At the 2017 trade deadline, Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore had a decision to make. The team he took over in 2006 was at yet another crossroads, and the decision, of course, fell upon his shoulders:
Trade core players that helped lead the franchise to its World Series championship in 2015, the franchise’s first since 1985?
Or keep them and make a run at yet another postseason berth?
Both options had their pros and cons.
If Moore decided to trade players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and others, then Kansas City was basically waiving a white flag for the rest of the season. The rebuild would suddenly be on. Yet, in trading those four players, the Royals would get a jump-start on re-stocking its diminished farm system, which had been depleted in previous year trades in a successful attempt to get the Royals competing.
But if the Royals decided to keep Hoz, Moose, Lo-Cain, and Esky, then Moore would have to make other trades, this time to bolster the club that clearly was not good enough to compete as it was then constructed. It would be a sign of faith, especially to fans, that the Royals would contend for the rest of 2017 while worrying about the future…in the future.
If Moore decided to keep his stars and go for it, then in the offseason, he could either a) try to re-sign some of them or b) offer them a Qualifying Offer that, if rejected, would enable the Royals to snag high compensation draft picks* when that player signed somewhere else.
*The rules for the compensation picks have changed recently. In a nutshell, for the Royals, if a player is offered a Qualifying Offer, rejects it, and then signs with another team for a contract this is worth at least $50 million guaranteed, then the Royals would receive a compensatory draft pick between Rounds 1 and 2 of the MLB amateur draft. If the player signs for a deal less than $50 million guaranteed, the Royals would receive a compensatory draft pick after Round 2.
In the end, Moore did not trade away any big-time names. He made a trade with the San Diego Padres that he believed would shore up the bullpen and add help to the end of the rotation. That was it.
It wasn’t enough.
The Royals buckled down the stretch, finishing 80-82, missing the playoffs for the second straight season after reaching the World Series for two straight seasons. Moore, logically, offered a Qualifying Offer to Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain. All three rejected it.
Today, those three, along with Escobar, remain unsigned.
This, of course, was not the plan.
Hosmer was dubbed one of of the premiere free agents of this class, a young first-baseman with leadership skills, solid offensive numbers, four Gold Gloves, and a World Series ring. His agent, Scott Boras, made the case that any team would love to sign Hosmer–a team that is ready to contend for a championship now, or one that would be ready in a couple of seasons.
Yet Hosmer remains available. The Red Sox and Yankees were both thought to be fits for him, excellent franchises loaded with cash with short fields to right that would enable Hosmer to surpass his career high of 25 HR.
Then the Mets were believed to be a “mystery team,” but they recently signed Jay Bruce to a three-year deal with the belief that he will play some first base.
According to reports, that leaves two teams: the Padres and the Royals, both of whom are believed to have extended offers of at least seven years worth around $20 million annually.
Moustakas, too, remains available. Moose is a SoCal guy, so the belief was that the Angels or Giants would want to nab him, especially after a year in which he broke the Royals single-season record for homers. Instead, it looks like teams are more worried about his knee injuries. The Angels have since signed Zack Cozart, who can play 3B, and Shohei Otani. The Giants, meanwhile, dealt for longtime Rays 3B Evan Longoria.
Not many other teams are looking to spend big on an oft-injured 3B, despite the pop he would bring to the lineup. Other teams loosely associated with Moose are the Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Even fewer teams have been connected to CF Lorenzo Cain. Cain has played some excellent center field while in Kansas City, but he’s on the wrong side of 30. Teams are probably looking at that dreadful contract the Cardinals entered into with Dexter Fowler last season, and thinking, I don’t want that to happen with us and Cain.
Cain’s future is not in center, but he can play there at least another season, if his body holds up. The Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers (the club that drafted Cain) have been connected to him, as were the Giants, who just acquired longtime Pirate Andrew McCutchen. But in this slowest offseason of offseasons, nothing has materialized.
So far, the Royals have only been connected to Hosmer, though it wouldn’t be a huge surprise that if they signed him, they would also consider bringing back Cain and/or Moose for another year or two. Is that the right course of action for this team?
No, it’s not. Here’s why: the Royals are out of contention this upcoming season with or without Hosmer. Without Hosmer, the team still boasts Salvador Perez, arguably the best catcher in the majors; 2B Whit Merrifield; starting pitcher Danny Duffy; and not much else. Without Hosmer, this is a last place team.
With Hosmer–this is not a last place team but a second-to-last place team. And in the scheme of things, that hurts. One, the Royals will lose out on a compensatory pick if Hosmer returns. Two, the difference between going, say, 64-98 and 68-94 could be the difference between the number two overall draft pick and the number five overall draft pick.
And that would happen year after year: the Royals draft a little bit lower, take a player with a little less overall skill, and pay (at least) $20 million to Hosmer while still finishing near the cellar.
It just does not make sense. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros have shown how teams can succeed today: bottom out, draft wisely, develop players, then spend money wisely on free agents, and, finally, compete. It doesn’t always work out (see: Phillies, Philadelphia), but when it does, the dividends are huge.
And, really, that is what Dayton Moore did in the past. The Royals lost. Moore drafted high in the first round. (Hosmer was the 3rd overall pick in 2008, Moustakas the 2nd in 2007.) He developed a top-notch farm system with not only players that were drafted, but also guys acquired through trade (Cain and Escobar as part of the Zack Greinke trade) and signed internationally (Perez). Then he made other moves, trading for MLB-ready players, like Wade Davis, and proven stars, like Johnny Cueto, while signing ancillary pieces, like Kendrys Morales.
For the Royals and Moore, it worked once before. Now is the time for them to do it again. These guys just need to get signed.