On Monday afternoon, the first full day of the Winter Meetings, Royals general manager Dayton Moore and a team of lieutenants met inside a suite at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Inside a makeshift office, in the middle of a sprawling compound of hotel rooms and Mickey Mouse memorabilia, club officials discussed the first steps in a rebuilding plan that could last three to four years and test the culture and infrastructure built across the last decade. The, ahem, new process has begun with a simple goal.
“We have to build our farm system at the level we had it in 2010,” Moore said. “That is the focus of this organization as we sit here today.”
This mission is why club officials spent part of Monday fielding phone calls from rival clubs inquiring about players such as Kelvin Herrera, Scott Alexander, Whit Merrifield and even Danny Duffy. It is also why the club is likely to eschew the free-agent market for most of this offseason — save for the continued pursuit of first baseman Eric Hosmer — and focus more on short-term, low-cost moves near the end of the winter.
The Royals, Moore said, remain willing to listen to trade offers on just about any player on their roster, except perhaps Salvador Perez. The All-Star catcher is viewed as a franchise pillar and central to the team’s culture. If not untouchable, he would likely require a package of astronomical proportions. Yet as they seek to upgrade a farm system thinned out by trades made for Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto — and, yes, some draft misses — the Royals covet young players that could replenish the organization’s talent pool and be part of the next window to contend.
“We are where we are,” Moore said. “So everything we do has to be centered around: ‘How do we build our farm system?’ ”
Moore, of course, has been in this situation before. Hired from the Atlanta Braves in 2006, he turned the Kansas City farm system into one of the most loaded in baseball history by 2010. Five years later, the foundation would result in consecutive American League pennants and the second World Series championship in franchise history, an almost unparalleled feat by a small-market team in the modern era.
Moore and his staff will seek to replicate the success. Yet in some ways, the process — yes, that word again — could look different. In the months after Moore took over in 2006, the Royals signed Gil Meche to a five-year, $55 million contract. One year later, they landed free agent outfielder Jose Guillen.
This time around, club officials acknowledge that such deals are unlikely. The team has already recast its image around baseball and proven it can win at the major-league level. It has also re-built its international scouting operation and organizational infrastructure. In this way, the second Kansas City rebuilding plan will be set up to be more efficient — less concerned with results in the near-term and more focused on an ambitious long-term goal: A run of sustained success that doesn’t last five years, but a decade or more.
Maybe the next window begins in 2022. Perhaps it’s sooner. It starts, Moore says, with a better farm system.
There is, of course, one exception in the case of Hosmer, the franchise first baseman who is a free agent for the first time. While the club has signaled little interest in re-signing center fielder Lorenzo Cain or third baseman Mike Moustakas — two players whose career arcs might not fit into the next window to contend — it remains interested in a long-term deal for Hosmer, if the market cooperates.
The move would likely require the Royals to free up salary. In addition to Herrera, the club could also seek to move reliever Joakim Soria or starter Jason Hammel in an effort to dump money. Soria is guaranteed $9 million this season and a $1 million buyout in 2018. Hammel is still owed $11 million entering the second and final year of a $16 million contract.
On the first day of the Winter Meetings, there was little concrete news regarding the Royals. That may change by week’s end. It might not. But on the first day of the meetings, as Giancarlo Stanton was introduced as a New York Yankee in a crowded hotel ballroom, and officials from all 30 teams gathered for the sport’s annual offseason maelstrom, the Royals found themselves in an interesting position: Fielding calls and pondering scenarios, focusing on the health of their farm system and the future of the franchise.
“That is the focus,” Moore said.