The Kansas City Royals are in the midst of one of their most successful seasons in team history. This is after already winning the American League pennant last year and coming one run short in Game Seven of the World Series. That Game Seven might still sting a little bit to them, as they decided to make a couple trades for their stretch run for this year, acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist for five minor league lefties (in two separate trades). To some, it may seem extreme to trade away that many prospects and mortgage the future for a chance to win it this year, especially with their obvious payroll constraints and problems with bringing in free agents. But as the saying goes, “There’s no better time than the present.” I believe that’s the case now, and I believe that it’s best that the Kansas City Royals go for it now.
You never know what the future is going to bring, but one thing it is going to bring the Royals is payroll problems. The Royals have traditionally had one of the smaller Opening Day payrolls in the league, but this year’s is larger than most, having the 17th highest Opening Day payroll at over $112 million. In recent years, through scouting and player development, they’ve been able to get the best bang for their buck. Check out this table with the best Royals players by 2015 WAR and their contract situations.
|Lorenzo Cain||OF||5.3||$2.73||Arb 2||Arb 3||FA||$0.00||$0.00|
|Eric Hosmer||1B||3.0||$5.65||$8.25||Arb 4||FA||$0.00||$0.00|
|Mike Moustakas||3B||2.0||$2.64||Arb 2||Arb 3||FA||$0.00||$0.00|
|Jarrod Dyson||OF||1.5||$1.23||Arb 2||Arb 3||FA||$0.00||$0.00|
|Kelvin Herrera||P||0.5||$1.60||$2.55||Arb 3||Arb 4||FA||$0.00|
|Greg Holland||P||0.5||$8.25||Arb 3||FA||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00|
|Danny Duffy||P||0.5||$2.43||Arb 2||Arb 3||FA||$0.00||$0.00|
Alex Gordon’s contract has been super cheap for the type of player he’s been, but he has a player option for $12.5 million and will almost surely decline it to test free agency. Regulars like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland will be going through their turns in arbitration, and will surely be more expensive this year. Other players already under contract will get more expensive in 2016 as well, like Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales, and great find Edinson Volquez, not to mention expensive options like Alcides Escobar and Wade Davis that management will surely pick up on. That’s not even talking about guys that will be leaving, or even more expensive, in 2017. Of course, buyouts on guys like Jeremy Guthrie and Alex Rios will save some money, but this is a team that, despite going far in the playoffs last year, has payroll limitations due to being in a smaller market. They need to get the most for their money, and while they’ve been able to do that the past couple years, those cheaper players will start to become more expensive, or as in Gordon’s case come off the payroll entirely. Indeed, there is no better time than the present to make these trades.
One of the players the Royals traded for should have a significant impact on the team’s strategy, not only on the regular season, but the playoffs as well. Johnny Cueto has already captured the hearts and minds of Royals fans with his pitch wiggle and his hair. For the rest of the season, every one of his starts is another start that a lesser pitcher doesn’t have to make (I’m looking at you, Jeremy Guthrie). It’s also evident after his home debut after the Royals that he can go further in games than other starters on the team might, which means more rest for the bullpen. This extends into the playoffs as well. In fact, if one were to bring up last year’s playoffs, one might also bring up a certain pitcher who won MVP of the World Series against the Royals last year. Madison Bumgarner dominated in two starts against the Royals, then came back in Game Seven and pitched the last six innings, shutting the door on any chance of a comeback. Now, the Royals are hoping they have that kind of weapon in their arsenal with Cueto. Not that the bullpen hasn’t been fantastic (it has), but this gives them a plethora of options to go to in the playoffs and, hopefully, the World Series.
They were this close to winning it all last year, and they’re really good again this year. They’ve had a solid core for a while now, but they broke the window open on championship aspirations last year. But with their budget constraints, that window might be closing sooner than they think. There’s no time like the present to make their run.