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Time running out for core as free agency nears

March 26, 2017

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It has been well-documented that, to some degree, the Royals' window of opportunity could close after 2017.At one point this past offseason, the Royals had six major members of their core set to become free agents after 2017. One of those, closer Wade Davis, was traded for

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It has been well-documented that, to some degree, the Royals' window of opportunity could close after 2017.
At one point this past offseason, the Royals had six major members of their core set to become free agents after 2017. One of those, closer Wade Davis, was traded for Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler. Another, left-hander and staff ace Danny Duffy, signed a five-year, $65 million extension.
Still, four players from the 2015 World Series championship club -- shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas -- will become free agents after this season unless they sign extensions.
So, will the Royals and general manager Dayton Moore be big sellers when the non-waiver Trade Deadline looms in late July? It's possible. Even Moore conceded in Spring Training that the Royals at the very least will have to consider moving one or more of those players if the team suddenly falls out of contention in July.

But here's the big question: Would the Royals consider a fire sale? For one thing, Moore is a fighter, and while he has acknowledged that he can't keep all of his pending free agents, he will battle to keep one or two.
Second, Moore and his staff will not just punt the season if they are even remotely in range of a postseason spot. Remember 2014, when the Royals were seven games out of first in late July and many national scribes and bloggers were adamant that the Royals should sell at the Trade Deadline? Moore held ground, didn't trade any of his core, and the Royals made the postseason and ultimately got to Game 7 of the World Series.
Conversely, Moore and his staff could very well become buyers at the Trade Deadline if they are in the hunt for a postseason spot.
"We know this team and what it is capable of," Moore said early in spring. "The core group knows what it takes to win a championship, and we will do whatever we can in our power to win another championship."
That does not sound like a man thinking a whole lot about selling in late July.
The other factor that would dissuade Moore and his staff from selling is that just because his four pending free agents will file this fall, it doesn't mean they won't end up being Royals anyway.

Two years ago, Alex Gordon filed for free agency, and while many observers assumed he was long gone, Moore found a way to sign Gordon to a long-term deal. That could happen with any of the four pending free agents, all four of whom have expressed a desire to stay long-term with the Royals.
The question becomes which of the four makes the most sense to keep.
Hosmer: The sabermetrics community has long been down on his value, suggesting his defense (three American League Gold Glove Awards) and offense (career-high 25 homers, 104 RBIs in 2016) are overrated. The Royals' coaching staff and front office openly laugh at those suggestions and point to Hosmer's leadership qualities and clutch performances in the postseason, including in the recent World Baseball Classic. A long-term deal is still very much a possibility.

Moustakas: Even though the Royals have a suitable backup in Cheslor Cuthbert, Moustakas was a key element to the 2014 and '15 World Series trips. A more vocal leader than Hosmer, Moustakas, as one Royals coach said recently, "simply wants to win more than your guy. You can't put a sabermetric value on that." Solid chance the Royals find a way to keep him.
Cain: This one is a little more difficult to analyze. He is the engine that often makes the Royals go, and his value was obvious last season when he had to miss the final five weeks because of a hand/wrist injury and the Royals subsequently faded from contention. But he'll be 31 in April with a long history of injuries, thus a tough sell to commit long-term.

Escobar: Royals fans have long been frustrated with his impatience at the plate (.297 career on-base percentage), but Escobar has been regarded as a solid defender (one Gold Glove Award) who is durable (averaging close to 156 games per season since 2010). But the Royals have Raul Mondesi waiting in the wings.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.