After a less-than-impressive 2017 season, the Kansas City Royals started the offseason with an uncertain future. Of the core group of players who led the team to the World Series Championship, only Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrera had contracts extending past 2017. Other members of the core championship team that attended consecutive World Series in 2014 and 2015 are new free agents, including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain. Jason Vargas, a shining star in a disappointing 2017 season, also entered free agency after the end of the season.
This drop-off in talent was inevitable. For years, the Royals organization, and the baseball world in general, recognized the “deadline” on the team’s run at playoff contention. After game seven of the World Series in 2014 and the team’s incredible 2015 run, the Royals were poised for a short-lived dynasty. However, shortcomings in the 2016 and 2017 season and the loss of several key players ended the revived Royals’ reign.
In preparation for the loss of so many players, the Royals front office gave players like Gordon, Ian Kennedy and Perez contracts unprecedented in length and value in Royals history.
Gordon’s four-year $72 million contract, signed in January 2016, is the largest in club history. His performance since is underwhelming. His offensive output is pathetic and his defensive skills fail to compare to before the signing. Kennedy’s contract is the second largest in club history at four-years and $70 million. He failed to be the ace the organization desperately hoped for when signing him in 2016. Neither contract has proved fruitful. Both players are relatively old to play under such luxurious terms and both fail to perform well enough to justify the money. Gordon’s contract is redeemable inasmuch as it retained the franchise in an unstable time, yet it committed money the Royals simply didn’t have to an aging player.
Perez signed a five-year $52.5 million deal in 2016. Perez is one of the best catchers in the major leagues and exudes the spirit of the Royals. Extending his deal secured the team a leader and fan favorite for years.
When free agents went on the market this offseason, these three major contracts tied up money that could have gone to keeping other core players. According to unconfirmed reports, the team offered Hosmer a seven-year $150 million contract. The highest valued free agent from the Royals this year, Hosmer signed an eight-year $144 million deal with the San Diego Padres. He was the only free agent the Royals seriously pursued, other than resigning Escobar to a one-year deal after a horrendous 2017 season.
The Royals postseason aspirations in 2016 and 2017 kept them from creating solid, long-term plans for their limited, small-market money. This hesitation left the club without a concrete plan heading into this offseason. Without the money to pay players who could revive the team’s standing, the club is forced into a rebuilding period. The Royals failed to pursue deals with Cain, Moustakas and Vargas.
The team rode a wave of hope into 2017, betting on the possibility of a glorious end to an epic reign, but they lost sight of the unfortunate reality that small market teams cannot compete on a long-term scale in the current state of the major leagues. The team would have been better off solidifying a plan before this off-season to rebuild or pursue high caliber players for another last-ditch effort for a postseason run.
The club is poised to go through another rebuilding period, reminiscent of the one leading up to the 2014-15 seasons. They’ve signed minor league players and are emphasizing strengthening their farm system.
Photo courtesy of sandiegotribune.com