Key questions surround Hosmer heading into '17

A free agent after season, Royals All-Star looking to put together full season offensively

Key questions surround Hosmer heading into '17

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Royals squad each day this week. Today's topic: How's your star?

KANSAS CITY -- For years under general manager Dayton Moore, the Royals prided themselves in their no-superstar roster construction.

30 stars ready to shine bright in 2017

But the truth is, the Royals do have players hovering on the edge of stardom, namely Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy and Eric Hosmer.

And the one player right now closest to that edge, if you talk to club officials, is Hosmer.

In fact, how well the Royals do in 2017 largely could hinge on Hosmer.

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Hosmer, 27, has all the tools for stardom. He hits for power, he drives in runs, he can hit for average, and despite the highly subjective defensive metrics out there, he is considered by the coaching staff as one of the best defenders in the business.

But there are two predominant questions surrounding Hosmer in 2017: Can he finally put an entire season together offensively and, perhaps more importantly, will he be wearing someone else's jersey before the season ends?

Hosmer outstanding in 2016

Hosmer burst onto the national scene with the 2014 and 2015 playoffs, and earned Most Valuable Player honors in the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard with two hits, including a home run. And Hosmer set career highs in home runs (25) and RBIs (104) last season. But the Royals believe he hasn't reached his peak.

"There is still a ceiling there," Moore said recently. "There is still potential for growth. But we know that he is the type of player that can carry a club."

And that's what the Royals may need from Hosmer this season: to be a difference-maker.

Hosmer's performance dropped dramatically after that MVP performance in the All-Star Game. From July 20 on, Hosmer hit .217 with a .286 on-base percentage and a .665 OPS. No one could pinpoint the issue, including Hosmer.

"Just one of those things that happens in baseball," Hosmer said after the season.

The Royals still believe Hosmer can max out in the 30- to 35-homer range with 120 RBIs and a .300 average. They also believe he's more respected inside the game for his defensive prowess than outside.

"Coaches, players, his own pitchers recognize what he does defensively," manager Ned Yost said. "He saves countless runs with his ability to pick throws in the dirt. It also allows our infielders to be more aggressive with their throws knowing he is there. That translates into more outs."

But how long will Hosmer be around? He is signed to a $12.25 million deal for 2017 and can become a free agent after that.

Moore has pledged he will try to keep his home-grown products but acknowledges, "We know we can't keep them all."

Departures by Hosmer, Cain, third baseman Mike Moustakas and shortstop Alcides Escobar are real possibilities for the small-market Royals.

A Hosmer exit could sting the most.

"He's the one guy I would definitely try to keep," one rival agent said. "There's just too much potential there."

If Hosmer walks, it could signal the inevitable changing of the guard for the Royals, who are hoping a prospect such as Ryan O'Hearn (49 homers the past two Minor League seasons) could eventually take his place, while the next wave of prospects like Raul Mondesi, Hunter Dozier and Cheslor Cuthbert also establish themselves as regulars.

"Change is inevitable," Moore said. "Like I said before, we'll do what we can to keep our own guys. We're not going to just let them all walk. But the reality is you won't keep them all."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.