With the Royals fading like yesterday’s sunset, the team has a slew of monster decisions to make in the months to come.
Who to keep? Who to let go? Most fans are well-aware that the team’s core of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas and Alcides Escobar is on the line heading into the off-season. All are slated to become free agents.
Here’s a suggestion: We understand that the Royals can’t keep them all. That said, of the team’s “big three” — Hosmer, Moose and Cain — we should think hard about re-signing LoCain.
Some fans might question that choice. Hosmer would probably win a poll for player-the-Royals-should-keep in this wild, free agency era. Moose’s big home-run numbers this year would draw lots of votes, too.
But let’s be real: Hosmer is headed for a long-term deal that could top $100 million. That’s $28 million more than the largest contract in Royals history.
As much as we love him, remember all that business about how we’re a small-market team? Well, we were small-market before the Royals won the World Series in 2015 (which made their run all the more impressive), and we still are today. Last time we checked, the Royals don’t have $100 million for one player.
Moose? His next contract might not be far from that neighborhood, too.
Yes, Cain will be 32 next April. The center fielder has shaky wheels. And yes, there’s some recent history to consider: Alex Gordon, who has struggled mightily at the plate, turned 32 a month after he signed that $72 million contract in January 2016.
That’s history the Royals are loath to repeat.
But Cain almost certainly will be more affordable than either Hosmer or Moose. As an anchor of the team’s championship years, keeping him would be a huge plus.
There’s something else to consider, too, and this is important: Major League Baseball is desperate to entice more African-American ballplayers to the game. The numbers these days around the league are shocking.
This year, just 7.7 percent of major leaguers are black — down from 18.7 percent in 1981, when the league had its highest percentage of black players. In the NBA these days, the percentage of black athletes is 75 percent. In the NFL, 64 percent.
“Baseball,” Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles famously said last year, “is a white man’s sport.”
Everyone in the major leagues knows it’s an issue. And it’s one reason why baseball and the Royals are building the Urban Youth Baseball Academy near 18th and Vine. The program will take dead aim at one big reason why so many kids — black, white and brown — don’t play the game any longer: It’s gotten too expensive with, yes, the bats and gloves, but also the league fees and traveling squads.
Signing LoCain for a few more years would send an important signal to African-American kids that the game can be theirs, too.
“When you talk about urban baseball and kids playing baseball, to have a guy like Lorenzo Cain here in our community who’s a star in our community, certainly that has a great influence,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “You want to have these athletes that other kids aspire to be.”
The Royals have big decisions to make. We hope LoCain remains part of the mix. (And Hoz and Moose, too).