The Kansas City Royals find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. The prior two seasons, they were where the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs find themselves right now: In the World Series. But the 2016 season was not as kind to the Royals. A year after winning the World Series, the Royals went 81-81 this season, finishing third in the American League Central, behind the Indians and the Detroit Tigers. They finished 13.5 games out in the division as well as eight games out of one of the two Wild Card slots.
With the World Series drawing to a close, the MLB offseason is almost officially upon us. Royals’ general manager Dayton Moore says he expects the club’s payroll to decrease a bit, but owner David Glass has not been as clear on that topic. The 2017 season is going to be a critical one for the ball club, and that starts with this winter. The team will likely only lose two key participants due to free agency, with Edison Volquez and Kendrys Morales set to depart. The team also has options on closer Wade Davis and shortstop Alcides Escobar, but both of their options will likely be picked up.
Given Davis and Escobar are on options, they are essentially working on one-year deals moving into the season. In addition to those two key players, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson are all set to become free agents as well following the 2017 season. So this is clearly the last year we could see this core group of players on the field together, as not all of them will end up back in Kansas City in 2018. If the team starts the season cold, they could also possess some of the more interesting trade chips come to the trade deadline. But the question is, will the team end up moving some of these pieces this winter instead?
Following a disappointing season, the Royals will surely look to change a few things up. Given they are not going to be making any major payroll increases, bringing in a big name free agent is certainly not an option. Given the weak free agent market, the Royals could certainly make their splash on that front. A few weeks back we touched upon the idea of Wade Davis possibly being on the market. Of everyone, he is probably the most likely to go. The team has Kelvin Herrera in place to take over the role upon Davis’ potential departure following the team picking up his option. But now let’s turn our attention to the teams big four position players who will be entering their contract years.
First up we have Eric Hosmer. Hosmer is coming off a season where his second half batting average tanked. The 27-year-old first baseman went from hitting .299 in the first half to a very uncharacteristic .225 in the second half. Now his home run power was still there, and his strikeout and walk ratios remained fairly consistent with his first half numbers. Doubles virtually disappeared, however, which was a bit strange.
He did battle wrist soreness at the end of the season, and I suspect he was dealing with a lingering issue throughout the second half that was never made public. Given he is in the prime of his career, a smart ball player and one who knows how to win, he would still draw plenty of interest if placed on the market. Edwin Encarnacion is the only substantial name available on the free agent market, which would only increase the team’s leverage. Of the four positional players, I would say he is the least likely to go, as he is the heart and soul of this team. There is no telling how fans would react if Moore pulled the trigger on a Hosmer deal, even if it brought in an influx of young talent.
Mike Moustakas is an interesting option this winter. Moustakas missed the last four months of the 2016 thanks to an ACL tear. He is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training, and he entered last season coming off a career year in 2015. At 28, he is right in his prime as well, meaning we may not have seen the best of the Moose just yet. The Royals do have Cheslor Cuthbert, who showed some promise in 2016, even if he did not finish the year strong. Behind Justin Turner, there is no starting caliber third baseman available via free agency this winter. Todd Frazier is likely to be on the trade block, as he also enters a contract year. So on the whole, teams looking for a new third baseman have a rather thin field to choose from. Moustakas could certainly become one of the most interesting names out there. The Royals could turn him into some young pitching to building around moving forward. If Cuthbert emerges this season, this likely would be Moustakas’ final year in Royal blue anyway. Consider the chances of a Moustakas deal a little above 50/50.
Lorenzo Cain is one of the most all-around talented players in baseball. However, 2016 was impacted by injuries, as Cain missed over two months of play, including the end of the season thanks to a wrist issue. He did not need any surgery for his wrist, and his rehab is going well according to Cain himself. He is expected to be a full-go for Spring Training. He is not a guy who is going to hit 30 homers or steal 30 bags, but he gives you a little bit of everything. When healthy he is good for about 15 homers and 20 plus bags, while playing solid defense. Going into his age 31 season, he is certainly a commodity teams would have an interest in. There are more outfielders available than infield positions, but if the Royals get a solid offer, Cain could certainly be on the move.
For Alcides Escobar, the team will surely pick up his six and a half million dollar option. He will be 30 this coming season, and he is regarded as one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball. He is also solid on the base paths but can have issues getting on. He is not going to wow people with his bat, but teams know that and would be looking at him for his defense. There would be no good free agent options this Winter unless a team wanted to move Ian Desmond back there. Zack Cozart of the Cincinnati Reds could be available via trade, but other than that, no other shortstops are locks to be on the block. The Royals have Raul Mondesi Jr, who is likely set to take over in 2018. If they feel he is ready this season, Escobar may find himself elsewhere in 2017.
My guess is the team gets an offer they cannot refuse for at least one of these four players. Hosmer is the most likely to stay put, with the other three having the same odds, and the offers being the key factor in who gets dealt. If the team ended up moving two, I think they would stop there and hold the remaining players as they are not looking for a total rebuild.
The team is at a crossroads and needs to do something. Like division rivals the Detroit Tigers, they need to shake a few things up to reboot moving into 2017. With the team seeing its nucleus enter their contract years, this will surely be an interesting winter for the Royals front office, players, and fans.