The Kansas City Royals' run as World Series contenders seems to be at an end, and the realities of being a low-payroll MLB team could sting this offseason.
Most of the Kansas City core could be out the door this winter, as top stars like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are sure to be hot commodities in the 2017 free agent market. Can the Royals re-sign at least one or two of these players? That proposition is looking murky at best.
Funds are short for the 2015 world champs, whose $158 million payroll this season is less than half that of the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. This is a major issue in the latest free agency rumors.
Hosmer a Top Priority
Of the three big Royals set to hit free agency, Hosmer has the least amount of star power and is the most realistic option to return. He is also a favorite of the organization.
FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman reported the team "loves" Hosmer and will make a serious push to bring him back. Kansas City is reportedly willing to exceed the $100 million mark with its contract offer, which at least puts them in the conversation financially with what big-market teams are likely to put up.
Hosmer said last year he was open to a long-term extension, per MLB.com's Jeffrey Flanagan, but he has stayed quiet on the matter this season.
Heyman noted that making such a push compromises the Royals' position with Cain and Moustakas, but prioritizing a guy like Hosmer over the other two makes more sense if the team is as invested in him as Heyman reported. The team seemingly has to put all of its eggs in one basket, and Hosmer is a great choice.
The 27-year-old is in the midst of arguably his best MLB season. He is batting .317 with career bests of 189 hits, a .383 on-base percentage and a .876 OPS. His 24 homers are one of his career-high, and he still plays a mean first base.
Per MLB.com, most of Kansas City's top prospects are pitchers or outfielders. That is not the case for top-ranked Nick Pratto, but his power can serve him well as a designated hitter, and the 18-year-old has time to transition to a new spot for the majors if Hosmer chooses to stay.
Given how Hosmer has excelled as a Royal, the hometown club should be a slight favorite. Yet this free agency can go anywhere. With the Kansas City core splitting, he could be more enticed with big money and a more competitive team. Keep an eye on this one, as it looks to be one of the most fluid situations among the top guys on the market.
Rangers and Cain a Match?
The Texas Rangers are certainly looking to upgrade back into playoff contention following a disappointing year under .500, and a Royals core member could be on the radar.
In his mailbag piece earlier this week, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Rangers "have always liked" Cain, and they asked Kansas City about the speedy outfielder's availability on multiple occasions. Could this put them among the teams jockeying for Cain? Potentially not.
While Texas seems sure to gauge Cain's interest and discuss terms, Fraley sees the team focusing more on starting pitching this winter. The Rangers sit 12th in the American League with a 4.67 team ERA.
Cole Hamels, 11-5, is the everyday starter and even his ERA is rough at 4.11. With the departure of Yu Darvish and possibly Andrew Cashner, it is easy to see why starting pitching could be such a priority for Texas.
Loading up on pitching may indeed put the Rangers out of Cain's price range. Every team wants a rangy, athletic center fielder who can hit, which is just what Cain provides.
He is currently set to hit at least .300 for the third time in the last four seasons in addition to stealing at least 25 bases over that same span. Cain simply has all of the tools needed for a star leadoff man.
Yet he looks like a safe bet to play in a different uniform next season. If the Royals are that set on bringing back Hosmer, financial issues and prospect depth at outfield make it likely Cain will have better offers.
He is also 31 years old, which could steer him toward immediately contending teams for the last few years of his prime.
Mets Infield Appears to Stay Intact
Top New York Mets prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith have shown spurts of potential to become cornerstones of the franchise, and it seems a familiar face will join them in the infield next season.
Heyman reported the team is likely to pick up third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera's option for 2018. This would pay him $8.5 million before he becomes an unrestricted free agent the following winter.
The 31-year-old has been solid in his two years in New York. He is hitting .273 with 13 homers and 55 RBI this season following a fantastic 2016 where he batted .280 with 23 jacks and 62 RBI. Especially with David Wright's future being uncertain at best, this is a smart move to keep some stability for the Mets.
The team's infield is now likely to be Cabrera along with Rosario at short stop and Smith manning first base. This qualifies as an above-average bunch if the latter two youngsters can start to blossom with a full season of work. That will leave fellow upcoming players Gavin Cecchini and T.J. Rivera to battle for the second base spot.
Wilmer Flores can provide depth as a utility option to spell an infielder when facing a lefty pitcher.
A vastly disappointing 2017 season may be closing for the Mets, but this team has a lot to look forward to next year, especially if the rotation can stay healthy.