On most days, Royals manager Ned Yost opts for tunnel vision. He abhors the nature of speculation. He cares little, he says, about anything but the next game. He dismisses the opinions of outsiders and the baseball punditocracy as mere “fodder.”
Yet as the industry scrutinizes the future of his team — wondering whether it will buy, sell or stand pat before the trade deadline on July 31 — Yost has his own view of the question. He finds it somewhat mystifying.
“We’re a game and a half out of first place,” Yost said, sitting in his office here on Wednesday afternoon. “Why would we even think about selling?”
Indeed, the Royals (44-40) began the day just 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. They concluded it just a half game back after a 9-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners. Just a month removed from sitting in last place, a full eight games under .500, the Royals have played inspired baseball, winning 18 of 24 and surging back into the playoff hunt, all alone in the second American League Wild Card spot.
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The club remains positioned to push for its third playoff appearance in four seasons. Yet, the organization will still face a free-agent puzzle in the offseason as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas and Alcides Escobar prepare to hit the open market for the first time. The situation has complicated a difficult question.
The Royals have a championship core in place, poised to make another run. They also have a farm system perceived as middle of the pack and a collection of expiring assets that could be used to replenish it. But if his team continues to win, Yost says the question should not be difficult.
“My mind-set is, I’m not looking to next year,” Yost said. “I’m not looking to Friday. My goal is to win the game tonight. It’s the same thing: Our goal is to win this year.
“We’re not looking down the road, like, ‘Well, let’s just go ahead, we’re in a position to win, but let’s just sell everybody off and maybe we can be in a position to do something’ — no. It’s stupid. It’s dumb.”
Yost’s view echoes that of general manager Dayton Moore, who told The Star last week that the front office remains focused on winning in 2017. It has not stopped others from weighing in. On Wednesday, Jim Bowden, a former general manager with the Reds and Nationals, said that the Royals would be making a mistake by not looking to trade members of their core before the deadline.
“I’m not sure this team is going to get back to the World Series,” Bowden said on MLB Network Radio. “I have too much respect for the Astros, the Indians and the Red Sox here. And what scares me with this is like playing poker and you take all the chips and you push it in the middle of the table and you bet everything you have.
“The problem is if you lose and it doesn’t work out. What is this Royal team going to look like in ’18, ’19 and ’20? ... Take those five guys off the roster in the offseason and tell me what that lineup looks like in 2018 and beyond. It’s not pretty; it’s going to be extremely ugly.”
For now, Moore remains confident that the Royals can compete in the free-agent market. But the team could face significant challenges should they lose multiple players in 2018. Yet, others see the unpredictable future as a reason to go for it in the present.
In another segment on MLB Network Radio, former Mets general manager Jim Duquette suggested the Royals should be active buyers at the deadline.
“This team, we’ve seen this before out of them,” Duquette said. “If I’m Dayton, I’m buying. Absolutely buying.”
For now, Yost sees little value in forecasting the future. He does not believe the Royals will consider selling at the deadline, because he does not believe they will have to.
When the season began, Yost said, he thought his team was capable of winning the division. On Wednesday, he still maintained that belief.
“Nobody gives us a chance of winning this year,” Yost said. “But they don’t know our team. Right now, we’re trying to win this division. That’s the only thing where our focus is. Do we have a team where we feel we can do that? Yeah.
“We had a team that we thought could do it even when we were 10 games under .500.”