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What if the Royals had just kept the championship team together?

We know that small market teams can’t afford to keep their stars. What this article presupposes is - what if they could?

Kansas City Royals v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

David Glass raised the championship trophy in triumph as the players doused him in champagne. “Losing is for losers, but we’ve got a bunch of kids that know how to win,” he yelled out to the raucous clubhouse. He put an arm around General Manager Dayton Moore and grinned. “Why is why we will do whatever it takes to keep this team together!” The players erupted in jubilation, some even reaching out to embrace the 80-year old owner.

That could have been the scene back in 2015, but alas over the years, the good time eventually came to an end. Glass and Moore kept the team intact through 2016, but after a late season slump cost them a run at the post-season, the Royals traded away Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson that off-season. That would be the beginning of the end as the team fell short again in 2017, with Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain departing at the end of the season.

Although Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas returned for one more season, the team was a shell of their former selves in 2018. Now with Moustakas having been traded mid-season and Escobar now signed with the Orioles, just three players that had significant playing time from the 2015 World Series team remain - Alex Gordon, Danny Duffy, and Salvador Perez.

But what if they had all stuck around?

Your first instinct might be to say, “that’s impossible Max! The Royals are a small market team, they can’t afford to keep their stars! It would cost BILLIONS to keep that kind of talent together!”

Perhaps. But what if following the championship parade through downtown Kansas City, Dayton Moore and David Glass had a meeting and made keeping the team together for many years the #1 priority? And before we start spending all of David Glass’ imaginary money, let’s also say there has to be some sort of fiscal sanity, and the Royals can’t sign anyone that would jeopardize their chances of retaining their core.

That means no five-year, $75 million deal for Ian Kennedy. Let’s say they don’t bring Chris Young back. No Joakim Soria reunion. No Mike Minor. No Brandon Moss. No Jason Hammel. No Travis Wood. No Lucas Duda, no Jon Jay, no Wily Peralta, no Chris Owings, no Billy Hamilton, no Brad Boxberger, no Jake Diekman. Did you miss any of them?

What would the payroll look like if the Royals signed no new major free agents, but retained their core stars? For these purposes, we’ll use the actual contracts players signed with new teams. Eric Hosmer signs an eight-year, $144 million deal with the Royals. Lorenzo Cain signs a five-year, $80 million deal with the Royals. Wade Davis signs a three-year, $52 million deal with the Royals. We’ll use the rinky deals Mike Moustakas got, but you could certainly imagine a scenario where he takes a three-year, $40-50 million offer from the Royals if want.

Although they were all part of that 2015 championship team, we will imagine the Royals let Chris Young walk after 2015, rather than re-signing him. We’ll let Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez walk after 2016, as they did in real life, and Jason Vargas leave after 2017, as he did. We’ll bring back Alcides Escobar for the 2018 season, and keep Drew Butera, but both will be gone after that year.

We will assume that instead of signing new free agents, the Royals used players making $600,000 or less. And I’ll let them have a few of the minor signings - Peter Moylan, Dillon Gee, etc.

Here is what the 2016 club looks like:

2016 Alternate Royals

2016 Gain WAR Gained Salary Gain 2016 Lost WAR Lost Salary Lost
2016 Gain WAR Gained Salary Gain 2016 Lost WAR Lost Salary Lost
None 0.0 $0 Ian Kennedy 3.9 $7,500,000
0.0 $0 Joakim Soria 0.4 $7,000,000
Chris Young -1.0 $4,250,000
3.3 $18,750,000

The Royals lose a few wins on a team that was in contention for awhile, but ended 81-81. Maybe they replace the production from Ian Kennedy with a one-year deal on a guy like Doug Fister or Rich Hill. Let’s look at 2017.

2017 Alternate Royals

2017 Gain WAR Gain Salary Gain 2017 Lost WAR Lost Salary Lost
2017 Gain WAR Gain Salary Gain 2017 Lost WAR Lost Salary Lost
Jarrod Dyson 3.2 $2,800,000 Mike Minor 2.9 $4,000,000
Wade Davis 1.9 $10,000,000 Jason Hammel 1.4 $5,000,000
5.1 $12,800,000 Joakim Soria 1.1 $8,000,000
Nate Karns 0.9 Pre-arb
Ian Kennedy 0.5 $13,500,000
Travis Wood -0.6 $4,000,000
Chris Young -0.6 $5,750,000
Brandon Moss -1.0 $3,750,000
Jorge Soler -1.4 $3,666,667
3.2 $47,666,667

Jorge Soler could still bust out I suppose (I WANT TO BELIEVE) but those Dyson and Davis trades look even worse than they did at the time. The Royals spent some $35 million more than they needed to get worse, and all they really got out of it was Jorge Soler and a few innings from Nate Karns. They even made things worse with mid-season trades for Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter, and Melky Cabrera, who combined to be worth -1.5 WAR.

Okay, now imagine the boys were still back for 2018. Remember, they never trade Scott Alexander away (since there was no need to shed Joakim Soria’s salary) and they never trade Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals or Moustakas to the Brewers, so only their partial seasons away from KC are added back in.

2018 Alternate Royals

2018 Gain WAR WAR Gain 2018 Lost WAR Lost Salary Lost
2018 Gain WAR WAR Gain 2018 Lost WAR Lost Salary Lost
Lorenzo Cain 5.7 $14,000,000 Brett Phillips 1.0 Pre-arb
Wade Davis 0.9 $16,000,000 Jorge Soler 0.9 $4,666,667
Mike Moustakas 0.4 $2,000,000 Jon Jay 0.8 $3,000,000
Jarrod Dyson 0.3 $3,500,000 Ian Kennedy 0.5 $16,000,000
Scott Alexander 0.3 Pre-arb Wily Peralta 0.4 $1,500,000
Kelvin Herrera 0.2 $2,500,000 Lucas Duda 0.3 $3,500,000
Eric Hosmer -0.1 $20,000,000 Jason Hammel -1.6 $9,000,000
7.7 $58,000,000 2.3 $37,666,667

That is a significant improvement (mostly due to Lorenzo Cain), although not enough to move the needle on a team that lost 104 games. You can imagine that having Davis and Herrera may prevent the absolute mess than inhabitated the bullpen in the early part of 2018, which could have changed the outcome more.

While we’re here, what would the 2019 lineup look like, using ZIPS projections?

2019 Lineup

2B Whit Merrifield .280 .331 .415 3.4
SS Adalberto Mondesi .261 .295 .462 2.7
CF Lorenzo Cain .287 .359 .409 3.8
1B Eric Hosmer .268 .337 .425 2.0
3B Mike Moustakas .267 .324 .506 3.2
C Salvador Perez .253 .289 .448 2.6
DH Ryan O'Hearn .226 .307 .413 0.4
RF Jorge Bonifacio .232 .302 .379 0.1
LF Alex Gordon .230 .317 .352 1.1

The rotation would be pretty similar to today, with Danny Duffy, Jake Junis, and Brad Keller as starters, but no Ian Kennedy, Jorge Lopez, or Heath Fillmyer to fill out the rotation (but maybe Matt Strahm?). Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera would anchor the bullpen with Scott Alexander and some young relievers in the mix. How many games does this team win?

All in all, these past three years would have cost roughly the same, just distributed much differently.


Year Actual payroll Alternate payroll
Year Actual payroll Alternate payroll
2016 $131,487,125 $112,757,125
2017 $143,005,817 $107,568,150
2018 $122,233,117 $145,566,450
2019 $91,066,667 $130,450,000
$487,792,726 $496,341,725

But it doesn’t seem all that sustainable. The 2020 payroll would already have over $100 million earmarked towards seven players (assuming you re-signed Herrera to a two-year deal this year). The future would almost certainly look worse. Without letting Lorenzo Cain walk, the Royals don’t draft Jackson Kowar. Without Eric Hosmer there is no Daniel Lynch in Royal blue. Keeping Mike Moustakas means no Brett Phillips or Jorge Lopez. There is no Kelvin Gutierrez (acquired for Herrera) or Heath Fillmyer (for Brandon Moss).

And of course, this isn’t a very sophisticated analysis, and things might be very different on the field than they are in the stat sheet. But breaking up the team was probably for the best. It got us a clean break (for the most part) and allowed the rebuild to begin. Nothing truly lasts forever and you have to know when to turn the lights out on a party. No one really wants to see a whole team in the situation Alex Gordon is in - declining and on a big contract.

Ultimately I think the Royals made the right choice by going for it in 2016 and 2017, with the expectation that would be it. I just miss 2015. Hopefully this next bunch can stay in place a little bit longer.


Should the Royals have tried harder to keep the core together?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Yes, keep them together
    (270 votes)
  • 66%
    No, they needed a rebuild
    (545 votes)
815 votes total Vote Now