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KC should keep core together for another run

It's worth losing key free agents for shot at World Series title
MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

The Royals, as much as any organization, can appreciate the challenge of winning a World Series championship. They won their first in 1985 -- their 17th year of existence. They then went 29 years before getting back to the postseason again, and it was 30 years before they could claim a second World Series title.

So while the pundits were planning for a major unloading of veteran players by the franchise in the next few weeks, Royals general manager Dayton Moore and his staff had other plans. Yes, they knew their club was struggling, but they are also aware that the defending American League Central champion Indians, who also won the 2016 AL pennant, were trying to play catch-up themselves with the Twins, who broke out to an early season lead.

The Royals, as much as any organization, can appreciate the challenge of winning a World Series championship. They won their first in 1985 -- their 17th year of existence. They then went 29 years before getting back to the postseason again, and it was 30 years before they could claim a second World Series title.

So while the pundits were planning for a major unloading of veteran players by the franchise in the next few weeks, Royals general manager Dayton Moore and his staff had other plans. Yes, they knew their club was struggling, but they are also aware that the defending American League Central champion Indians, who also won the 2016 AL pennant, were trying to play catch-up themselves with the Twins, who broke out to an early season lead.

That fed the competitive fires for Moore, a student at Garden City Community College in Kansas back in 1985 who tells the story of parking alongside I-70 and watching the Royals finish off the Cardinals in Game 7 of that World Series.

Yes, the Royals have a handful of key players facing free agency, and any one of them would be attractive to a contender as the non-waiver Trade Deadline nears on July 31. And that's why Moore, while kicking tires just in case to determine interest, never blinked. He believed in the talent Kansas City had in place and knew Cleveland wasn't creating an impossible hill to climb to regain the AL Central title.

So far, so good.

As the fireworks were being shot off on the Fourth of July, the Royals were in Seattle, knocking off the Mariners to claim their 17th victory in the past 23 games, and Kansas City was tied with the Twins on Wednesday morning, just 1 1/2 games back of the now division-leading Indians.

Video: KC@SEA: Hosmer on Duffy in win, gets doused by Perez

Teams who were thinking they could beef up their roster by taking advantage of the Royals and the fact that free agency awaits shortstop Alcides Escobar, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman and AL Final Vote candidate Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, left-handed reliever Mike Minor and left-hander Jason Vargas had better think again.

Sure, it's a gamble to head down the stretch with five quality potential free agents, particularly for a franchise that is not a big spender, but the bigger gamble -- as the Royals know from history -- is not taking advantage of a postseason opportunity when it's a very realistic possibility.

It's not like this Kansas City team suddenly got hit by lightning and is winning for reasons beyond explanations.

It is winning because the key players -- particularly those potential free agents -- have been performing like key players the past 23 games. And really that's not surprising. The surprise was how the Royals stumbled early.

A team that average 3.6 runs per game in its first 60 games of the season while hitting just .236, is averaging 5.6 runs per game with a .283 batting average since June 10.

Video: MIN@KC: Escobar doubles down the line to score Moss

Escobar, who struggled in what had been his primary position with Kansas City of hitting leadoff (.176), has flourished in the No. 8 slot (.290). He's one of seven Royals regulars hitting .254 or better in the past 23 games, carrying a team-best .344 average in those 23 games. Five Kansas City players, in fact, are hitting .300 or better in that stretch. Eric Hosmer was the only Royals regular hitting above .300 prior to June 10, and even he has raised his average from .309 to .313 in the past 23 games.

Vargas, who has been the consistent pitcher in the rotation from Day 1 this season, has improved his season record to 12-3 with four wins in the Royals' past 23 games, and Kansas City has benefited from a rejuvenated Ian Kennedy, who opened the season 0-6 with a 5.33 ERA in his first 10 starts, but is 3-0 with a 2.97 the past five. And on Tuesday, Danny Duffy returned from a five-week stint on the disabled list, pitching 5 2/3 strong innings for the victory in Seattle.

Video: KC@SEA: Duffy fans Seager in the 4th

And Minor has been a mainstay in the bullpen, having made 33 appearances with a 1.96 ERA and allowing only a .200 average for the season -- including a 1.80 ERA and .225 batting average in the 23-game rise to contention.

Yes, it's a sudden surge over 23 games.

No, it's not foolish for the Royals to believe good things await. What they did early was the head-shaking moment. What they have done lately has merely been to play at the level they have established they are capable of attaining.

It's more than reason enough for Moore and Co. to stand behind the roster they have in place.

It's not out of the question that one or two or three of the potential free agents could decide they'd rather stay in Kansas City than take their careers elsewhere.

And even if they don't, if the five can push this team to another World Series championship, the gamble will be worth it.

The Royals, after all, fully understand how difficult it is to get back to a World Series, much less claim another title.

They know the real value in their potential free agents would be helping this team return to the postseason this year.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.