On Tuesday, the Houston Astros will face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game one of the World Series. While the Dodgers have not been to the World Series since 1988, the Astros were in the World Series just 12 years ago. Since that 2005 World Series appearance, the Astros have gone from contender, to doormat, to contender again. After losing to the Chicago White Sox in four games, the Astros had to answer questions about who to maintain, and who to let go. Eventually, they decided to trade away most of their core players in favor of a methodology of bottoming out and waiting for prospects to form their new contending roster.
The process that the Astros undertook to rebuild their franchise began in 2011 when they hired Jeff Luhnow to be their new general manager. That move was made six years after their World Series birth, and it only took another six years for the Astros to appear in another World Series.
Much like the Houston Astros, the Kansas City Royals now face the question of who to maintain from their 2015 World Series roster, and who to let go. With Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar all free agents, the decisions that the team makes will determine how many years it takes for the roster to rebuild. Unlike the Astros, the Royals have the opportunity to rid themselves of their former core group of players only two years after their last World Series appearance. By not signing any of their current free agents, the Royals can commence a rebuild similar to the Astros but four years earlier than it took for them to rid themselves of Roy Oswalt, and Lance Berkman.
Like the Astros did shorty after their World Series appearance, the Royals currently have the worst farm system in baseball according to Bleacher Report. In addition, like the Astros, the Royals play in a small market where reducing the payroll is the main objective in a season where the team is not contending. Further, like the Astros, the Royals do not have a pedigree of high attendance in seasons where the team is struggling to scrape together wins.
If the Royals want to accelerate their return to contention, they may want to follow the 2005 Astros model. This model requires them to maximize the value of their free agents, and maximize the value of the players currently on their major league roster. To begin, they should extend qualifying offers to Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, and Vargas, and assuming that they reject the offers and sign $50 million dollar contracts, they will receive four picks in next year’s supplemental first round as a result.
Draft picks are not the only tool to rebuild the Royals’ pedestrian farm system. If the team is to fully embrace their rebuild like the Houston Astros did, they must trade off all valuable assets. That means that Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, and Whit Merrifield should all depart from the team at some point next season. The logic is that none of those players will be around when the team is in contention in several years, so there is no reason to maintain them instead of receiving value in a trade.
The main reason that MLB teams decide not to tank from season-to-season, is that it can severely impact attendance and overall revenue for a team. Currently the Royals ranked 17th in attendance this past season, and that is after ranking 10th in the MLB the season that they won the World Series. With team interest continuing to dwindle, the team can no longer afford to sustain a payroll ranking in baseball’s upper half. By deciding to trade away all assets, while attendance will continue to decrease, the team will have a payroll that is still below the league average. In addition, they will shorten their path to contention again, and potentially open up opportunities to maintain long-term success.
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