The Royals aren't going to completely blow it up and rebuild in 2017, though a look at what the White Sox have added by doing exactly that ought to make it at least a little appealing. This is a team that went 81-81 in 2016 despite being outscored by 37 runs, and they entered the offseason with eight prominent players entering the final year of their contracts. No matter whether they build for the future now or try to load up for one final push in 2017, this is a team that will very soon look very, very different from the group that won back-to-back American League pennants as well as the 2015 World Series.
We saw the beginning of that process when Wade Davis was traded to the Cubs for Jorge Soler, swapping an elite reliever with one year of control remaining for a talented-if-unproven outfielder who can play in the Majors right now and is under contract through 2020. Judging by the number of trade rumors still swirling around, that deal feels more like the tip of the iceberg than the only move of the offseason.
So let's say that all seven remaining free agents are actually available. Which ones have the most trade value? Remember, "most trade value" is not the same thing as "best player," because contracts, age and the needs of potential trade partners factor in. The impact of the new CBA is somewhat overstated on the Royals, because their better free agents will get deals above $50 million, giving Kansas City a similar pick between the first and second round as it would have received under the old system.
Let's count down those impending free agents from least value to most. What's interesting is that after you go through this, your opinion on what the Royals actually ought to do in 2017 may have changed.
7. Jason Vargas
You forgot about him, didn't you? Signed to a four-year, $32 million contract following the 2013 season, Vargas gave the Royals one decent year in the rotation before missing most of 2015 and '16 with Tommy John surgery. He finally returned to throw 12 September innings and could factor into the '17 rotation, but he isn't likely to be an appealing trade option for now.
Best fit: Royals
6. Alcides Escobar
Escobar had some huge postseason moments for the Royals, but over the past four seasons, he's hit .259/.290/.336. Throw in the fact that there's just not much of a market for shortstops this offseason, as every contender has the position settled, and that Kansas City doesn't really have anyone ready to replace him on a full-time basis, and there's not much impetus for a move here.
Best fit: Royals
5. Eric Hosmer
Hosmer took a step back in his age-26 season. His on-base percentage dropped from .363 to .328, and his slugging dropped from .459 to .433. The resulting 101 wRC+ made him a league-average hitter, and that made him 19th of 23 qualified first basemen. While there are several contenders who could use a first baseman, there are also plenty of free-agent options remaining, like Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter. For their part, the Royals aren't going to consider trading Hosmer if they still want to contend, and they wouldn't be likely to get back the value they'd demand anyway. Hosmer is a solid enough player, yet it's hard to see any trade here.
Best fit: Royals
4. Mike Moustakas
Moustakas injured his right knee in May and missed the rest of the season, so even though he's expected to be ready for Opening Day, you understand why a potential suitor would be apprehensive in trading for him. Like shortstop, there's not a strong market at third base, either, which limits the options, particularly with the Dodgers reportedly bringing back Justin Turner. That said, Cheslor Cuthbert proved himself to be a solid enough replacement while Moustakas was hurt, and the 2017 Steamer projections have Moustakas at an above-average .267/.329/.467 (111 wRC+) with 24 homers. Teams that miss out on Turner could gamble on the knee, since Moustakas has proven to be an above-average player.
Best fits: Red Sox, Giants, Cardinals
3. Jarrod Dyson
We know that the A's have been interested in Dyson, and they're probably not the only ones. Dyson is exactly what he's always been, which is an outstanding defensive center fielder who steals around 30 bases a year in part-time play and is a bit below average as a hitter. That's not a star, but it's valuable, especially because he'll make less than $3 million in his final year of arbitration, and because the Royals have so many outfielders right now. In addition to Dyson, Soler, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon, Kansas City has Paulo Orlando, Whit Merrifield, Billy Burns, Jorge Bonifacio, Hunter Dozier and others as options. While trading Dyson would open up some platoon issues, he's unlikely to be a qualifying offer candidate, so trading him now rather than losing him after 2017 makes sense.
Best fit: A's, Blue Jays
2. Lorenzo Cain
Like with Dyson, the Royals' outfield depth allows this kind of trade to be considered, and Cain is a superior hitter to Dyson, while being able to handle both center and right. His $11 million contract for 2017 is eminently reasonable, but the big question is what Cain really is. Cain broke out in 2014 and '15, hitting .304/.351/.447 (119 wRC+) before falling back in '16 to .287/.339/.408 (98 wRC+). That might be in part due to a left wrist injury that plagued him later in the season, but it also looks a lot more like his career norms than the two previous seasons did. Either way, a league-average hitter who is a good center fielder is a valuable player. Cain will cost less than Andrew McCutchen, anyway.
Best fits: Mets, Orioles, Giants (if Denard Span played left)
1. Danny Duffy
Did you notice -- did anyone notice -- that Duffy was really, really good last year? After years of trying to stay healthy and productive, Duffy pulled off the neat trick of increasing his strikeout percentage from 17.4 to 25.7 while also dropping his walk rate from 9 percent to 5.8 percent, and he did it in a career-high 179 1/3 innings. It's true that his home run rate increased, but that was true across the Majors, and his swinging-strike rate was the fifth highest of any qualified starter. (He also set a Royals record by striking out 16 Rays in August.) Duffy has been connected to Houston, but plenty of teams would be interested.
Best fits: Astros, Rangers, Rockies, Giants, Marlins