The Royals went all in this year. They grabbed their most valuable trade-chip and they flipped it across the table in exchange for a very good return. But that "very good return" had a much smaller lifespan than the previous chip. It had two-years to help get the job done, to win the table.
As of now, the Royals are about where we would expect them to be, talent-wise. They are 37-40 and in third place, but they have s slightly positive run differential at +12. They are five and a half back in the standings, treading water, hoping that either Hosmer or Moustakas figures out this year in pushes them up in the standings. And if not this year, then next. Because if James Shields does not receive an extension, he's gone after 2014.
Very few people in baseball believed that the Royals, even with Shields, would be good enough to qualify for the postseason. Off the top of my head, I recall a lot of predictions between 81-85 wins. Which is not enough to justify trading away a stud prospect, under control for six years, in exchange for a borderline ace in Shields. Not to mention, the Royals gave up Jake Odorizzi, who I am sure everyone in the baseball world would choose to have over Wade Davis -- the other piece that the Royals received.
Things aren't looking good for 2013. There could be as many as seven or eight teams better than the Royals, all trying to qualify for the postseason. Seven or eight may be an exaggeration, but it may not be either. Could be worse. But was certainly better in Dayton Moore's mind prior to the season beginning.
Luckily for the Royals, 2014 is half of what we will look at when reviewing this Myers/Shields "flip" in hindsight. And this is where the Royals should think like the 2013 Red Sox, maybe even to a lesser degree.
They'll never compete with the Red Sox financially, but any one of the players Boston brought in this off-season via free agency, the Royals too could have afforded.
When 2014 rolls around, I believe the Royals can be creative enough to seriously make a run at a playoff spot. Not that they should throw 2013 into dumpster, just that 2014 may be the year they want to really make a run, given what we know about this year already.
I've always wondered why teams that haven't had success in a while don't just throw money at players for one or two-year contracts. Typically smaller market teams. Maybe even a little more money than the player is worth, just to make sure they come to play. To play in Kansas City, to be specific.
What do the Royals need most? This is more so geared for 2014.
The answer is offense. If Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer started hitting like the talent gods say they should be, then that would be a drastic improvement, and nearly in itself make this a team a contender. But one can't bank on projection. Or bank on prospects yet to show why they were so hyped to begin with.
But lets's say in 2014 they make a modest improvement. Maybe Hosmer can be a 2.5 or 3 win player. And maybe Moustakas can simply not hurt the team.
Jeff Francouer should be off the team altogether. They COULD go after Beltran or Choo to play RF, but that might get a little expensive. Gutierrez, Nelson Cruz and Granderson could all be had. But in this scenario, I am trying to keep these contracts to two years or fewer, which seems to be easier to do with free agent pitchers.
The pitchers on the market are where I would focus, and make what is a decent unit now, into one that could perhaps carry them to a postseason berth.
Several intriguing arms that could be had on one or two year deals in the offseason: Bronson Arroyo, Colby Lewis, Ervin Santana, Not Erik Bedard, AJ Burnett, Jason Hammel, Ricky Nolasco, Paul Maholm, Shaun Marcum, Hiroki Kuroda and Tim Hudson.
Now obviously some of these pitchers are not all that realistic, but they only need to lure like two of them to Kansas City, not all ten.
I can't get inside Kuroda's mind, but I'd imagine he'd want to stay in New York if he decides to pitch again, or at the very least, avoid the midwest.
Ervin Santana, whom it might make sense to lock up now for another year or two now if possible. Preferably one year, unless the second year is cheap, given Santana's history.
Nolasco I wouldn't go over two years with.
With Burnett, I don't even know if wants to pitch again.
Aside from all that, if the Royals signed two of the pitchers on one or two year deals, it could give them a rotation of say: Shields/Santana/Guthrie/Duffy/Davis/Lewis/Hammel.
Okay, three free agent starters coming to KC? Four if you could Santana? Definitely seems a little extravagant. But no one knows exactly what to expect from Duffy given his health and age. Wade Davis could be pushed to the bullpen or spot starting duty. Jeremy Guthrie is not a good pitcher and having this many options might just simply push him out of the rotation. Hammel could do well in a larger ballpark, out of the American League East, and would be a buy-low option given his struggles in pretty much every season aside from 2012. And Colby Lewis was just a really good pitcher prior to his injury.
The Royals lineup could look something like this:
Ideal staff: Shields/Santana/Lewis/Hammel/Duffy with Guthrie as depth/Davis in the pen.
Fun exercise for a guy who likes to write about baseball? Definitely.
The reason I included Beltran was winning teams generally need a few guys that can really play. Gordon and Shields are those guys. And even a declined Beltran should be solid. They kind of need a core of good players, like every other good team, ever.
Now it's up to the ownership if they would like to approach 2014 like this. It would cost a lot more money than they are accustomed to, but nothing that would put them in the top tier of payrolls. They, on paper, would be a good team. And good teams usually draw more attendance, if I'm not mistaken.
And all the money from these free agents should be off the books when 2015 ends. That's two years of opening up their pockets for at least one year of good baseball being played in Kansas City. Playoff-caliber baseball.
Large-market teams have been doing it wrong for the most part lately. Using free agency as a long-term fix. When in reality, it should be nothing more than a short-term fix. Two maybe three year deals built around a few internal players that are at least above-average. Or maybe an extravagant contract thrown at a great player knowing that the team already has 90 win potential.
But as for the Royals, they don't have to do that. They could let the Red Sox pick-up Lester's option, then trade a few prospects for him. But then they lose more prospects, and as of now Lester's value is anything but certain.
They could give Ellsbury five years, $90-$100 million. But that involves more risk. And they already have a CF.
The Royals can contend next season. It just depends on how they choose do it. I like my way. It's more fun.
But we'll see. They may end up letting James Shields pitch like a Cy Young contender for two years and end up with a sub-.500 winning percentage.
Only time will tell.