SURPRISE, Ariz. -- After making the World Series in 2014 and winning a championship in '15, a new era of Royals baseball is unfolding.
General manager Dayton Moore kept the 2015 team largely intact the past two seasons, but neither unit finished above .500.
Now, Moore and his staff are moving on and embracing a rebuild. Gone are such stars from the World Series years, such as Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Lorenzo Cain and Greg Holland. But they were able to bring back third baseman Mike Moustakas on a one-year $6.5 million deal with an option for 2019.
Moustakas will rejoin a club that is looking for the next wave of young talent to emerge.
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What's the goal?
Moore went into this offseason hoping to accomplish two goals: shave payroll and start restocking the farm system. Moore has pared the payroll from $154 million down to under $120 million. He did so by unloading the contracts of Brandon Moss and Joakim Soria, as well as by not re-signing free agents like Mike Minor, Jason Vargas, Hosmer and Cain.
Though the Royals made an offer to Hosmer (five years, $100 million), it was trumped by the Padres.
"Economics are a very real part of our situation," Moore said. "We have to be aware of it."
The Royals also acquired prospects like infielder Erick Mejia and pitchers Trevor Oaks and Heath Fillmyer. As a result of the free agents leaving, the Royals added compensatory picks -- which could give them at least four picks in the Top 39 of the Draft. Moore is building for the future.
What's the plan?
Develop, develop, develop. While many of the next wave of prospects (first baseman Nick Pratto, outfielder Khalil Lee, catcher MJ Melendez) are still in the lower Minors, the Royals are ready to see players such as Cheslor Cuthbert, Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler get 500-600 at-bats.
"We have to see what we have with those guys," manager Ned Yost said.
And right behind that trio are Hunter Dozier (outfielder, corner infielder), infielder Raul Mondesi and center fielder Bubba Starling. The focus will not be on wins and losses, or contending -- it will be on discovering what assets are in the club's inventory.
What could go wrong?
Soler, Bonifacio and Cuthbert may not pan out as legitimate starters. The Royals need those three to be proven and productive veterans by the time they add Pratto, Melendez and Lee to the lineup two or three years down the line. They are also counting on Starling, Mondesi and Dozier to emerge within a year -- and that's no given.
The Royals' once dominant bullpen is a shell of itself, and they are hoping young pitchers such as Richard Lovelady, Tim Hill, Eric Stout and Josh Staumont become productive big leaguers in a year or two -- again, no given. The other big question mark is whether the Royals' fan base, which added many new followers after the back-to-back World Series appearances, will be patient with the rebuild. As a small-market team, the Royals can't afford a major drop in attendance.
Who might surprise?
Hill could bring a unique look to the bullpen with his almost-submarine-style delivery from the left side. The Royals are giving him a good, long look early in camp. Mondesi seems ticketed for Triple-A Omaha because shortstop Alcides Escobar was re-signed. But like he did last spring, Mondesi is wowing the coaching staff again with his skill set. Dozier, especially after the signing of first baseman Lucas Duda, and Starling also seem headed for Triple-A, though both could change minds with big springs.