All six of these players played a key role in the Kansas City Royals renaissance the past two seasons as the once-dormant franchise won the American League pennant twice and won their first World Series title in 30 years in 2015. The team could be at a crossroads, however, as all six of these players are set to become free agents after the 2017 season.
If the group continues to contribute at a high level, all of these players are sure to command hefty contracts once they hit the open market, and will likely price themselves out of the Royals’ price range as a result. This raises a tough question for General Manager Dayton Moore. Should Kansas City go all-in for these next two seasons and find players that will fit their two-year window? Or should they hold onto their young players in hope that they will develop and be able to maintain this success once this current wave of players leave for greener pastures?
The Royals were reportedly looking at acquiring Todd Frazier from the Reds to replace Alex Gordon in left field before the White Sox swung a three-team trade to land the Toms River, NJ native. Frazier is a tremendous clubhouse presence, and would have fit in with the Royals team chemistry. Putting him in left field may have been different for him – he has played only 13 games in left field since he came to the big leagues. But a team like the Royals would not have targeted Frazier if they did not think he could handle the move. Frazier is under team control for two more seasons – through 2017.
Another potential target for the Royals is Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, who have three outfielders who are widely known to be available via trade. Any one of these three (Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon are the other two) makes sense for Kansas City. Gonzalez has the proven track record and brings all five tools to the table when healthy. The 30-year-old has two more years on his contract for $37 million. He, too, is a free agent after the 2017 campaign.
In order to acquire a player of Gonzalez’s caliber, Kansas City would likely need to give up a good portion of their farm system in order to land the two-time All-Star. After parting with top young players Brandon Finnegan, Sean Manaea, and Cody Reed at the trade deadline in order to land Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, the Royals’ farm system is not very deep when it comes to immediate impact talent. Kansas City does have players who could intrigue Colorado, including SS Raul Mondesi, RHPs Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte, or 2015 first-round pick RHP Ashe Russell.
Kansas City has been reluctant to part with Mondesi or Zimmer in trades. If the Royals do decide to maximize their two-year window while they still have this core group intact, then they could wind up parting with either or both of these players with plenty of potential but also question marks (Mondesi: offense, Zimmer: injuries) for proven major league contributors. Almonte debuted in 2015 out of the bullpen, but is viewed as a starter long-term. There is some concern regarding whether or not he will be able to keep his pitch count low enough in order to be a workhorse starter.
In Russell’s case, he has only thrown 36.1 innings in rookie ball. There have been many high draftees who have already been traded this offseason, including 2015’s number one overall pick Dansby Swanson who was shipped from the Diamondbacks to the Braves in the Shelby Miller trade. The Rockies could be intrigued in pairing Russell with Mike Nikorak, who were arguably the top two high school pitchers in the 2015 draft class. Both are raw and are far from big league ready, but have considerable upside and have the power stuff necessary to eventually thrive in the Mile High City.
Another way the Royals can go “all-in” is by giving up draft picks to sign free agents that have compensation attached to them. They have been linked to such free agents such as LHP Wei-Yin Chen or RHP Yovani Gallardo. They are also in line to receive an additional pick if Alex Gordon signs elsewhere, so signing one of these free agents would not be the end of the world as far as the draft is concerned. The Royals can potentially have two picks in the first round in 2016. A small market team with a thin farm system typically would not be in the market to lose draft picks. But after the World Series, the organization may view this as the time to focus on the now rather than the future.
There are a handful of free agents that remain available such as LHP Scott Kazmir, OF Gerardo Parra and OF Denard Span who will not force the signing team to give up a draft pick. While they might not be as impactful, the Royals succeeded last season in free agency and did not give up any draft picks in doing so. Free agency can go both ways but at the end of the day, Kansas City is going to find the right guy that fits in with the team’s clubhouse chemistry and athletic philosophy.
This is still a team that plays in a small market and needs to rely on scouting and player development. Accordingly, it would be wise for them to avoid gutting their farm system in an all in effort to maximize these next two seasons. On the other hand, these opportunities do not come around very often. For a team who did not appear in the postseason once from 1986-2013, they have seen plenty of recent success that these fans know more than anybody cannot be taken for granted.
Should the Royals place all of their chips in the middle of the table and take advantage of their situation while they have the chance? Or should they spend wisely and maintain long-term flexibility in terms of payroll and prospects in an attempt to keep the success going after this wave of Royal greats price themselves out of Kansas City? I think it is always smarter to keep your options open over the long-term. But whichever way they decide to go, this will be a critical offseason for Dayton Moore and rest of the front office coming off their first World Championship in 30 years.