Royals Roundtable: Is the “window to win” still open?

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We’ve heard over the last year or two that the Royals “window to win” is open through 2017, then it will suddenly close as most of the current core leaves and Dayton Moore tears it down, to build it back up, again.

Awe, the life of small market baseball.

But, after an 81-81 2016 – a year in which the Royals were unable to cash in on their highest payroll in franchise history, riddled with injury after injury, the Royals are in a tough spot. Despite losing Kendrys Morales and his 30 HR and 93 RBI, and Edinson Volquez, the salary is again at its peak. The Royals are facing salary restrictions/limitations – no chance to add anything major in free agency AND arbitration raises due to go along with several members of the core (Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Wade Davis, Danny Duffy, Jarrod Dyson and Eric Hosmer), in addition to Jason Vargas, with expiring contracts, one has to wonder if the window to win actually closed in 2016?

The Winter Meetings have came and went, and so has Wade Davis, who was traded, as nearly every Royals fan knows by now, to the Cubs, straight up for OF Jorge Soler. That’s right, one of the best relievers in the game, for a 24-year old who has played 221 games over the span of three MLB seasons, and has yet to be a regular. That, however, will change now that the 6-4, 215-pound Cuban is in Kansas City, where he is instantly the starting right fielder. It’s good to see that the Royals learned their lesson with an injured closer (see Holland and Soria) and got something for him while he could. However, the injury risk certainly scared teams off and prevented the Royals from earning a major haul.

With two DL stints last year with Tommy John precursor injuries, Davis was still effective when “healthy,” turning in a 1.87 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 47:16 K:BB ratio in 43.1 innings. Prior, the cyborg was the best in the game, where he is the ONLY pitcher in MLB history with multiple seasons of at least 50 innings pitched and an ERA of 1.00 or lower (2014 and 2015). Over the last three seasons, he allowed just 3 HR in 182 total innings.

“This was an important deal for us, a tough deal, trading an All-Star closer in Wade Davis, somebody who has been just so instrumental to our success. We certainly wouldn’t be able to win and win a World Series without Wade,” GM Dayton Moore said.

Davis reportedly refused to take a physical, but his former Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon didn’t care. He will also reunite with teammate Ben Zobrist for the third time and is due $10 million before hitting free agency, where he will be highly coveted. He could churn out 45 saves this year. He could also blow out his elbow (see Holland) in May and be done for the year.

Davis, who was on the mound for the final out of the 2015 ALCS and World Series, will have fond memories of Kansas City, like we will of him.

“Royals fans were amazing. They made me tick every time I stepped on the field,” he said. “And…they made me feel like family.”

As much of a risk it is for taking on Davis and his elbow, Soler is the same for the Royals, but with four years of control at a cheap rate ($3.67M in 2017, $4.67M from 2018-2020), it may be worth it. While he hasn’t lived up to expectations through his three MLB seasons, he’s still young and carries plenty of pop, hitting 27 HR in 682 MLB AB over 211 games, but that comes with a lot of swing and miss (27.6% strikeout rate). With everyday playing time, the former Top-15 prospect, who hit 28 HR and drove in 120 runs in 686 AB in 166 minor league games, has immense potential to be a 25-HR guy – something the Royals are desperate for, although, there could be a bit of a learning curve as he adjusts to another league.

“We obviously love his upside, love his power,” Moore said. “Like the face that we have the same control for the next four years, potential right fielder as you know, we have several players that are, perhaps, entering free agency after the 2017 season.”

Due to the Cubs surplus of outfield bats, Soler wouldn’t have had an everyday role in 2017.

“We think we’re getting a player who’s ready to enter the prime of his career here,” Morre added.

Next up on the auction block may be Jarrod Dyson, who has been a hot commodity now the last two offseasons, but is much more likely to be dealt this year, as the Royals have a cheaper, younger replacement, who is also a switch hitter, in Billy Burns; albeit a lesser version (a “worse” defender and base-runner and provides the softest contact rate of any player in MLB). Mike Moustakas’ name has been out there on the Hot Stove too, and would make sense if he was traded, as like Dyson, has a younger, cheaper replacement (Cheslor Cuthbert). Danny Duffy’s name has also been out there, and I don’t understand that one. I don’t see how the Royals can compete without him and it concerns me that the Royals think they may not be able to re-sign him.

So again, I ask, are the Royals actually trying to win in 2017, or is the rebuild upon us?

The opinions vary.

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Sarah says: I think the “Royals should absolutely go for it this year. I won’t pin it on management because it’s not Dayton Moore’s fault that he’s handcuffed by cheap ownership. This is the last year that they’ll have that young core together before things get pretty dicey for the future. Go for it now, and if you’re not in the race by the trade deadline, then sell for whatever you can get. I think people are overthinking this. Go get a pitcher, a serviceable right fielder, and a utility player. Get rid of Soria, as hard as that will be for the front office. Find a DH, and figure out the third base situation. It’s not all as cut and dry as it sounds to be, but this is the last year in the foreseeable future that you know what you can get. Don’t let it waste away.”

Luke says: “This could go either way. The Royals have the talent and the core if they decided they wanted to win now. Even after last seasons let down year, they could easily make a push if they can plug a few (albeit major) holes here and there. Its risky, and in the end they would have to sacrifice the future even more to make a strong push as prospects would probably have to be dealt to fill those holes as payroll seems at its max. On the other hand, with a handful of players reaching the twilight of their contracts, it would seem prudent to flip what value remains to restock for the future. A tough, but wise decision for most small market clubs that will never be able to simply buy talent. Either way, the Royals must decide which it is they are going to do, and stick with it. The only way they fail is if they try and do both at the same time, which cannot and will not work.”

Walker says, “The window is currently open, but Mr. Glass is yelling at us from the other room to close it, because it is letting in the cold air. With the constraints we currently have, The Royals are looking to be back to the 2014 team. We had a solid season the year before, no real major changes except healthier players, and we made a late season push, and caught fire at the right time. The one caveat to that is we had a lights out bullpen. SO our margin for error was a little bit greater. This year we will be minus a few of those 2014 pieces (Holland, and now probably Davis…you know the D and the H from HDH). That being said with the White Sox, and Tigers looking like they are rebuilding, and the Twins being the Twins, the Window should be WIDE OPEN, and Mr. Glass should see this, and go for it now!”

Zach says: “In this voodoo magic town with this core of guys, the window is definitely still open. Even if you move Cain or Davis or Dyson or any other individual piece, you still have most of the core intact. Moose and Hos haven’t had their best seasons yet. Salvy isn’t completely run into the ground yet. I fully expect Gordo to rebound to his average. The rotation should be better than last year. It’s gonna look more like 2014 than 2015, but there is definitely still a window.”

Conrad says: “The Royals should start the rebuild now; get value now. It won’t be any easier next year when guys become free agents versus tradeable assets now. With the new CBA, free agents will only net third round picks back, not first round like it was prior. We certainly can’t expect to compete in 2018 with our farm, and now is when we have value to trade. Why push for 2017 with aging players and a lackluster farm in place? Aim for 2020. Signing free agents delays building a new core, which is how the Royals got to 2014 and 2015. Older players with long-term contracts aren’t always easy to trade, and have very little potential to get better. While the hope is those type players produce at consistent levels, there is definite risk of decline, particularly after the age of 30. Several players in our current core are 30 years old or older now. Numerous franchises have proven hanging on to aging rosters, even ones that were extremely successful, usually ends up delaying rebuilds, making them take longer and bloat payroll that can be challenging to trade away. See the recent Phillies, who are just now starting to climb out from under Utley, Howard, Rollins etc. The blueprint that hung a flag needs to remain consistent, at least to an extent. Youth, athleticism, and speed is what made the glorious two years of excitement possible. The injuries in 2016 were warning signs for me, and NOT reasons to call 2016 a fluke. Why will we be healthier in 2017? Just because? Two-thirds of the Royals outfield is over 30, as is half of the current known rotation, while Salvador Perez is 26 going on 32 given his tremendous workload. Cain and Gordon are injury-prone. Hell, Cain always looks to be laboring and in pain. I still love him, though. [Chris] Young is racing toward 50 years old and, for now, is expected to compete for the fifth spot of the rotation and has never pitched over 200 innings in a single season in his career. [Jason] Vargas is coming back from Tommy John after turning 30.”

“That’s how I would run things, but Dayton and I think a little differently. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I think, or something?”

Tom says: “Maybe the door is already shut? Aging teams get injured more. And the 2016 Royals got injured more. Coincidence? I think we need to stay ahead of the curve and not turn into an old small market team.”

Brian says: “The Royals entered the Winter Meetings in a tough spot, and I thought they would make a trade. The type of trade would tell us a lot about how Moore views 2017. This Davis trade does not change the Royals public comments that the window is still open in 2017, as Davis can be replaced with a cheaper, younger option in Kelvin Herrera. The only downside is how it will effect the rest of the bullpen, as everyone moves up a notch in the pecking order. We saw what happened last year when the bullpen all of a sudden lacked depth, thanks to injuries. Who’s gonna set-up for Herrera?

“It is possible that Dyson goes, and maybe someone else, but as long as its not a major part of the core, the Royals will survive, and compete, as the rest of the division will be rebuilding, outside of Cleveland. Other than that, the best strategy would be to stand pat, and see where you are the trade deadline. If you’re in it, add players and go for it again. If not, trade away. Fire sale. But, don’t do what you did last year, and do nothing.

“I think Moore and Ned think we can win, now, but salary limitations. Last year’s Royals .500 finish was circumstantial. Injury after injury – including Moose and Alex Gordon’s freak collision – they were still .500. Better chance that doesn’t repeat itself than it does. While “can” win and “will” win, are different, “can” is worth the risk. The window to win is not open often – especially for a small market team. I wouldn’t force the window shut earlier than you have to; and, I don’t think you have to. Yes, everyone is “older,” but they aren’t “old.” If everyone performs at their career norms, and one or two guys exceed – especially offensively – they can be right there in 2017. If 2016 wasn’t circumstantial, and the Royals had everyone most of the season and went .500, I would be singing a different tune. You expect some injuries, but what happened last year, you can’t plan for.

“There are a few people out there that say you can cut salary and win at the same time, if you’re smart, I however, don’t think its possible. You can TRY, but you’ll fail. As a Royals fan, I want them to commit to one or the other. Don’t half-ass it by selling away some of your players, but keeping some of them around. Sell them all off in a firesale, or make one more run at it, and let all the dudes go in free agency. If winning in 2017 really isn’t doable, then don’t re-sign anyone, including Duffy. Let them all go, and tear it down and start over. If Dayton Moore is as good as he is, he’ll make it work. Unless he leaves, of course.

“I’ll bet anything the Royals will have a better record in 2017 than 2016, if they keep the core mostly intact. Now, that might not be good enough, but the chance is there, and I’m willing to that that chance. If not, so be it, we tried.

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