They have never set up wireless internet at the Ned Yost family farm outside LaGrange, Ga., and the reality can lead to some difficult decisions. When Yost, the Royals’ long-time manager, wants to get online during the offseason, he has to walk outside and access the 3G on his iPhone. The service is better out there, he says, but this cuts into his data, and he’s always burning up the limited plan. So the gift of the internet is a tool he must ration.
“I kind of pick and choose on what I care to look at,” Yost says.
So it was last week, when Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed to a new collective-bargaining agreement. The new deal was chock-full of revamped rules and and updated policies on issues such as free-agent compensation — reforms that could affect the trajectory the Royals’ offseason and put closer Wade Davis and outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain in trade talks.
But this was last week. Yost was back at home, enjoying his usual offseason routine of family time, hunting and fishing. His data plan is precious. So he mostly stayed away from parsing the new CBA, choosing to wait for his upcoming trip to the Winter Meetings.
And yet, inside the Royals’ front office, the rules have become a major point of interest as the team attempts to shape its roster for 2017. The Royals have five members of their championship core set to become free agents after the 2017 season — a list that begins with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, and continues with closer Davis and starter Danny Duffy. They also have a payroll that projects to approach $148 million and bump up against internal budgets. This leaves problems — and options.
In one sense, the Royals could ride forward with their core for one more season, pursue another title, then deliver “qualifying offers” to three or four of their free agents next November, possibly recouping compensatory draft picks in 2018 as they attempt to rebuild for 2018 and beyond. But the scenario could be slightly more thorny.
The fine print: Under the new CBA rules, the Royals would only gain a first-round supplemental pick if the pending free agent declines the qualifying offer and signs a contract with another team for more than $50 million. If the player declines a qualifying offer and signs for less than $50 million, the compensatory pick would come in a later supplemental round.
The Royals have floated the idea that the cost of one-year qualifying offers — likely close to $18 million next offseason — could prohibit them from delivering a handful of them in one offseason, which could affect their planning this winter. Would it simply be better to get a jump on their reloading project now by trading one or more free agents this offseason? Would that help them sustain success beyond next season?
“What we will do is consider all different scenarios,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said Monday, sitting inside his suite here at this resort in suburban Washington D.C. “But we’re very focused on winning in 2017 — and being in a better position in 2018 and beyond.”
Whether the Royals would really be incapable of handing out four to five qualifying offers in one offseason is a matter of some debate in the industry. Yes, they could not afford to spend $90 million on five players in one season — the hypothetical cost if all players accepted the qualifying offer. But industry sources say that scenario would also be unlikely.
If Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas remain healthy and productive in 2017, there is little chance they would consider accepting a qualifying offer over a long-term contract. The same would likely be true for Lorenzo Cain and Danny Duffy, a 27-year-old pitcher with a history of health issues.
Still, the Royals must find the way to bridge the gap between the present and the future, and the number of looming free agents on the roster makes that difficult. So for now, Yost is bracing for all possibilities.
“I think there’s a lot of rumors out there,” Yost said. “The one thing that Dayton — Dayton would never trade anybody just to save money, he’s not going to do that. If he’s going to trade somebody it’s going to make our club better.
“Again, we do have the majority of our core after 2017, you know, (they) are all going to be free agents."
Yost’s comments came during a wide-ranging news conference Monday morning. Moore spoke later in the afternoon. But on the first full day of the Winter Meetings, the Royals offered an intriguing story line: Are they prepared to trade a player who helped them win a World Series championship in 2015?
“It’s a reality,” Yost said. “Dayton and I knew coming into this that we’re a small-market team and these are going to be some of the things that we will have to deal with. And our mindset has always been, we’re going to make it work.
“We won the World Series. We went to the World Series in ’14 with a $97 million payroll. We can do it."
With the Royals pondering a possible deal — or more — the club’s core has garnered significant attention. Moore said the club had “a lot of conversations” with other teams in recent days, including talks that focused on Davis, according to a person familiar with the situation. A collection of other teams have reportedly shown interest in Cain and outfielder Jarrod Dyson, each a free agent after next season.
The St. Louis Cardinals were said to be among the teams tracking Cain, according to an early report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, while Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the club was also interested in Dyson as a cheaper option.
Cain, 30, will make $11 million in 2017 and could be replaced in center field by Dyson. Likewise, Dyson, 32, is coming off a season in which he led the Royals’ in Wins Above Replacement, according to the FanGraphs’ version of the stat.
Yost called Dyson one of his favorite players, joking that he wished he could host him at his farm during the offseason. But no team can afford to be sentimental in their decision making.
“He’s that type of kid that he’s just a ball to be around,” Yost said. “He’s just one of those fun guys. But, again, the nature of the business is, ‘If we make a deal for anybody, does it make us better?’ If it makes us better, it’s something we’re going to have to consider.”
In addition, the Cardinals also have shown interest in Davis, with second baseman Kolten Wong being discussed as part of a possible return, according to long-time baseball reporter John Perotto. The Chicago Cubs were also said to be interested in Davis, while the Dodgers have shown interest in Davis and Cain, according to the Los Angeles Times. Davis, 31, will make $10 million in 2017 after establishing himself as one of the best relievers in baseball. But a nagging forearm issue landed him on the disabled list twice last season.
The Royals, meanwhile, remain open to listening to offers. But Moore reiterated one long-held stance: He is not prepared to break up the core of a world champion. There will be no firesale.
“I can’t predict someone just blowing us away with stuff,” Moore said. “But we’ve done enough work at this point in time … I don’t anticipate us moving a bunch of our players.”
For the Royals, this is reality. There are options. There are moving parts. There are stars that could be available. And when the 2017 season begins, a member of their core might be plying their trade elsewhere. On Monday, this idea caused Yost to think about his former boss, Braves executive John Schuerholz, who was voted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday night. There was a lesson there, Yost said, about change and the challenges of the job. This time, the challenge is in Kansas City.
“He’s in the Hall of Fame for a reason,” Yost said, “and he would tell our coaching staff and Bobby that our job is to manage change. And that’s what we have to do from year-to-year, we have to manage change because it’s inevitable.”