NEW YORK – Even through the spray that speckled the ski goggles that shielded his eyes, Eric Hosmer could see clearly early Monday morning. The celebration that raged on around him, bubbly and Budweiser dowsing anyone who dare enter, was more than anything special. And exhilarating. And career-defining. And, Hosmer knew right then, rare.
“I think we all understand the business of this game,” the Kansas City Royals first baseman said, speaking above the considerable din in the visitors’ clubhouse at Citi Field. “We appreciate that we got to stay together, that we had mostly the same guys. We just know each other so well. It’s unbelievable.”
There will be a parade through downtown Kansas City on Tuesday, and Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas and the rest of those homegrown Royals will be feted as precisely the kind of characters their sensible, heartland community can embrace. But even as the celebration, so well-deserved for such a fun group, rages on, the rest of the sport moves forward. The Royals, and the New York Mets they vanquished, must too.
Baseball’s offseason begins almost immediately after the last out is recorded, in this case a Wade Davis fastball that froze Wilmer Flores, closing the fifth game of the 111th World Series in the 12th inning. Down time, for executives? Basically, none. The general managers’ meetings convene on Monday in Florida. Can we breathe, please?
The last two teams left standing have very different offseasons ahead. But in different ways, they must decide who they are and who they intend to be.
Start with the runner-up Mets. It would be easy to paint the World Series as a big-market Goliath vs. a small-market David, but the reality is New York spent less on payroll this year than did Kansas City. And that’s one question the Mets will have to answer, beginning this winter: With their window to win around their core of young starting pitching, can they spend more than the $101 million with which they opened 2015? That was less than the Reds, Twins, Brewers, Rockies and – yes – Royals.
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Their rotation – Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and, whenever he returns from Tommy John surgery, Zack Wheeler to go along with veteran lefty Jon Niese – is under team control. The question for each of them, as they surpassed previous highs for innings and pitches thrown, is how they’ll hold up when this all starts again.
“My concern is what they’re going to be like when they show up at spring training,” Mets Manager Terry Collins said. “When are those arms going to bounce back?”
There are other concerns. The Mets will almost certainly lose second baseman Daniel Murphy and slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to free agency. They will benefit from a full season of rookie outfielder Michael Conforto, and prospect Dilson Herrera may (eventually) take Murphy’s spot. But for a team that was last in the National League in runs scored before the trade for Cespedes, there are significant offensive holes.
The bullpen, too, is a shambles. Forget that closer Jeurys Familia was charged with three blown saves in the World Series. He’ll be back, still throwing 98-mph fastballs with a 91-mph splitter. But Tyler Clippard, the setup man acquired before the July 31 trade deadline who was central in blowing an eighth-inning lead in Game 4, is a free agent. There is work to be done at the back end.
So who are the Mets? Is the Wilpon family, which owns the team, still hindered financially by the Madoff scandal, and will that have an impact on roster construction? A team in New York, coming off a pennant, should have the monetary wherewithal to pursue one of the premier outfielders on the market, Cespedes or Justin Upton or Jason Heyward. Will they?
The Royals’ offseason path is a little clearer – at least for 2016. Four of their five primary free agents – pitchers Johnny Cueto and Chris Young, outfielder Alex Rios and utility man Ben Zobrist – were either signed just for 2015 or acquired at the trade deadline with an eye solely on this October. Each paid off.
But those players walking out the door won’t fundamentally eat at the Royals’ core. General Manager Dayton Moore has proven shrewd at signing short deals that fit both Kansas City’s distinct style of play and its budget. The concern: Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon, drafted by the Royals with the second overall selection in 2005, has a player option for 2016 that would pay him $12.5 million. It makes no sense for Gordon to accept that deal because he is worth more. He’ll likely become a free agent.
So this gets to the telling part of the Royals’ long-term prospects. These players, those who will ride in the cars in Tuesday’s parade, will be heroes in Kansas City forever.
“I always say we feel like a family here,” said Perez, who started the game-winning rally with a single and was named the World Series MVP. “We’ve got the same group when I play my first year in 2007 in Arizona, the rookie league. It’s amazing to now win a World Series and see the same guys with you.”
Perez, who Royals coaches and executives often describe as the heart of the Royals, doesn’t have to worry about being left out of the family. He has what might be the most team-friendly – indeed, borderline criminal – contract in the game, a deal that will pay him $2 million next year with team options totaling $14.75 million covering 2017-2019. He’ll be a Royal.
So, too, will Hosmer, Cain, Mosutakas and reliever Wade Davis – all under team control through 2017 (Davis via a pair of club options that will certainly be picked up). Setup man Kelvin Herrera is under team control through 2018. Game 5 starter Edinson Volquez has a team option for 2017 for $10 million, affordable if he pitches as he did this year.
So the Royals’ conundrum has less to do with next season than their long-term plans, trying to figure out which of those players to try to sign to long-term deals – and when. Hosmer and Moustakas both employ Scott Boras as their agent, and Boras traditionally takes his clients to free agency. But Moore may try to move in on the others this offseason.
“I can’t imagine playing with a different group of guys,” Cain said. With the champagne not yet dry, he doesn’t have to.