After a half-decade at or near the top of the AL Central, two appearances in the World Series and one championship, the Royals now look to be going in the opposite direction. As Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas all hit the free-agent market, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic writes (subscription required/recommended) that the Royals “expect to step back for perhaps three seasons” and embark on a rebuilding effort. Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star also penned an excellent column on the Royals’ trajectory over the weekend, reporting that Kansas City appears headed for a “substantial rebuild across the next two or three seasons.”
Royals GM Dayton Moore suggests to Dodd that the Royals have to at least be open-minded to virtually any trade scenario: “If somebody blows your doors off on something, you always have to look at it.”
That, according to Rosenthal, could even include controllable pieces like Whit Merrifield, who broke out with a .288/.324/.460 slash and an AL-leading 34 stolen bases last season. Rosenthal also notes that Kansas City would listen to offers on left-handed reliever Scott Alexander, who notched a 2.48 ERA with 7.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a ridiculous 73.8 percent ground-ball rate in 69 innings last year. Both players are controlled through the 2022 season and are still two years removed from arbitration eligibility.
Beyond that pairing, the Royals have a few more obvious trade candidates. Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria are both quality right-handed relievers that are just one year from free agency, though neither is signed at a bargain rate. Herrera projects to earn $8.3MM in arbitration, while Soria is still owed $10MM through the end of his contract. Jason Hammel didn’t have a strong first season in Kansas City but ate up 180 innings with quality K/BB numbers and a 4.37 FIP. He’s still owed $11MM through 2o18. Left-hander Danny Duffy, signed for another four years and $60MM, would represent one of the top starting pitching options on the trade market if the Royals field offers on him.
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Interestingly, both Dodd and Rosenthal report that even as the Royals embark on a rebuild, they’re still in pursuit of a long-term deal with Hosmer. Per Dodd, team officials “see rebuilding scenarios that include” Hosmer in the fold. He’s still just 28 years of age, so Hosmer could indeed still be in his prime even at the conclusion of a two- or three-year rebuilding cycle, but it nonetheless seems counter-intuitive to sign him to what would almost certainly be a franchise-record contract while also dealing away big league talent.
Furthermore, re-signing Hosmer would effectively cost the Royals a top pick, as they currently project to receive three compensatory selections after the first round of next year’s draft due to the losses of Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain (assuming each signs for at least a $50MM guarantee, which seems likely). Those picks would not only give the Royals five picks in the top 40 or so selections of the draft — Kansas City also has a pick in Competitive Balance Round A — they’d also significantly bolster the Royals’ league-allotted draft bonus pool. Each of those comp picks for the loss of Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain would add about $2MM (give or take $100K) to the Royals’ draft pool, based on last year’s slot values.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Hosmer even has interest in returning to a Royals team that could spend the first two or three years of that contract losing more than it wins. If Hosmer’s market fails to develop, it certainly stands to reason that a return to the only organization he’s ever known could be a nice safety net. But, it’ll likely be difficult to sell Hosmer on staying in Kansas City while simultaneously trading away his longtime teammates for younger, unproven commodities.
If the Royals do deal away big league talent without acquiring much in the way of reinforcements for the 2018 roster, they’ll join the White Sox and Tigers as rebuilding clubs in the same division. That would seemingly give the Indians and Twins all the more motivation to act aggressively as they seek to bolster their clubs this winter, as few teams ever have the luxury of competing in a division where three of their four primary rivals are largely punting on the season at hand.