The Royals Should Have Sold at the Trade Deadline

royals core four
Three of the Royals “core four” (Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas, left to right. Alcides Escobar not pictured) say goodbye to Kansas City in what was likely their last game wearing Royals blue. (Photo Courtesy: MLB)

Eleven years ago, Dayton Moore became the General Manager of the Kansas City Royals. He said that he had an eight-to-ten year plan that involved building up the farm system and making a 25-man roster of homegrown players. He would do this through drafting and smart trades (i.e. shipping away Zack Greinke to Milwaukee) rather than signing high-priced free agents. He wanted a team that was developed on chemistry. He assured the fans that it wasn’t just a .500 team that he was aiming for, but promised a World Series Championship. Fans became impatient waiting for things to change. They complained about the players whom the Royals could’ve drafted, but hindsight is 20/20.

In 2014, those complaints would all be for naught as things finally took a turn for the better. After a surge in August, the Royals found themselves in playoff contention. Backed by homegrown players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo CainAlcides Escobar, and Salvador Perez, the Royals won the AL Wild Card and eventually the AL Pennant, leading to their first World Series appearance since 1985. They were unsuccessful in their pursuit of a title that year, but would eventually repeat as AL Champs in 2015 and after defeating the New York Mets in five games, would bring the World Series trophy back to Kansas City for the first time in 30 years. That eight-to-ten year plan that Moore promised? It was spot on. Through drafting and smart trades, he built up a farm system of core players who grew up and developed together from the minors to the majors.

Of course, those good times wouldn’t last into 2016, as they finished 81-81 and in third place in the AL Central. This was due to a number of factors, though the injury bug greatly plagued the Royals that year. Third baseman Mike Moustakas only played in 27 games, Lorenzo Cain only played 103, and Alex Gordon’s offensive decline began in the first year of a 4yr/$72M contract. On top of that, they had major inconsistency in the rotation, having nine different pitchers start games, and only combining for a 4.50 ERA.

They had the same relative misfortunes in 2017. Despite career years from Hosmer and Moustakas (more on that later), they finished in third place in the AL Central once again, this time at 80-82. Alex Gordon’s decline continued, this year slashing .208/.293/.315 and a dreadful 62 OPS+. In addition to that, their pitching staff was, for lack of a better phrase, real bad. They had a team ERA of 4.61, ranking tenth out of 15 teams in the AL, with a team ERA+ of 97 (with 100 being the league average). They traded closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler. The logic of the trade was that Davis was in a contract year and Soler had four years of team control and untapped potential. Soler would end up being…well, we’ll call it “unsatisfactory.” The 25 year old disappointment would play in 35 games and hit .144/.245/.258 with an OPS+ of 34. No, that can’t be right. 34 is way too low. No one could be that bad.

Double checks.

Triple checks.

Quadruple checks.

Nope. That is right. An OPS+ of 34. I need to go lie down.

To be fair, it wasn’t all bad for the 2017 season. On the morning of the trade deadline, the Royals were 55-48 and had a 2.5 game lead for the second wild card spot. Going into the season, the Royals knew that four of their core players would be hitting free agency at the end of the season; those four players being Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Alcides Escobar. So they had two choices: buy and bolster their roster for a possible late-season playoff run, or sell and acquire some prospects to fix a depleted farm system by trading away your expiring contracts.

Dayton Moore chose the former.

The Royals acquired Trevor CahillRyan BuchterBrandon Maurer, and Melky Cabrera. However, they would not help as expected. Aside from Buchter, who compiled a nice 2.67 ERA in 27 IP, Cahill and Maurer would combine for an 8.16 ERA over 36 appearances. Cabrera performed fine, slashing .269/.303/.399, though it was nowhere near his first-half production (.295/.336/.436). You can certainly point to these poor acquisitions as one of the reasons that their season fell apart in the second half (the Royals went 25-34 from July 31st to October 1st).

So here we stand. The Royals missed the playoffs by five games. Hosmer, Cain, and Moustakas are almost certain to sign elsewhere (I don’t believe Escobar’s asking price or interest level will be huge, so the Royals should have a chance to bring him back. Due to this, we won’t be discussing him). Their farm system, as a I said before, isn’t good. They have a whopping zero prospects listed in MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects List. What are they to do?

As I mentioned earlier, Hosmer and Moustakas had career years. Hosmer slashed .318/.385/.498 with a 132 OPS+, all career highs. Though, his defense had never been worse (a career low -7 Rdrs), he still had a career high 4.0 WAR, and I believe Hosmer deserves to be a top five finalist in the AL MVP voting. Moustakas, on the other hand, set the Royals single-season Home Run record with 38. Additionally, Moose’s 85 RBI, .521 SLUG%, .835 OPS, and 75 Runs were all career highs. His defense, too, was terrible, as he cost the Royals eight runs in the field. Cain had another fine season, slashing .300/.363/.440. Not really known for his power, he still slugged 15 bombs among a career high 175 hits, and had 26 stolen bases as opposed to being caught stealing only twice. His WAR was a fantastic 5.3, and he saved five runs in the outfield this year. Either one of these three players would be a great acquisition to any team. But they will also cost quite the lump sum.

The Royals are more than likely to extend the 1yr/$18M qualifying offer to each of these three, but I think it would be a huge surprise if any one of them accepted, seeing as there is a big payday ahead of each of them. Assuming they reject these offers, and sign contracts upwards of $50M, the Royals would receive compensatory picks just after the first round. This is ideal for the Royals who desperately need to acquire some more prospects. Including their first round pick, the Royals would have four drafts picks before the second round even starts. This is big for the franchise, and if they scout well enough, they could fix things rather quickly.

Still, these are three major talents who would’ve brought in major prospect hauls from offense-needy teams at the deadline. Think about the hauls that the Yankees got in the Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman trades. Likewise, think of the package that the Nationals sent to the White Sox in exchange for Adam Eaton. Both deals single-handedly put the Yankees and White Sox farm systems in the top three in all of baseball. The Royals could’ve had something even remotely close to that if they would have followed suit and sold at the deadline.

As we already know, they didn’t follow this route. As a result, they have no farm system and they’re about to lose three of the major pieces from their World Series run. Dayton Moore messed up. Depending on the qualifying offer process and whatever compensatory picks they take, things can potentially look a bit brighter, but as of now, they are relatively dim. Maybe Dayton Moore will work some magic again and everything will be fixed in eight years. I wouldn’t count on it, though, judging from his decisions over the past year or so. It might be a miserable stretch in Kansas City for the next few years.

By: Chris Perkowski

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