Things have not gone all that well for the Royals this season.
Only 18 months removed from a World Series title, Kansas City has the worst record in the American League at 21-29 -- and no clear signs of things getting better.
According to two sources close to the situation, the Royals seem to have lost some of the mojo they displayed during their 2014 World Series trip and '15 title. And with several key guys headed for free agency at the end of the season -- Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Jason Vargas -- there isn't the same degree of unity.
"The vibe isn't the same as it was a year or two ago," one source said.
General manager Dayton Moore told MLB.com's Jeffrey Flanagan on Wednesday that he's not ready to give up on 2017 just yet, still believing the Royals can contend.
"My thought process hasn't changed," Moore said. "I thought this was a playoff-caliber team coming out of Spring Training, and I still think that way."
That means the GM won't be dangling his players to other teams -- at least not yet. Should things remain bleak when the calendar turns to July, things could change.
"I'm not throwing up the white flag," Moore said. "We just go. We go and we play and we do everything we can as an organization to win every game. We strive to get better every day.
"We are going to remain focused on winning in 2017, and I mean throughout 2017. We believe we owe it to our players and to our fan base. We'll remain laser-focused on winning."
If the time comes when Moore feels differently, he might find himself as one of the season's first sellers, looking to turn those free-agents-to-be into prospects for the future. With the exception of Escobar, who is off to a rough start to 2017 (.438 OPS in 203 plate appearances), the other players with expiring contracts should appeal to several contenders around the league.
Of course, with the new rules regarding free agents, we could see Trade Deadline strategies altered significantly. With that in mind, here are some possible matches for the Royals if and when that fire sale begins:
Cain and Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals
With Bryce Harper headed for free agency after the 2018 season, Washington is focused on this two-year window to make a run at the World Series. Adam Eaton is out for the year, and the back of the bullpen continues to be an issue, so Cain and Herrera would fill both holes for the Nats. Cain will be a free agent this offseason, but Herrera makes only $5.325 million this season and is under control through '18 as a fourth-year arbitration-eligible player. Three of Washington's top five prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com, are outfielders, while the Royals' system is pitching-heavy and lacking many position players.
Hosmer to the Astros
Finding a taker for Hosmer could be tricky for the Royals, as most contenders are set at first base for the immediate future. The Dodgers are unlikely to cut ties with the struggling Adrian Gonzalez, but the Astros could view Hosmer as an upgrade over Yuli Gurriel, or at least a left-handed-hitting complement for their righty-heavy lineup. If Kansas City can't find an offer that piques its interest, the Royals could decide to keep Hosmer and collect a Draft pick after the first round -- provided that Hosmer signs a free-agent deal worth at least $50 million, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Moustakas to the Red Sox
Pablo Sandoval's feel-good comeback this season was a nice spring story, but the third baseman sported a .646 OPS through the first 17 games before landing on the disabled list with a right knee injury that has shelved him for the past month. Boston will surely give him a chance to re-establish himself at the hot corner, but if his bat doesn't shape up, a two- or three-month rental of Moustakas -- who has 13 homers -- makes some sense. And Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has never been afraid to move a prospect or two if he sees a chance to improve his team.
Vargas to the Yankees
Vargas may be 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA in two starts against the Yanks this season, but the 34-year-old is 6-1 with a 1.25 ERA against everybody else. A move to the Bronx would assure that Vargas wouldn't have to deal with the Yankees' potent lineup, adding a veteran arm to a rotation that will likely need some reinforcement in the summer months. Hal Steinbrenner has made it clear that he has no interest in picking apart the farm system GM Brian Cashman has built, but the Yanks' B-level prospects carry a lot of value, too. If the Yankees see an opportunity to contend, they won't hesitate to make a move.