The Kansas City Royals desperately need to rebuild. The prospects who came up and helped the team win a World Series title are grown up now, and set to depart once their contracts expire at the end of the season. With the Royals currently one game under .500, it seems like the perfect time to start selling off assets.
But maybe that’s not the case. Despite all those issues, the team sits just two games behind the Cleveland Indians for the American League Central lead and two games out of the AL’s second wild-card spot. A rebuild might be inevitable, but it doesn’t need to start now.
The biggest argument in favor of the Royals tearing everything down has to do with some prominent players hitting free agency at the end of the season. Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Jason Vargas will all hit the market in a few months. Hosmer and Cain have priced themselves out of the team’s plans. The same is probably true with Moustakas. Conventional thinking says the team ought to deal them now and get something of value in return.
As the J.D. Martinez trade showed, the market for players on expiring contracts might not be all that strong. The general consensus is that the Detroit Tigers sold way too low on Martinez. It’s possible the team could have held out and demanded more, but this also may have been the best offer on the table. The Royals could trade away their guys for younger players, but picking up elite prospects may not be an option.
Given the current state of the Royals’ system, that might not be enough anyway. The Royals don’t have many prospects of value at the moment. The team didn’t have a single player make Baseball America’s top-100 prospect update.
The farm system needs a lot of work. While getting a few lower-level prospects might help, the Royals still wouldn’t have enough to start forming a core similar to the one that helped them win the World Series.
Even if you assume a best-case scenario – one in which the Royals land one or two strong prospects – it’s unclear how much that improves their situation. If those players reach the majors by 2019, they’ll be flanked by Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy. That’s not exactly an encouraging group.
The Royals are going to require a major overhaul. There’s no quick fix here. Because no team is going to give up loads of elite prospects for players on expiring contracts, the Royals might as well push off the rebuild for a couple more months and give their current core one more chance at glory.
Admittedly, the 2017 Royals are not a good team. Their offense ranks 27th in runs scored and 26th in wRC+, an advanced stat that measures offensive performance. Their starting pitchers rank 14th by ERA. Their relievers ranks 15th. They’ve been outscored by 40 runs.
But it’s not as though their competition is bullet proof. The Tampa Bay Rays have emerged as a legitimate wild-card threat, but the team is relying on career years at the plate by Logan Morrison, Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson. That trio may keep it up the entire season and push Tampa Bay to the playoffs, but they also lack a track record.
The New York Yankees appear to be going for it with the acquisition of Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, but the rotation remains a big question. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery have been great, but fatigue could set in. Masahiro Tanaka has an ERA over 5.00. The team just lost Michael Pineda.
There are five other teams within four games of that second wild-card spot: The Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers. All are in the same position as Kansas City.
With no obvious standout in the wild card race, the Royals might as well go for it. While the Royals wouldn’t have much to part with in a scenario where they are buying, they only need modest upgrades to improve their situation. The Mariners were able to do that Thursday, picking up reliever David Phelps for four lesser prospects. It’s possible the Royals can try for something similar.
Going all-in is a risk. If the Royals miss out on the postseason, the decision to buy will be viewed as a massive failure. But it’s not going to set the team back much further.
The Royals have known this time was coming. Their window is closing. Their former prospects are ready to leave. With the system barren, the team might as well make one more run at the playoffs.
The rebuild in Kansas City was always going to be long and painful. It will be much easier to handle if the club is coming off another postseason appearance.
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