A World Series Champion two years ago, the Kansas City Royals will look quite different compared to that title-winning team when they arrive at their spring training complex in February 2018.
At the end of this season, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Jarrod Dyson and Danny Duffy will all be free agents. Earlier this offseason, closer Wade Davis said his goodbyes to his teammates as he was traded to the Chicago Cubs. Many may soon be joining him in bidding their farewells.
Left fielder Alex Gordon will still be a Royal beyond this season, though he could potentially become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season should KC be unwilling to pick up his $23 million mutual option. It seems the only member of the World Series champion Royals who has much of a future with the team is catcher Salvador Perez, a man currently signed up through 2021.
With the Royals in such a state, many of their upcoming free agents have had their names thrown around in trade talks over the last few months. Rumors were rampant that Dyson in particular would be leaving the club, with the likes of Oakland, Baltimore and St. Louis interested in acquiring his services. You can bet these rumors are going to continue for much of the season leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, by which point most could be gone if KC’s campaign starts poorly.
The one thing we can be certain of though is that the Royals will continue to take the field in 2018 and beyond, even if many of these champion players are no longer with the organization. General Manager Dayton Moore has taken the first steps toward ensuring the future of the team is a little less uncertain, adding outfielder Jorge Soler in that December trade with the Cubs, and most recently trading for Diamondbacks outfielder Peter O’Brien, who will likely compete for the designated hitter role for the upcoming season.
Soler is signed up through the 2020 season, while O’Brien won’t hit free agency for another seven years. Everyone has heard about Soler’s struggles at the plate during the most recent postseason, but O’Brien is far less of a known commodity. The 26-year-old right-hander has displayed some of best power in the game at the plate, cracking at least 25 homers in all but his first season of professional baseball.
O’Brien originally came up through the Yankees organisation, but he made his MLB debut with the Diamondbacks in 2015 after being traded to Arizona at the deadline in 2014. He hit his first major league home run in his fifth career at-bat, a pinch-hit blast off Dallas Keuchel. Last year he played in 28 games and hit five long balls, but the problem was he struck out in 40 percent of his plate appearances and owned just a .141 batting average.
A full season as a designated hitter could do O’Brien the world of good, particularly if he’s mentored by the likes of Hosmer, Gordon and Moustakas, all of who endured their own fare share of struggles when they first arrived on the major league scene. It would also allow O’Brien to focus solely on his approach at the plate, rather than having to worry about his defense as was the case last year with Arizona.
The 26-year-old originally came up through the minors as a catcher but he’s likely best suited as a DH moving forward, while he could be utilized as a corner outfielder on occasion. If he can improve his approach at the plate, we could be looking at 2017’s Kyle Schwarber.
Many of the organization’s top prospects either made their MLB debuts in 2016 or are set to do so this year, so they should be getting some help internally within the foreseeable future. Top prospect Hunter Dozier hit his first major league RBI during his eight-game stint in the bigs last year, while left-hander Matt Strahm and righty Miguel Almonte combined to hurl almost 100 innings.
Outside of Perez, Kansas City really doesn’t have a lot of young talent locked up for years to come. One could point fingers towards the front office for their failure to sign cornerstone players like Hosmer, Cain and Moustakas to multi-year contracts in the years gone by. With the success they’ve had as a group it would be reasonable to expect a few of the team’s free agents to re-sign, though many may seek greater pastures elsewhere.
This offseason we’ve seen Dayton Moore move to bring in a pair of hitters who could help the Royals moving forward, but it’s going to be really important for KC to try and use their current assets to get more talented players who are signed on through the end of the 2020 season.