Okay, even if the Royals and Alex Gordon do agree to the mutual option for a fifth year, there is still at least one more contract in Gordon’s future. It very well might not be with Kansas City at that point, but for right now it feels like he will always be a Royal. That’s good enough…for a while.
Certainly the vast majority of Royals’ fandom was elated with the $72 million deal that was announced yesterday. It locks in (or at least allows the Royals the ability to lock in) the core of this team – hell, pretty much all of this team – for both 2016 and 2017. If you are willing to just accept the whole ‘Omar Infante’ thing, the World Champions will have eight returning starters from last year’s Opening Day lineup with seven of those having started for the 2014 American League Champions as well. Some people don’t care for and discount the talk of ‘windows’ in baseball, but I think it is a real concept and one that very much applies to a smallish market team. In that sense, the Royals are really in year three of a four year window that has thus far yielded two World Series appearances and one championship. So far, so good.
Now, for the angst and there will be angst. There are those who just won’t be happy or can’t stay happy or like to be contrarians or have real fears of what the future holds that do have actual factual foundation. To be clear, I am not a member of any of those groups. I’m ecstatic Alex Gordon is back and that the Royals spent the money to do so. I am willing to wager that age 34/35 Alex Gordon is going to resemble more Ben Zobrist and than Jose Guillen. Let’s have a little fun and look into the future, through Alex Gordon tinted sunglasses.
With the possible exception of someone to share time with Jarrod Dyson in the outfield, you know what the lineup will be: Gordon, Cain, Moustakas, Escobar, Infante, Hosmer, Morales, Perez. While Dayton Moore is still pursuing a starting pitcher and, with Gordon making ‘just’ $12 million this season, he has some ability to do so, the rotation currently is Volquez, Ventura, Duffy, Medlen and Young with the hope that Kyle Zimmer comes along at some point. The bullpen? Yes, you could do a whole lot worse than Davis, Herrera, Soria and Hochevar and, in fact, 27 or 28 teams will likely readily admit that they will do worse than that.
Hey, it is tough to repeat. The division is better, other teams are not standing still and the 2016 Royals would not be the first World Champion defenders to slump. The fear is that this squad suffers from a not very uncommon post-season hangover and David Glass stews his way through the summer wondering why his $135 million dollar payroll is playing .500 baseball. It could happen, if for no other reason than the current starting rotation could turn into a hot mess.
Now, the current starting rotation, could also turn into a pretty salty unit. Volquez is, let’s face it, pretty much Volquez. I would not call him a ‘rock’, but you have a decent idea of what you are generally going to get. Chris Young is going to give you 120 or so innings of decent work. However, we are just one season removed from thinking Yordano Ventura was going to turn into an ace. We have seen Danny Duffy be brilliant and we have seen him be awful, could he maybe just settle down and be solid? Kris Medlen? While you can see lots of red flags, you can also see lots of ability as well. Listen, with the bullpen the Royals have, it is not really dreaming to think that Ventura-Duffy-Medlen could provide six innings of really good pitching most every night.
Bottom line, even without adding another starter, the 2016 Royals have to be a favorite to make it back to the playoffs. I will entertain opinions that Kansas City might be more wild-card than division winner, but if last year’s roster won 95 games it is hard for me to see how this year’s is not capable of winning 90.
Fifty-eight million dollars (give or take a couple of million between friends) allows the Royals to pick up the 2017 options for Davis, Escobar, Volquez, Morales, Medlen, Perez and Hochevar. They will have to swallow some big arbitration numbers for Hosmer, Cain, Moustakas and Herrera (among others). The Royals have a fair amount of control to bring back the entire 2016 roster should they so choose. Morales, Medlen and Hochevar are mutual options, so take those for what they are worth. At $11 million for an aging DH, there is a chance the Royals might be able to get Kendrys Morales back for this season. It might be a rare case where the mutual option is both worth the money and about all the player could expect on the open market. All options picked up or agreed to and they would end up with a payroll likely nearing $150 million in doing that and, let’s face it, I don’t see that happening.
That said, another playoff appearance in 2016 would likely keep David Glass in a $130 million dollar state of mind for this season. The hope would be that Kyle Zimmer becomes KYLE ZIMMER and Yordano Ventura is coming off a season that warrants his contract. If so, the Royals might well buy out the option on Volquez or let Medlen walk. Depending on what Raul Mondesi does in 2016, the Alcides Escobar option is not a sure thing, although I think it probably is picked up.
Being realistically optimistic, the lineup probably shakes out as Gordon, Cain, Dyson, Moustakas, Escobar, Infante/Colon, Hosmer, Perez and somebody to DH. I love Kendrys Morales’ approach at the plate, but something tells me one side or the other declines the mutual option. One hopes this core group is by now being challenged by Bubba Starling and Raul Mondesi. With or without Morales, this is an expensive lineup in 2017, but one that you can (and have already) win a championship with.
Should the Royals not sign a free agent starter prior to the 2016 season, it would seem an Edinson Volquez option pick up is almost a certainty, keeping the veteran in a rotation that plus or minus Medlen, strongly resembles the 2016 group. The bullpen will likely swap out Hochevar for an Almonte or someone, but likely be similarly dominant.
To be honest, I don’t know that an 83-79 2016 campaign means that the 2017 Royals could not win a World Series. I don’t think the Royals will fall back that far in 2016 and, assuming they do not, Glass and Moore are not dismantling the 2017 squad before it has a chance to establish itself as a fourth consecutive post-season squad. Enjoy the ride, kids, it gets bumpy from here on out.
Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez (team option), Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera (arbitration). That is your current 2018 roster. Yes, they hold team options on Chris Young and Omar Infante if that makes you feel better. Those of you who think the Royals MIGHT have won the World Series without Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist can chime in here to note that the 2018 rotation could have included all those young pitchers traded away. I will counter that the Royals DID win the World Series with a pretty fair amount of assistance from Zobrist and Cueto in the post-season. I’m okay with picking up the pieces in 2018.
Extensions prior to free agency? I think a lot of that is a pipe dream. Of Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, et.al. I think maybe….maybe, you can get one to a deal that takes them beyond the 2017 campaign. I think Cain is the most likely to get a deal done, but probably the one with the most risk as well. If you were/are worried about an age 34 Alex Gordon, you should be scared to death of the thought of a 33-34 year old Lorenzo Cain who is a step and one-half slower than the one you know now and can’t stay on the field for more than 120 games.
Offensively, the organization has to hope that Mondesi and Starling are bonafide major league regulars. Playing the extension game and knocking wood for good health, a Gordon-Starling-Cain outfield is not bad to build around. On the mound, we still are pinning are hopes on a quality one-two Ventura-Zimmer punch with the back end of the bullpen likely being Soria and Herrera. Wade Davis? THAT will be an interesting discussion in the winter of 2017 won’t it? Scared of Gordon, frightened of an aging Cain? What are your thoughts on a 32 year old closer?
The upside of all this is that the Royals, even if Glass dictates a payroll of say $90 million, would have something along the lines of $40 million to play with in the open market. God knows what $40 million buys by 2018, but it buys something. I am playing this scenario out as if the 2016 and 2017 Royals are contenders and maintained essentially intact, which means no trading of Hosmer for prospects in July of 2017 (or similar scenarios) and as such the 2018 and 2019 Royals are mostly Gordon, Perez and a whole bunch of imagination. That is okay, I think, as long as the prior two years are what we all hope they will be.
I can imagine all sorts of things going right and Dayton Moore making big splashes with a couple of free agent signings and still do not see the 2018 Royals being any better than a .500 team. Quite frankly, they could be considerably worse than that, but they will be an organization with money to spend. Depending on the appetite of ownership, they could have a lot of money to spend, with a new television contract finally coming up on the horizon. That might go a long way towards making the inevitable 2018 rebuild a lot shorter than one might think.
Playoffs in 2018? Nope.
Playoffs in 2019? It is not impossible to see it, not anymore.