Royals will have big shoes to fill for the 2018 season

There will be baseball at Kaufman Stadium in 2018, but the Kansas City Royals of the past six years will not look anything like the new model.

The teams that went to back-to-back World Series in 2014-15 won’t resemble the 2018 squad. After topping the New York Mets in the 2015 World Series, the Royals have played sub-.500 baseball.

Nine – count ’em – Royals have applied for free agency. The list starts with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, all who rejected qualifying offers to test the free agent markets.  The others are Jason Vargas, Alcides Escobar, Mike Minor, Melky Cabrera, Peter Moylan and Trevor Cahill.

Reality is beginning to set in – although the Royals’ front office probably knew all the time – that bringing back any of the big three appears to be miniscule.

Sure, they will make a push to retain Hosmer, but at what price and how many years? And after tasting two World Series would Hosmer want to go through a rebuilding process that could likely require three years for the Royals to be a legit playoff contender?

Assuming Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and Escobar won’t return, that is four starting positions vacancies that must be filled in spring training or addressed before with off-season moves.

Hosmer’s bat, defense and clubhouse leadership will be missed. Hosmer has won four Gold Gloves, saving his other infielders a ton of errors by his ability to scoop low throws out of the dirt.

A candidate to start at first is Brandon Moss, who is signed for $8.5 million next year.  Moss is average on defense, but spent most of 2017 as the designated hitter. Former first-round pick Hunter Dozier, who has played mostly third base in the minors, is a possibility. He has started only 12 games at first base. He was limited to 33 games last season because of injuries. His big league experience is eight games in 2016.

While Frank Schwindel was not added to the 40-man big league roster, don’t rule him out at first base if another club doesn’t pick him in the December Rule Five Draft.  He hit .329 with 23 home runs and 97 RBIs last year in the high minors. He continued his slugging in the Dominican Winter League, putting together a 10-game hitting streak as November ended.

Raul Mondesi is the choice to replace Escobar at shortstop. He is a gifted athlete with range, a strong arm and speed, but also has a suspect bat.  He has a .181 batting average in 188 major league at-bats with an alarming 70 strikeouts and only eight extra-base hits. Remember, he was the Royals’ Opening Day second baseman in 2017, but his anemic offense got him a quick demotion to Triple-A Omaha.  He did hit .305 with eight triples and 13 home runs with the Storm Chasers, but has looked overmatched in the bigs.

Cheslor Cuthbert is the likely replacement at third base. He will not threaten Moustakas’ franchise home run record, but he does have some pop.  Cuthbert got only 143 at-bats in the majors last season and with part-time duty hit just .231. With Moustakas missing most of the 2016 after knee surgery, Cuthbert hit .274 in 475 at-bats, which is probably a better barometer of what he can do.

Cain will leave a major void in center. He hit .300 last season and his outfield defense is second to none. None of the in-house candidates to patrol center for 120-plus games will excite anyone. They are Paulo Orlando, Billy Burns, Terrance Gore and Bubba Starling. General manager Dayton Moore may have to look outside to find a starting center fielder. Starling’s glove and speed would allow him to play center, but he’s never hit in the minors. Big league pitchers would dissect him.

Jorge Soler remains a mystery man. He has undeniable power, but whether he can make enough contact in the majors to be an adequate hitter is unknown. His outfield defense is mediocre, but he is all the Royals got from the Chicago Cubs for Wade Davis.

Alex Gordon, who is owned $44 million the next two years, is one returnee who must have a better season. He won another Gold Glove, but hit a puny .208 with nine home runs and 45 RBIs.

The rebuilding will officially begin in 2018.

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Article by Alan Eskew, editor

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