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Hosmer to impact Royals' direction at Meetings

Decision on free-agent bopper could determine whether club retools or rebuilds
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- Get ready for a potential wild ride at the Winter Meetings with the Royals.

They don't know what direction they will go -- will they try to contend for a playoff spot in 2018 or will they pivot toward a total rebuild? Or something in between? Depending on how things go over the next seven to 10 days, that could mean dealing such familiar players as Danny Duffy, Whit Merrifield, Kelvin Herrera and even Salvador Perez.

KANSAS CITY -- Get ready for a potential wild ride at the Winter Meetings with the Royals.

They don't know what direction they will go -- will they try to contend for a playoff spot in 2018 or will they pivot toward a total rebuild? Or something in between? Depending on how things go over the next seven to 10 days, that could mean dealing such familiar players as Danny Duffy, Whit Merrifield, Kelvin Herrera and even Salvador Perez.

Hot Stove Tracker

The domino effect will start with first baseman Eric Hosmer. The Royals could re-sign Hosmer for a figure that would be unprecedented in team history. Rumors suggest Hosmer could get as much as $175 million to $200 million in a multiyear deal.

The biggest contract the Royals have handed out was to Alex Gordon -- four years for $72 million -- prior to the 2016 season.

But the Royals believe Hosmer could be worth the stretch. He is a fantastic clubhouse presence and is coming off a career year -- .318 average, 25 homers, 94 RBIs and an American League Gold Glove Award. Hosmer also is general manager Dayton Moore's type of player -- active in the community, a major presence with younger players and a dynamic force on the field.

But if Hosmer signs elsewhere during the Winter Meetings, the Royals' approach could change dramatically. Moore has told MLB.com he would consider trading virtually anyone on the 25-man roster for prospects who could improve the team's outlook going forward.

It might all depend on what happens with Hosmer.

If the Royals were able to sign Hosmer, they could go virtually all in again toward a playoff run in a division in which only the Indians and Twins are legitimate contenders. Or if Hosmer signs elsewhere, Kansas City could back up the truck do a full rebuild aimed at making another pennant run in 2020-21.

"We just have to see what the market dictates," Moore said. "We're prepared for all possibilities."

The Royals have nine free agents who could potentially walk, including Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, who hit a franchise-record 38 home runs in 2017.

Video: Moustakas is Players Choice for AL Comeback Player

Club needs

First base: If the Royals cannot land Hosmer, they will probably look internally to find a replacement, and that could be an opening for Hunter Dozier, the club's third-ranked prospect. They do have Brandon Moss for one more year, but club officials believe Dozier has far greater upside defensively than Moss, who obviously is more of a DH type. There's a slim chance the Royals would look to the free-agent market to replace Hosmer with someone like Logan Morrison, who is a Kansas City native, is coming off a career year with the Rays and has expressed a desire to return to his roots.

Closer: The Royals were not optimistic that they would be able to sign left-handed reliever Mike Minor, who emerged in September as the team's closer in place of Herrera. Minor was 6-for-6 in save opportunities and wowed scouts with his 96-97 mph fastball and dominant cutter, but he recently signed a multiyear deal with the Rangers. Who will close in 2018 is now up in the air. Even in down years, Moore always has placed great value on a shutdown bullpen, his philosophy being that you better win the games that you have in hand. The Royals could be in the market for a promising young arm with closer-type stuff.

Video: Maurer looks to be fixture in Royals bullpen

Who they can trade if necessary

Anyone: Royals fans shouldn't be alarmed by this, but Moore has made it clear that if they go the course of a total rebuild, any player could be dealt for the right price. And that includes Duffy, Herrera, Perez, Merrifield -- anyone who can bring value back for a future run at the postseason. "Honestly, we have to explore all possibilities in our situation," Moore said.

Top prospects

Raul Mondesi was once a top prospect and now is expected to contribute. Dozier had an injury-filled 2017, but the organization believes he could contribute on the big league level in '18. In a rebuild, you'll likely see hard-thrower Josh Staumont (No. 9) or crafty left-hander Foster Griffin (No. 6) at some point in '18. And certainly keep an eye on shortstop Nicky Lopez (No. 11) -- who tore up the Arizona Fall League this year -- as a potential middle infielder very soon.

Video: Lopez earns Fall League Player of the Week honors

Rule 5 Draft

The Royals' 40-man roster sits at 37 after they non-tendered speedy outfielder Terrance Gore, though they re-signed him to a Minor League deal. For one of the rare times in the last six or seven years, the Royals could be in position to grab a Rule 5 pick and keep him on the 25-man roster for the entire season, especially if they go into total rebuild mode.

Big contracts they might unload

As mentioned, Moore is keeping all of his options open, and one might be gutting his payroll in a total rebuild. That might mean finding takers for right-hander Ian Kennedy (still owed $48.5 million), Duffy (owed $60 million), right-hander Jason Hammel (owed $11 million), reliever Joakim Soria (owned $10 million), etc. The Royals are at a crossroads between trying to compete or going for the rebuild.

Payroll summary

The Royals gambled that in 2016-17 they still had enough talent and energy to make more postseason runs, so owner David Glass approved record payrolls each season. The '17 payroll exceeded $150 million, per club sources. Those payrolls were approved on faith that the Royals would make some postseason revenue, which didn't happen. Now the bill comes due. Glass has caught pennant fever the last four years and he may roll the dice again in '18, but he won't subsidize huge losses year after year. A lot of this depends on the possible signing of Hosmer.

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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