Earlier this week, Shaun Newkirk at Royals Review discussed the Royals payroll going forward and what they should consider doing in that regard.  His payroll analysis, like many others, pegs the Royals at being committed to (this includes potential arbitration awards) right around $100 million for 2016 right now, with the possibility of the 2017 payroll being nearly $130 million WITHOUT adding anyone new this or next off-season.

Yes, my friends, there is a reckoning coming.

My belief is there are two paths to take for the Royals.  The first is to try to soften the inevitable end of this current core group of World Champions.  They could make moves that will keep them from falling back to a 90 loss team in 2018 and 2019.  This plan of action likely means building the 2016 and 2017 Royals to be 85-90 win teams instead of 90-95 win teams.  Hey, a lot of 88 win teams make the playoffs.  It is not an illogical idea at all.

On the other hand, one could ride this group hard.  The Royals won 89 games, then they won 95 and – not sure if you heard – the World Series.  They control the majority of the players that have been winners for two seasons for two more seasons.  Bolster the group, keep charging, spend the money and be a playoff team for two more seasons and worry about three years from now three years from now.  It is not an illogical idea at all.

Shaun is a young guy, a finance guy.  In his article he advocates saving your money for something better down the road.  Smart.

I am an old guy, a venture capitalist guy.  I believe in putting my money to work for a goal I can see in the near term.  Not dumb.

If the Royals were to follow my plan (and my gut, by the way, says they will try for something of a hybrid of the two), they have to first decide if they really are a 2016 playoff team.  That statement sounds stupid on the surface, doesn’t it?  After all this was a no-fluke World Champion with essentially 20 of their 25 man roster coming back.  Playoffs?  You betcha.  Let’s take a look anyway.

As it stands right now, the Royals are minus Alex Gordon, Ben Zobrist and Alex Rios from the offensive side of the equation.  Although they don’t play the same position, Rios has already been replaced by the return of Omar Infante.  Gordon is projected to land a contract somewhere around five years and $90 million.  Zobrist is projected to land one in the three year/$36 million range. If the Royals have around $30 million to spend this off-season, they could get both Gordon and Zobrist back….and that would be the extent of any major or even minor free agent activity for the team.   When 2018 rolled around and Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, Escobar, Davis and Duffy are all free agents, the Royals would have a 38 year old Zobrist and a 34 year old Gordon taking up $28 million of payroll per season.

Without resigning Gordon or Zobrist, the Royals could conceivably fill one outfield spot with a Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando combination.  Defensively, they would be quite good.  Offensively, the two in combination would likely hold their own, but they will not post on-base percentages of .364…or .377.   Maybe the Royals sign one of Gordon and Zobrist to play the corner opposite Dylando.  Is that a playoff lineup?

For the pitching staff, let’s go with who is coming back.  The rotation currently has Volquez, Ventura, Duffy and Medlen.  The bullpen contains Davis, Herrera, Hochevar and….   Yeah, there’s some work to do.  Johnny Cueto (thanks for Game 5 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the Series, Johnny!) is and always has been leaving.  Ryan Madson wants a multi-year deal, which is probably not a good deal for the Royals.  Chris Young is a free agent who might get more than he should given his injury history, age and the fact that you have to tell yourself you are buying in for 140 innings per year.  Franklin Morales is a free agent, too and Greg Holland is hurt.

Now, there is a chance that the four starting pitchers currently on the roster could be quite good.  There is also a chance that they could be an inconsistent mess as well.  Let’s put it this way, a playoff 2016 Royals is going to need more than Louis Coleman and Tim Collins between its starting rotation and the new HHD.  They likely will also want more than the hope of Kyle Zimmer to fill the fifth spot in the rotation.

So, what DOES make the 2016 version of the Royals a real (as opposed to a hopeful) playoff team?

It is at least the signing of one of Gordon or Zobrist (or an equally capable bat who can play defense) and, quite honestly, a right handed bat better than Paulo Orlando to platoon with Dyson.  It will take a starting pitcher from the mid-tier of those available.  If Chris Young wanted to come back at a nominal price for the fun of it, who would not love to have him as your swing man?  It will take, as the Royals already seem to be on the hunt for, another quality relief pitcher and the next Ryan Madson.

Painting with a broad brush, that previous paragraph just cost David Glass $30 million.  For that, Mr. Glass, you get the chance to hang up another flag in the outfield.

Sadly, and this hurts, the logical move is to sign Zobrist and not Gordon.  At the plate, they are similar players, but Zobrist is at most a three year commitment (and one would hope most of the aging for Ben would occur in year three of the deal) and Ben brings some versatility.  You sign Zobrist to play a corner outfield spot, but you can use him at second or third or even shortstop in a pinch.  With Gordon, you are buying into two more years (I will offer that you would trust Alex’s decline to be slight for most of that contract given his work ethic and how he takes care of his body, but you never know) and pretty much getting a left-fielder that entire time.

You go sign a mid-level (maybe low mid-level) starting pitcher and good reliever and, if Dayton Moore catches a break and still have $5 million of his $30 to play with, see what you can get as far as another reliever and an right-handed outfield bat.   If everything breaks right and one of your starting pitchers steps up into top of the rotation class and this team could be on-par with the World Champions.   The Royals would also be positioned (albeit with an even larger and likely money losing payroll in 2017) to be just as good that year.

It would sadly position this organization for a hard crash landing in 2018, but I will tell you that going 68-94 in 2018 would be far more tolerable if it was coming off three straight 90 win playoff campaigns.  I think I make that trade, myself.

If you can look at a roster and be pretty confident that three realistic additions to your team makes you a playoff team, I think you have to reach out and make the moves.  The farther you look into the future, the less facts you have and your plans to be a winning team five years from now might well get derailed through no fault of your own.  We can all make some pretty good theories for 2018 and 2019, but we can stare facts in the face for 2016 and 2017.

What the hell?  Go for it and pick up the pieces three years from now.