Over the past four years, the team that won the World Series failed to reach the postseason the following season. The Kansas City Royals were the most recent team to accomplish that feat with a record of 81-81, third place in the AL Central. They brought back all but two starters in their lineup which gave reason for many to believe they would be playing October baseball in 2016.
The Royals dealt with injuries, most notably to third baseman Mike Moustakas, who tore his ACL in May, limiting him to only 27 games. Young prospects like Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert emerged on the scene, impressing in their time in the big leagues. The Royals will have a majority of their players return, but they have some legitimate decisions that need to be addressed if they want to do what’s in the best interests of the franchise. Free agents include Edinson Volquez, Luke Hochevar, Kris Medlen, Dillon Gee, Drew Butera, and Peter Moylan.
Here’s what the Royals should explore this offseason.
1. Replace Kendrys Morales
The first major signing of the offseason was Kendrys Morales to the Toronto Blue Jays for three years and $33 million. Morales served as the primary designated hitter since arriving in Kansas City in 2015. Morales had a strong 2016 season, posting a .263 average with 30 home runs and 93 RBIs. He also played some first base, if Eric Hosmer ever needed a day.
Morales’ power numbers will certainly be missed by the Royals, and they should sign his replacement who possesses the same skill set. If the Baltimore Orioles decide to move on from Pedro Alvarez, the Royals should give strong consideration to bringing him in on a short-term deal. Alvarez does not have the dynamic of being a switch-hitter like Morales, but he could be had at a more team-friendly deal. Alvarez signed a one-year deal with Baltimore worth up to $8 million with incentives and had 22 home runs in 109 games.
2. Sign Eric Hosmer to a long-term contract extension
Eric Hosmer is the face of the franchise, and the Royals should spend a part of their offseason locking up one of their own. Prior to the season, Hosmer expressed his interest in re-signing, and general manager Dayton Moore should open those discussions this winter. However, Hosmer is a Scott Boras client, and it has been known that Boras is not too keen on letting players miss free agency in their prime.
Hosmer, 27, has continued to emerge as a star over his six years with the Royals. This past season, Hosmer was voted to his first All-Star Game and was named the MVP in a win for the American League. He also put up a career high in home runs and runs batted in with 25 and 104, respectively. Hosmer should be in line to receive a deal that should be for eight years and approximately $2oo million.
3. Trade Wade Davis
A year ago, Wade Davis struck out Wilmer Flores to give the Royals their first World Series championship in 30 years. Now, Davis has been limited with injuries in 2016, and the Royals have a decision to make whether they should trade him. In a market where Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are reportedly seeking deals worth $100 million, teams could shift to the trade market, and Davis specifically.
The Royals recently picked up Davis’ $10 million team option, which was no surprise. Davis is 31, and it would be difficult for the Royals to re-sign him based on other extensions they need to address. Kelvin Herrera could slide in as the team’s closer, and has shown it this season. Herrera had a 0.96 WHIP with 12 saves and a K/9 of 10.8.
The return for Davis might not be what it once was due to his injuries, but the importance of a strong bullpen might give teams vying for a postseason berth a reason to inquire, because when Davis is healthy, he is as dominant as anyone.
4. Make Lorenzo Cain available
For any team that has multiple free agents, it’s always difficult to retain them all. For a small-market team like the Kansas City Royals, it will be even more challenging. Alex Gordon‘s four-year, $72 million deal was the largest deal in the franchise’s history. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain will all be seeking deals greater than that value. The odds of the Royals being able to sign them all are extremely slim. Therefore, the time is now for the Royals to listen on their players, most notably Cain.
The Royals’ top priority is Hosmer, not Cain. For a team that’s never given out a contract worth $100 million, how will they sign Hosmer to $200 million and Cain to $125 million, and we haven’t even mentioned Moustakas’ value.
Cain, 30, has one year left on his deal and could make a major difference in being a team’s missing piece to winning it all, or a team that can use him to build around for at least the next seven years. His defensive abilities and winning mindset should also not go unnoticed. Cain’s numbers in 2016 did take a hit after hitting .307 with an OPS of .838 while stealing 28 bases in 2015 where he finished third in the American League MVP voting. Cain’s value on the trade market should be high, and the Royals could definitely use an upgrade to their rotation, and moving Cain might be able to do just that.
Despite how young the team is, changes will have to be made to this roster. They are limited financially with some of their best players’ contracts expiring. In a league focused on results, it might not be easy for fans to accept it, but if the Royals remain patient, their retool can produce results sooner rather than later.