Numerous departures leave Royals with plenty of decisions this spring
SURPRISE, Ariz. — It wasn’t so much about who was on the field for Kansas City Royals‘ first full-squad workout of spring training. It was more notable who wasn’t there.
Several cornerstones of the Kansas City teams that reached the World Series in 2014 and 2015 are in other camps or are still looking for places to play.
First baseman Eric Hosmer agreed to a $144 million contract with the San Diego Padres. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. Left-hander Jason Vargas, an 18-game winner in 2017, signed with the New York Mets. Third baseman Mike Moustakas, who hit a franchise-record 38 home runs last year, remains unsigned.
The Royals clubhouse is full of young, unproven talent pursing a chance to break into the majors or prove they are everyday players.
“The opportunity is abundant and they know that,” manager Ned Yost said. “There’s probably a higher level of excitement because of the new guys. I’m interested and excited to see what they bring to the table.”
“Normally, we’d be pretty set this time of year. We’d have a pretty good idea who the bullpen was going to be, who was going to be playing first base, center field, right field, third base. It’s a little bit different this year,” he said.
The Royals won 80 games last season and 81 in 2016 as general manager Dayton Moore opted to keep together the core group from the championship seasons. The Royals are entering a rebuilding phase.
“Use whatever word you want,” Yost said. “What difference does it make? You can use rebuilding, restocking. The word is not important.”
Yost said it is important is “to teach these guys how to win.”
Left fielder Alex Gordon, whose father died last week, was the only player on the 63-man spring training roster not in camp.
Soler, who was acquired from the Chicago Cubs for closer Wade Davis, reported at 226 pounds after coming in at 245 last year.
“I felt a little bit bigger and a little bit slower, so I wanted to get back to my previous weight,” Soler said through a translator.
Soler hit a disappointing .144 in 35 games last year, while spending most of the season with Triple-A Omaha.
The speedy Gore has 21 stolen bases while being used primarily as a pinch runner in 49 big league games. He weighs 163.
“I’ve gained like four pounds, which is amazing for me because I don’t gain any weight,” Gore said. “I’ve been trying to gain weight for the longest and I finally gained four pounds, so I’m pretty pumped.”
With Hosmer absent, Yost lists his first base candidates as Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier and non-roster invitees Frank Schwindel and Ryan O’Hearn. Cuthbert and Dozier have played mostly third and that position is also vacant with Moustakas likely not returning.
Cuthbert has started two games at first base in the majors. Dozier, a 2013 first-round draft pick, has played in eight big league games, none at first base. Schwindel is the recipient of the 2017 George Brett Award for the best hitter in the organization. He hit a combined .329 with 23 home runs, 43 doubles and 97 RBIs with two minor league clubs last year.
“First base is wide open right now,” Schwindel said. “I’m going to have a good spring and leave them a tough decision to make on me.”
The Royals have a plethora of challenging decisions to make in the next five weeks.
Yost said he would like to get Soler, who is out of options, and Jorge Bonifacio, who hit 17 home runs in 113 games as a rookie, frequent playing time. One could wind up as the designated hitter.
“One of my focuses right now is just to make sure I can get them 500 and 600 at-bats,” Yost said. “That’s what I’m worried about.”