The question isn’t a new one. It has long been observed that three key Royals players — center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, and third baseman Mike Moustakas — would all reach the open market after the 2017 season. Indeed, it seemed at times that the club would get out ahead of the pending departure by dealing one or more of those players, as it did with closer Wade Davis over the winter, though that never came to pass.
With the Kansas City club all but mathematically eliminated from the postseason, we’re fast approaching the point where the question will no longer be hypothetical. It’s clear that all three players are worthy of receiving and declining qualifying offers, potentially setting the stage for the organization to pick up a nice haul of draft picks as compensation if they depart. Barring a stunning development — the QO decision period will at least provide a window — none will re-up with the Royals before reaching the open market.
While the expectation long has been that the Royals would require some transition period, it’s tough to guess from the outside just what that might look like. The organization ran a payroll of over $140MM this year and has made clear it can’t do so again. But it already has more than $100MM committed for 2018, with a variety of veteran players — many controlled for the short-term, but a few on longer-term deals — still on the books. Some of those contracts have some value; others don’t. But the mix will make it difficult for the Royals to embark upon a complete and immediate tear-down.
So, is there still some possibility that Cain, Hosmer, and/or Moustakas could find themselves back in a familiar place next year and beyond? It isn’t as if the club has obvious replacements lined up for the trio. And all have indicated they would like to return, if that proves possible.
Obviously, the biggest barrier is cost. While K.C. might conceivably welcome back veteran shortstop Alcides Escobar, he likely won’t cost all that much given his ongoing struggles at the plate. The three players under consideration here, though, will surely command over $10MM annually over lengthy terms.
Cain might be the best of this group and will likely require the lowest total guarantee, mostly because he’s already 31 years old — which will also add to the Royals’ trepidation in paying to keep him. Hosmer has yet to turn 28 and is coming off of his best season in the majors, though he’ll probably be the most expensive and is probably also the easiest of this group to replace (given the glut of older power hitters on the market). Moustakas, 29, might offer something of a middle ground between the others and did just set the organizational record with his 37th dinger, though he won’t be cheap and remains an iffy performer in the on-base department.
So, how do you see this playing out? (Link for app users.)