Core workout: Free-agent decisions loom in KC

Hosmer seems most likely player to return to club

Core workout: Free-agent decisions loom in KC

KANSAS CITY -- This could be the most eventful and busy offseason Royals general manager Dayton Moore has had since taking the job in 2006.

The Royals will have to make numerous decisions on pending free agents, including first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, right fielder Melky Cabrera, and pitchers Jason Vargas, Peter Moylan and Trevor Cahill.

The Royals must also decide on left-hander Mike Minor, who has a mutual option, and showed promise as a potential closer. The closer who lost his job, Kelvin Herrera, enters his final year of arbitration after making $5.325 million in 2017.

Minor records the save

Moore has been adamant that he wants to keep the Royals a contender in 2018 and beyond.

Milestone, slam, catch lead '17 highlight reel

Biggest needs

1. Starting pitching: The Royals will have left-hander Danny Duffy and right-handers Jason Hammel, Ian Kennedy, Jakob Junis and Nate Karns back. But they will need more depth, and perhaps more quality, as 2017's second-half rotation breakdown exposed.

Possible free-agent fit: Vargas. It's unlikely Moore dips into the free-agent pool with anyone other than whom he knows at this point. Vargas started strong, got his first All-Star selection and finished strong in September.

Vargas' strong outing at home

2. Bullpen: The Royals have prided themselves for years in having a shutdown bullpen, and that element alone carried them to back-to-back World Series from 2014-15. But they are a long way from the famous HDH (Herrera-Davis-Holland) days. Herrera lost the closer job and a patchwork bullpen simply couldn't hold up in 2017.

Possible FA fit: Moylan showed he can defy age (38) and likely deserves another shot at returning. During one 25-appearance stretch, he posted a 0.47 ERA. Minor's emergence as a closer in September is intriguing for 2018. Whatever else Moore finds will be on a strict budget.

Moylan strikes out Anderson

3. 1B, SS, 3B, CF: It all depends where Moore allocates his financial resources. The Royals already committed about $105 million (unofficially) for payroll in 2018 and figure to spend about $145 to 150 million. Raul Mondesi could step in for Escobar, Cheslor Cuthbert could take over for Moustakas and Paulo Orlando could replace Cain. There is no easy replacement for Hosmer.

Orlando's go-ahead two-run jack

Possible FA fits: The guess here is the Royals will do everything they can to keep Hosmer, who is the face of the franchise, a fierce competitor, a great teammate and someone who cares about the community. Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain seem likely candidates to get qualifying offers.

Gray areas

1. Corner outfield: It would seem logical to let Cabrera walk and have Jorge Bonifacio take over in right. And with two years left on Alex Gordon's deal, the Royals desperately need the type of production from him they got in September, when he finally opted for more of an opposite-field approach. At some point, Jorge Soler needs to show he can consistently hit Major League pitching.

Soler's two-run homer

X factors

1. Money to burn? The Royals may have about $40 million or so to land perhaps two of their pending free agents. It also doesn't seem likely that Moore will go for a total rebuild. The GM already has been through that once in K.C., and a looming local TV deal after 2019 likely means the organization will want to keep the team competitive on the field the next two seasons.

2. Mondi time? With the potential of losing several free agents, the Royals need someone like Mondesi to step up and become an impact player, the way Francisco Lindor did in Cleveland. They got breakthrough seasons from Whit Merrifield, Bonifacio and Junis. It's Mondi's time.

Mondesi's RBI single

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.