KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There has been an assumption surrounding the Kansas City Royals for years that their window to compete for a championship would close after this season, when the core group of players that ushered the long-downtrodden franchise to a pair of World Series hits free agency.
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, and a bunch of others who not only managed to restore the franchise to respectability but succeeded in winning a championship.
General manager Dayton Moore has never subscribed to that belief.
Everyone else pointed to the challenge of retaining those stars, and the fiscal hurdles he would need to overcome. But Moore insisted there is no reason why Kansas City can’t continue to compete well into the future, even if it takes a crowbar to pry open that window.
“You put together the best team you can each and every year. You go out and prepare to win. You also realize that you have to continue to make adjustments to the roster, not only in the current championships season but also for the future,” Moore said. “So we don’t buy into the assumption that our window is going to close on our team. Rosters do change. You have to manage change effectively.”
The Royals spent the offseason getting a jump start on it.
The first major maneuver was to deal All-Star closer Wade Davis to the Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler. Davis is due to hit free agency next year, so the Royals addressed one of their big needs — a power-hitting outfielder — while getting a player signed through the 2020 season.
Then the Royals sent speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the Mariners for right-hander Nathan Karns. Dyson is also hitting free agency next year, so the pitching-starved Royals got a fifth starter or bullpen piece that is also under club control through 2020.
Sensing a trend here?
The Royals also made a couple of smart moves in free agency, signing designated hitter Brandon Moss to a two-year, $12 million deal and right-hander Jason Hammel to a two-year, $16 million contract — a move that became necessary after Yordano Ventura died in a car crash this offseason.
But perhaps the boldest move was signing left-hander Danny Duffy to a five-year, $65 million contract that ensures he remains with the Royals through the 2021 season. Duffy was arbitration-eligible and, like so many others, could have become a free agent after this season. Duffy has said many times he wanted to remain with Kansas City long-term, but the fact that Moore has been reworking the roster to keep the Royals competitive was also attractive.
“Oh gosh, I would think so,” Duffy said of competing beyond this season. “I definitely think we have an opportunity to sign a couple of our guys back. A lot of guys want to stick around.”
Indeed, there are plenty of difficult decisions still to make.
Hosmer is coming off a season in which he hit .266 with a career-best 25 homers and 104 RBIs, and the first baseman was rewarded with his first All-Star appearance. Moustakas is coming off season-ending knee surgery but, prior to the injury, had been a solid third baseman flashing more power at the plate. Escobar has been steady at shortstop, Cain is a former All-Star and a solid defensive outfielder, and left-hander Jason Vargas is a veteran entering the final year of his contract.
That’s a lot of important pieces who could be playing elsewhere next season.
Manager Ned Yost basically scoffed when asked whether he thinks about any of them reaching free agency, preferring instead to focus solely on the upcoming season.
“I don’t think about it,” he insisted, “so there is no distraction to me.”
But make no mistake, Moore and the rest of his front office are thinking about it.
All the pending free agents have said they’re open to a long-term deal, but the Royals don’t have the resources to sign all of them. Few organizations do. So, they may have to pick and choose based upon who they have waiting in the wings.
Cheslor Cuthbert could be a solution at third base. Raul Mondesi Jr. got a taste of the big leagues last year and could be the heir apparent at shortstop. Young pitchers Matt Strahm, Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte could slide into Vargas’ spot in the rotation.
And if the Royals are out of contention by the trade deadline? All bets are off.
“You have to make sure our process is good at the minor league level and that you are developing players that can transition into the major leagues,” Moore said. “There’s going to be a pool of players that are always available to us as we build our team each and every year.
“But again,” he said, “we’ll focus on this group and approach that at the appropriate time.”