On the day after the season, Royals general manager Dayton Moore boarded a flight for Arizona. The itinerary for the week consisted of internal meetings, phone calls and some baseball in the form of the fall instructional league. When you don't make the playoffs, as his team did not for a second straight season, this is what October looks like.
This is how Moore began his club's most pivotal offseason since the last one, a winter that could define the future of baseball in Kansas City, a stretch that could chart a course for the next five to 10 years. The only certainty is uncertainty, Moore says, and for once this sounds less like a cliche about baseball's offseason and more like reality.
In less than a month, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jason Vargas will officially become free agents. The club will embark on its latest rebuilding process. The only question: The size and scale of the youth movement.
"We can go one of two ways," Moore said plainly. "We can decide to just gut the team the best we can and save as much money as possible and play for draft picks, and maybe that's ultimately what we could end up doing. It's too early to predict that right now.
"I think there's some other things that we'd like to execute if possible -- see what happens with our free agents. Everybody assumes that we are just going to just get blown away in free agency, and we don't have a chance. They may be right, but I think everybody felt that way about Alex Gordon at the time. That fell back to us. You just never really know."
For now, Moore says, the club will continue to weigh various options and scenarios as it prepares for the offseason. Club officials remain confident in their ability to re-sign and extend homegrown talent, and Moore can point to a list of successes in that area, from Billy Butler to Salvador Perez to Yordano Ventura to Danny Duffy. Yet the free agency of Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain will present an unprecedented challenge. All three are expected to receive qualifying offers from the club in November, which would ensure some level of draft compensation if they depart. (Vargas and Escobar will not.) All three will be among the more coveted players on the market.
The Royals are expected to prioritize Hosmer, a soon-to-be 28-year-old first baseman coming off the best offensive season of his career. And he will likely command a nine-figure deal that would blow away Gordon's four-year, $72 million contract as the richest in club history.
Royals manager Ned Yost has talked about going younger and moving back into development mode at the major-league level. Yet to retain Hosmer would reduce the scale of a potential rebuild and open up other scenarios. When asked this week if he was still encouraged by his club's position in the upcoming free agent market, Moore answered: "Within reason, of course."
"It's hard to predict what's going to happen," he continued. "It's hard to predict what the competition is going to be like. That'll all be assessed at the appropriate time, when teams are able to make offers to major-league free agents. It's pretty apparent, though, when you look at supply and demand with position players, there's going to be a lot of guys out there.
"The players that have a realistic view of their value will probably get signed rather quickly. Those that are shooting extremely high oftentimes get left standing when the music stops. I'm not saying that's going to happen with our guys."