, they are still under team control for a while. Expect a few names on this list to be sleeper contributors, but not a lot, and probably none will be All-Stars.

Merrifield is in this tier solely because he is already in his late-20s and might not be seen as a core component of the rebuild. For those reasons, he is going to be the center of some serious trade discussions until he is traded or until the Royals grab a playoff spot, whichever comes first.

Get used to watching these guys

  • Adalberto Mondesi
  • Jakob Junis
  • Eric Skoglund
  • Trevor Oaks
  • Jorge Bonifacio

Of the entire 40-man roster, these five players are the only ones who might contribute to the next Royals playoff team. Pay attention to them, because how well they do really matters.

Mondesi is still very young, at age-22 this season. He still has upside, and is the single player most likely to be a solid contributor a la previous Royals farm system position player products like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Wil Myers.

Junis and Skoglund separated themselves from the pack in the previous tier by contributing to the Royals in 2017 at the big league level. Both will only be 25 this year and are under team control for six more seasons, longer if they spend time in the minors this year.

Oaks was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the trade where Kansas City dealt Scott Alexander. Like Junis and Skoglund, Oaks will be 25 this year, and he has not yet made his big league debut. Despite being picked in the seventh round, he has had a sparkling minor league career, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is eye-popping.

Bonifacio was slapped with an 80-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, but he is healthy, only 25, and had a really solid rookie year in 2017.

Rooting for a rebuilding team is totally different than rooting for a competing club. It involves rooting more for individual players to succeed, with the game’s result a secondary nature. This year, Royals fans should look to Mondesi, Junis, Skoglund, Oaks, and Bonifacio specifically, because they are truly the next generation of Kansas City Royals.

Winning games is still fun. The Royals will still try to do that. That’s totally fine, and it’s equally fine to want to see victories from this club. But not everyone will still be here in a few years, and it makes the successes of those that will be so much more special.