It sort of goes without saying, considering the Royals’ recent history, but the competitive DNA of this organization has become even more apparent since the tragic death of right-hander Yordano Ventura on Jan. 22.
The Royals’ ensuing signings of first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss, right-hander Jason Hammel and left-hander Travis Wood to two-year contracts indicate that the team is not conceding this season or next.
Nor, according to major-league sources, is the club conceding the departures of its top potential free agents — first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar.
Will the Royals sign all of them? No, and they actually might prefer to replace Escobar internally with Raul Mondesi. Still, club officials do not consider it a foregone conclusion that they will lose both Hosmer and Moustakas, even though the agent for the two players, Scott Boras, generally prefers his clients to establish their values on the open market.
The Royals, under general manager Dayton Moore, have beaten the odds before. Few thought they would sign right-hander Gil Meche as a free agent in Dec. 2006, buy out two years of Zack Greinke’s free agency with an extension in Jan. 2009, or re-sign Alex Gordon as a free agent in Jan. 2016.
Granted, none of those players was represented by Boras. What’s more, Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain might prove the most coveted players at their respective positions in the free-agent class of 2017-18.
On the other hand, left-hander Danny Duffy professed a special affinity for the Royals and for Kansas City upon signing his recent five-year, $65 million extension — and he is not alone in those sentiments.
The bond between the Royals’ players, franchise and community — forged by back-to-back World Series appearances, and perhaps made deeper still by the loss of Ventura — is that strong.
Of course, these things always come down to money, and Duffy — who has yet to make 27 starts or pitch 180 innings in a season — was smart to grab his $65 million.
But that signing — plus the signings of Moss, Hammel and Wood for a combined $40 million — were proof of ownership’s willingness to spend, in certain circumstances, on players the front office recommends.
Each of the free-agent deals was back-loaded, costing the Royals a combined $12.75 million in 2017 payroll. The team had about $2.5 million to spend before Ventura’s death, sources said. Through insurance or the voiding of Ventura’s contract, it will recoup most or all of the money the pitcher was owed — $3.25 million this season and a combined $16 million in the following two.
The net increase in 2017 payroll, then, might only be about $7 million. Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain each will require significantly larger investments, and it’s entirely possible that the Royals will lose all three.
Still, the open market this offseason was unpredictable, the increases in the new luxury-tax thresholds were relatively small and teams next winter might prefer to wait for the great free-agent class of 2018-19.
The Royals’ executives are relentless and intensely competitive. They are not going to concede a season. They are not going to concede on Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain.