With changes ahead, the Royals should have an intriguing off-season

The World Series is over and that means the free agent season is beginning, which will signify the dismantling of the 2015 World Series champions. The Kansas City Royals that won it all that year will not look anything like the Royals that will report in February to spring training in Surprise, Arizona.

General manager Dayton Moore, with the blessing of owner David Glass, kept the core of that World Series team together the past two years, but they didn’t make it back to the playoffs. A .500 record in 2016 was the best they could accomplish. They slipped to 80-82 in 2017.

The free agents to be include first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar. Others qualifying for free agency include left-handed starter Jason Vargas, an 18-game winner last season, outfielder Melky Cabrera, right-handed sidearm reliever Peter Moylan and right-hander Trevor Cahill.  Cabrera and Cahill were obtained in late July trade to help give the Royals a post-season boost that sputtered and failed.

Then there is a mutual option of $10 million for 2018 on left-hander Mike Minor, who finished the season as the closer. Displaced closer Kelvin Herrera will be in his final arbitration year after making $5.325 million last year.

The breakup of the 2015 Royals actually already had started.  The Royals dealt Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler. They shipped outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Nathan Karns. Colorado signed free agent closer Greg Holland.  Starting pitcher Edinson Volquez left as a free agent, signing with the Miami Marlins.

There are already whispers agent Scott Boras will seek a $200 million contract for Hosmer. Even if he does not get it, he will likely be too expensive for the small market Royals to retain.

Moustakas, who set the Royals’ single-season home run record with 38, will also be a high-priced free agent. And, yes, Boras is his agent.

Cain, too, could get a top-dollar offer on the open market.

If the Royals are to get draft picks in return for this trio, they will have to give them a qualifying offer of $17.4 million for 2018. An offer they almost certainly would refuse, but Cain might entertain.

Escobar’s market will be somewhat limited as a lightweight-hitting shortstop. The Royals believe they have a capable replacement in Raul Mondesi, although he has been overwhelmed at times in the majors with 70 strikeouts in 182 at-bats over 72 games. He was the Royals starting second baseman to open last season, but his puny offense got him a demotion on April 20 to Triple-A Omaha with a .102 batting average in 14 games and replaced by Whit Merrifield.

So what would the Royals’ infield look like without Hosmer and Moustakas?

Cheslor Cuthbert, who put up decent numbers in 2016 when Moose was injured, could be the starting third baseman.  Former first-round pick Hunter Dozier, who came up as a third baseman, could be shifted to first base. He missed most of the 2017 Omaha season with injuries and is playing in winter ball in Mexico to get some at-bats and playing time at first base.

Don’t expect Cuthbert or Dozier to put up Moose and Hoz numbers, however. That would be somewhat farfetched.

The Royals will need Alex Gordon, who still has two years at $40 million remaining on his contract, to have a much better season in 2018. He is coming off a season hitting .208 with nine home runs and 45 RBIs. The past two years he has a combined .214 average with 26 home runs and 85 RBIs, certainly not the numbers the Royals envisioned when they signed him to a four-year contract extension.

Soler, like Mondesi, has yet to prove he can conquer big league pitching. While he has power-plus, he strikes outs often. If he is a bust, the Davis trade will look bad.

If the Royals fail to sign any of their pending free agents, that will free up about $40 million from the payroll.

Should the Royals opt to go for an entire youth movement next year and start a complete overhaul, they probably won’t be a competitive bunch for the next couple of years. They play in a division with powerhouse Cleveland. Don’t forget the Minnesota Twins made the postseason as a wildcard. Plus, the Chicago White Sox are full of bona fide prospects and on the rise.

Moore has his work cut for him this winter. That is if Moore is back. The Atlanta Braves are seeking Moore’s services. Even though owner Glass denied the Braves permission to interview Moore that is subject to change if Atlanta wants to give the Royals a couple of their prospects from their deep farm system.

It should be an interesting off-season for the Royals.

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Article by Alan Eskew

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