It's the curse of the small market team. The inability to lure the biggest names in free agency with large media exposure and the contracts that come with it are the curse of teams like the Brewers, Rays, Athletics, Twins and many more. The Kansas City Royals certainly know the factors involved for such a franchise, and they've learned to scour free agent remains like Jeff Francouer, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francis and others -- guys who are looking to rehabilitate their image and/or reputation.
The margin for winning is much smaller for a team like the Royals than others even within their division (i.e. Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox). Yet winning is indeed possible by drafting well, making savvy trades and, honestly, just getting lucky on a few moves over the waiver wire or within the international market. The Royals are on an obvious upswing, as they currently sit over .500 and the first prospect, Eric Hosmer, has arrived to establish a talented beachhead that will also bring Mike Montgomery, Will Myers, Mike Moustakas and several others.
Yet their arrival also brings a clock -- one that measures service time instead of hours and minutes, counting down until arbitration and, ultimately, free agency arrive. As the clock moves forward, the dollars head upward and it leaves that small market franchise wondering what it should do since money is an object for teams like the Royals. The answer for many teams has been to lock up its players with guaranteed dollars that cover several years -- a bonus for a player wanting to eliminate injury risk, while the team can retain its players longer.
The key, of course, through all of this is long-term health and continued production and development, and the Royals might not want to lock up Hosmer when they control him for the next several years anyway. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star wrote on this recently, arguing that the Royals should attempt to lock up Hosmer, a Scott Boras client, to a deal that uses recent extensions given to Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez and the Rays' Evan Longoria as examples. Mellinger proposes a six-year, $25 million contract that could escalate to $65 million over nine seasons, and, in doing so, confronts the Royals recent reluctance to tie up young players:
Indications are that the Royals would prefer to wait. They didn’t sign Greinke or Butler until the last offseason they thought possible, but Hosmer is different. Greinke comes with well-chronicled baggage that had some wondering about his extension, and Butler, while a remarkably advanced hitter, is a one-dimensional player best suited for DH.
Hosmer is mature, stays in terrific shape and has no red flags in his personality or background. He hits to all fields against all pitchers, hits with power, runs well and will probably win a Gold Glove someday. There may be a reason he will fail in the big leagues, but nobody has seen it yet.
Mellinger is right that Hosmer is the type of candidate to lock up at some point in the near future, not only as a way to keep the talent as long as possible, but to also make a statement that once the winning ways begin in Kansas City, there's a commitment to keep it that way. Given the hard luck and misfortune that Royals fans have endured for some time, making sure the pendulum swings a long way in a positive direction would give fans something to really cheer for.