Royals general manager Dayton Moore prefers a simple analogy for free agency: Musical chairs.
There are participants and music and there are a limited number of chairs. There is also a time constraint, and at some point, the music will stop.
The children’s game metaphor glosses over the realities of the market, the competition between teams, the levers of supply and demand that dictate the process. But one thing is true: In more than a decade in Kansas City, Moore has never entered an offseason with so many of his players looking for new chairs.
The Royals had nine players become free agents this month, including stars Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. All three will be among the most coveted players on the market this winter.
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Kansas City is expected to be active in retaining its homegrown players. Yet the process depends on a set of unknowns: Which teams will be interested in Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain? How will their markets take shape? Will the price, as it did for Alex Gordon two years ago, fall back into the Royals’ neighborhood?
“You just never really know,” Moore said.
The market is expected to heat up next week when officials from all 30 teams convene in Orlando, Fla., for the annual general managers meetings. The rumor mill will churn. Agents and representatives will talk with individual clubs. The event will not offer total clarity. But markets will start to develop.
For now, let’s look at teams that might emerge as possible destinations for Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain. We’ll start with Hosmer, a 28-year-old first baseman projected as one of the top available position players this winter.
His position could limit his possible suitors. A survey of big-market clubs reveals many with long-term answers at the spot. The Dodgers have Cody Bellinger; the Cubs are set with Anthony Rizzo; the Braves have Freddie Freeman, while the Nationals can move forward with former third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The Giants have Brandon Belt signed to a long-term contract, while the Toronto Blue Jays found a breakout star in Justin Smoak. The Phillies believe they have a star in Rhys Hoskins, while the Yankees have a young and cheap option in Greg Bird and a desire to stay under the game’s luxury-tax threshold.
Here’s a look at some teams that could be possible fits:
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox have long been considered as a possible landing spot for Hosmer. Their lineup lacked a middle-of-the-order presence last season after the retirement of David Ortiz. They have young talent all around the diamond, though not at first base, where Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez spent time last season. Hosmer’s opposite-field power and hitting style would also play well with the Green Monster in left field at Fenway Park.
The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reported this week that evaluators around the game believe the club could prefer outfielder J.D. Martinez as a middle-of-the-order bat in free agency. But the potential presence of Boston in a Hosmer sweepstakes would likely serve to drive up the price.
New York Yankees: Hosmer’s intangibles, including his clubhouse leadership and media-savvy ways, would play well in a Yankees clubhouse that continues to get younger. His power numbers would likely explode playing in Yankee Stadium. This is why the Yankees were considered a likely suitor for most of the season. At least two things could change that: The Yankees have said they wish to get under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold in 2018, according to the New York Post, and relying on young first baseman Greg Bird would serve that end. In addition, they could be gearing up for a record-breaking free-agent class in 2018 that will feature Washington’s Bryce Harper and Baltimore’s Manny Machado. Perhaps there’s still a way.
The Royals: It remains possible that no team will value Hosmer like the Royals. He is a part of a franchise lore now, one of the faces of the 2015 World Series champions, and the leader inside the clubhouse. The Royals put high value on his defensive stability. He will likely be the focal point of the offseason, with the ripples from his decision shaping the future of the club.
Seattle Mariners: Looking for a dark horse contender to emerge? Could it be a team like the Mariners, owners of the longest playoff drought in baseball? They could use an upgrade at first base, and the franchise has won a free-agent bidding war before, landing Robinson Cano in 2013. That was four years ago, though, and under a previous front office, and there’s been little indication, to this point, that the Mariners are interested.
Colorado Rockies: The Rockies snagged an unexpected National League wild-card spot in 2017, and like the Mariners, could also use an upgrade at first base. The Rockies signed Ian Desmond to a long-term deal last offseason, and he can play first base. But he also possesses the ability to move around. Again, is there interest?
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals have missed the playoffs in consecutive years as the Cubs have taken control in the National League Central. General manager John Mozeliak has said he’s not using the “rebuild” word this offseason, and that could mean an active offseason. St. Louis could use Hosmer’s bat in its lineup. But then again, so could most teams. The Cardinals shifted infielder Matt Carpenter to first base in 2016, and he’s under club control for three more seasons. So no, not a perfect fit.
Los Angeles Angels/San Francisco Giants: Finally, here are two big-market clubs with a track record of spending money. But these teams might not fit as well. The Angels, who also project as a possible landing spot for Moustakas, might not have the money for two big signings this winter. The Giants still have money invested in Brandon Belt. But in looking for possible suitors, put them on the list — for now.