The Royals are expected to extend qualifying offers to three top free agents as one of the most anticipated offseasons in franchise history officially begins Thursday.
The club had eight players who became free agents upon the completion of the World Series on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Yet the focus, for now, will fall on first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and center fielder Lorenzo Cain, all of whom should expect to receive qualifying offers before Monday’s deadline.
The qualifying offers — one year for $17.4 million — will ensure some level of compensation should Hosmer, Moustakas or Cain sign elsewhere. All three players are expected to decline the offer and search for a multi-year contract on the open market. The size of those deals will dictate what kind of compensation the Royals receive in return.
Compensation rules under the latest collective-bargaining agreement are complicated and dependent on where teams fall in revenue sharing. But here are the important parts: The Royals will receive a compensatory, or additional, draft pick following the first round if a player declines a qualifying offer and signs a contract of more than $50 million. If the player declines the qualifying offer and signs for less than $50 million, the compensation pick will come after Competitive Balance Round B, which follows the second round.
In practice, the Royals could find themselves with three additional draft picks following the 2018 first round if Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain depart and all sign for more than $50 million, one reason among many the Royals were hesitant to sell off their main pieces before the trade deadline last summer. Hosmer, 28, and Moustakas, 29, are expected to command contracts well beyond $50 million this winter, while Cain, 31, could as well — though it could depend on the length of his contract.
All players have 10 days to accept or decline the qualifying offer, which allows them to survey the landscape and negotiate with other teams.
In addition, the Royals had five other players become free agents on Thursday. Club officials have privately confirmed that starting pitcher Jason Vargas and shortstop Alcides Escobar will not receive qualifying offers. Vargas, who will be 35 in February, could be motivated to accept a one-year, $17.4 million deal, while the market for Escobar, 30, will be considerably lower following years of weak offensive production.
The others: Reliever Peter Moylan became a free agent after playing on a one-year deal last season. Outfielder Melky Cabrera and right-handed pitcher Trevor Cahill are ineligible after being traded midseason. And left-handed reliever Mike Minor has a mutual option in his contract that will soon make him an intriguing free agent target for teams looking for relief help. Minor finished 2017 with a 2.55 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings. He also notched six saves and could command a two- or three-year contract on the open market. Yet he is unlikely to draw a qualifying offer.
For the Royals’ front office, the qualifying offer questions represent the first major decisions in an offseason that could reshape the direction of the franchise.
While the general manager vacancy in Atlanta — and the Braves’ interest in Dayton Moore — has added a layer of uncertainty to the winter, the Royals have moved forward, piecing together their plans for the offseason.
The club is expected to pursue Hosmer, one of the top players on the open market, while monitoring the market for his services. A 28-year-old first baseman coming off a season in which he batted a career-high .318 with an .882 OPS and 25 homers, Hosmer is expected to draw interest from a collection of big-market clubs. Royals officials remain hopeful the market may remain in a reasonable price range.
Moustakas and Cain, meanwhile, will have intriguing markets of their own. Moustakas is coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 38 homers, breaking the Royals’ franchise record. Yet his overall offensive production did not match Hosmer’s and long-term durability questions could factor into his value. Cain remains one of the best center fielders in baseball and a valuable asset at the plate and in the field. Yet his age — he will be 32 in April — could stop teams from offering deals that stretch beyond four seasons. Last offseason, center fielder Dexter Fowler was one year younger when he signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Royals, meanwhile, have other priorities on the November calendar. It must find replacements for pitching coach Dave Eiland, who was let go following the season, and hitting coach Dale Sveum, who will take over as bench coach after the departure of Don Wakamatsu.