MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

GM Moore ponders future for Royals

Defending World Series champs have lost 20 of the past 31 games

GM Moore ponders future for Royals

The Kansas City Royals are coming off back-to-back American League championships, having won their first World Series championship in 30 years last October. They have control of the bulk of their roster through at least 2017, and for the first two and a half months of this season, they appeared primed to take a shot at becoming the first team in this century to win back-to-back World Series titles.

And then came a 39-day stretch that has seen Kansas City fall from contention in the AL Central. The Royals woke up Thursday having lost 20 of their past 31 games. They have seen a half-game deficit to the Indians expand to 8 1/2, and have fallen behind the Tigers and White Sox not only in the division, but also in an AL Wild Card race, where there are five teams ahead of them.

It has forced Kansas City to re-evaluate its plans leading up to Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Royals aren't just looking to fine-tune for the next two months. General manager Dayton Moore has to embrace a bigger picture.

That's why Wade Davis has emerged in trade rumors, with reports having the Dodgers making a very strong push. What the Dodgers, however, have to understand is this isn't a fire sale. Davis is one of the elite closers in the game, and if the Royals were to give him up, they would need an elite return.

Davis completes the save

The Royals aren't embracing a rebuild. Moore is too strong of a competitor to ever give up.

"I know we haven't played our best baseball to date," Moore told MLB.com beat writer Jeff Flanagan. "We're capable of doing much better. And our players know that. Our coaching staff knows that. Our fans know that."

Moore is also a realist.

"We haven't been as healthy as we've been in the past," he said. "That's certainly a factor as you evaluate how you match up with the other teams in the division, but we're constantly evaluating the landscape. What players are out there? And what we can do to continue to improve our team?"

Moore knows he has 10 players who could become free agents by the end of the 2017 season, including Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Luke Hochevar, whose contracts are up at the end of this year. Yes, they have contract options, but they are mutual options, so Kansas City isn't in control.

Davis also has an option for 2017, but it is a club option. Starting pitchers Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and outfielder Jarrod Dyson have contracts that expire at the end of 2017.

The Royals have a record-setting payroll in excess of $130 million this year, and owner David Glass is willing to expand it, which he has shown in the past two seasons with the team having a championship within reach.

A market like Kansas City, however, is not going to allow the Royals to ever be a free spender.

That undoubtedly plays a role in why reports regarding Davis have included references to Kansas City wanting a team pursuing Davis to also take on the contract of Ian Kennedy, an offseason free-agent addition who received a five-year, $70 million deal.

Kennedy strikes out Napoli

Kennedy has been inconsistent in his first year with the Royals. In his first 20 starts, he was 6-9 with a 4.41 ERA, but even Kennedy isn't a giveaway.

If Kansas City was to free up the $62.5 million Kennedy is due after this season and feel it would ensure retaining Volquez, that money could be used to add another starter in the offseason.

But it is not like the Royals have the rotation depth to give a starter away. Their 31-game struggle has been underscored by a rotation that has gone 6-15 with a 5.59 ERA, both of which rank 14th in the AL during that stretch.

Kansas City experimented last week with Brian Flynn against Cleveland. It lasted seven outs.

The idea of dealing Kennedy and the possibility of losing Volquez, and with a hole already in the rotation, would leave the Royals with just two known commodities for 2017 -- Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura -- and the hope of a return of Mike Minor from left shoulder surgery and Vargas from Tommy John surgery.

"I wouldn't classify or categorize any player as untouchable," Moore told Flanagan. "Never have. We always evaluate somebody's level of interest and what their level of interest may mean to the improvement of our team in terms of players that they would be willing to part with, because that's what you do, especially this time of year."

In other words, the Royals aren't selling. They are, however, listening.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.