NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The logical move for the Royals would be to trade two of their potential free agents, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and closer Wade Davis. Jarrod Dyson could replace Cain, Kelvin Herrera could replace Davis, and the Royals still could be quite competitive in 2017.
But that isn’t the only possible solution. It can’t be the only possible solution. The Royals are in a bind that everyone saw coming, a bind they will need to address, if not at the winter meetings, then certainly between now and the non-waiver trade deadline on Aug. 1.
Four prominent Royals in addition to Cain and Davis are entering their free-agent years — first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar and left-hander Danny Duffy.
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The Royals, according to major-league sources, will be open-minded in trade discussions on all of those players — well, maybe not so much on Hosmer — as well as longer-term assets such as right-handers Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy. (Kennedy, if he opts out after next season and receives a $6 million buyout, would forfeit three guaranteed years worth $49 million.)
Budget is a problem — the Royals project a $148 million payroll for their 40-man roster, and believe their break-even point to be around $115 million to $120 million, sources say. Others surely would dispute the latter figures, but the Royals clearly believe that they need to take a step back.
General manager Dayton Moore already has said that the payroll likely would “regress a little bit” from last season, when the team opened at around $135 million. But this isn’t just cutting payroll. It’s also about trying to sustain success.
In theory, the Royals could carry all of their potential free agents through ‘17, make each a qualifying offer and collect draft picks following the first round for every one who signs a contract above $50 million — a new stipulation under the collective-bargaining agreement.
Realistically, a low-revenue team such as the Royals never would make qualifying offers to six players, not when the QO likely will be in the $18 million range next offseason. The Royals also might not want to direct their limited resources to six high picks, not when the alternative is acquiring prospects with professional track records in trades.
So, the best thing they can do is pick and choose this offseason, see how they fare in the first half, then pick and choose some more.
The trades of Cain and Davis could bring back talent that would help in ’17 and beyond while clearing payroll for other pursuits. The Royals then could reassess at the deadline and try to extend some of their potential free agents — Hosmer, Moustakas if he rebounds from an injury-marred season, maybe Escobar.
Of course, Hosmer and Moustakas are represented by Scott Boras, which only complicates matters. Boras prefers his clients to establish their values on the open market. It’s difficult to imagine the Royals outbidding high-revenue teams for Hosmer. Perhaps the only way they could keep him would be if he accepted far less — a lot to ask of a player who would be a free agent at 28.
The bottom line is this: The Royals’ 2018 roster would be almost barren if they lost most or all of their free agents and received only draft picks in return. The team’s TV deal expires after the ’19 season, so perhaps financial relief is coming. Regardless, the Royals will need players. They can re-sign some. They can trade some. The one thing they can’t do is sit still.