Royals concerns revolve around more than pending free agents…
You can’t blame national pundits for latching on to a simplistic narrative.
There are just too many sports, too many teams and too many subplots to keep track of. But the spring training storyline about the Kansas City Royals having a roster full of potential free agents is a little misleading.
It would be more accurate to say the Royals have three significant/beloved players who might sign elsewhere next winner: Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer.
Fans will always appreciate Jason Vargas for his steady pitching during the Royals run to the 2014 American League pennant, but he’s 34 years old and coming back from a UCL tear.
Alcides Escobar has earned Gold Glove and All-Star honors at short stop, but his replacement (Raul Mondesi) is waiting in the wings.
Ian Kennedy is pitching with an option in his contract for 2018, but with Kansas City slated to pay him $16 million that season, it’s unlikely he’ll void that deal and gamble on the open market.
The Royals have already traded away reliever Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson, while locking up Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Danny Duffy to extensions.
That leaves Moustakas, Cain and Hosmer from a core of homegrown players who helped revive the franchise.
And each one of their futures comes with a warning sign.
Moustakas, who suffered a torn ACL last year, has produced just one season with a WAR above 4.0, and third base is actually a position of depth for Kansas City.
Cain’s days in centerfield may be numbered. He’s only played more than 130 games in a season twice, and was limited to 103 last year because of injuries.
Hosmer owns the biggest upside, and will likely draw the most attention. His agent, Scott Boras, talked this week about preliminary negotiations with the Royals, but it sounded like posturing.
The odds of keeping Hosmer in Kansas City seem slim. Moustakas and Cain may also be longshots.
But that’s not what the Royals should be alarmed about.
While everyone chatters about a possible mass exodus – either through trade deadline deals or offseason bidding – they tend to overlook the age factor.
Did you know Kansas City’s projected 25-man roster will feature 12 guys over 30 (six pitchers, six position players)?
If not, don’t feel bad. Most people don’t.
It might not be discussed much, but the Royals are quietly heading toward a slide from contention that is similar to what the Philadelphia Phillies experienced after the 2000s.
Money wasn’t the reason Philadelphia went into a decline after winning back to back pennants. The Phillies were weighted down by all the maladies that eventually hound every professional sports organization. Players can’t maintain a certain level of performance. The chemistry (or whatever intangible forces you believe in) is just never quite the same. And yes, you have injuries and departures.
In other words, things just run their course.
Losing Hosmer would hurt. He, along with Perez, has been the face of Kansas City’s second golden age.
But his persona might be more difficult to replace than his raw statistics.
It’s very likely we’ve seen Cain’s best days. He influences games more than any other Royals player (hitting, drawing walks, stealing bases and elite defense), but a long-term investment could be financially reckless.
Moustakas, another Boras client, would be less risky, but neither side seems to be showing much interest in getting something done before the season.
Look, there’s no denying the Royals’ renaissance may be coming to an end. But the reasons why are more varied and complicated than many of the national pundits would have to believe.