- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
This would be the 27th consecutive season the Kansas City Royals would not be part of the postseason, if they don't make it. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, this would be the 20th consecutive year without being part of baseball's October.
So for the fans of these two teams, progress is measured in other ways, and this morning's news that the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen have agreed to a six-year deal is maybe the best thing to happen to the team since before Sid Bream slid home. Fairly or not, the question of whether the Pirates would be able to keep McCutchen and build around him -- as the Colorado Rockies have with Troy Tulowitzki and the Milwaukee Brewers with Ryan Braun -- has been a Pittsburgh referendum on whether the team is serious about winning.
The Pirates have a foundation piece in place now. The Kansas City Royals are trying to do the same thing, with the wave of young talent it has drafted and developed. Last week, catcher Salvador Perez -- who the Royals hope will follow in the path of Yadier Molina and eventually become a productive hitter -- agreed to a five-year, $7 million deal. Kansas City is in negotiations with Alex Gordon, who is coming off the best season of his career, and whether or not they can get something done with him, there figure to be talks with shortstop Alcides Escobar, who is already regarded by some scouts as baseball's most talented defensive shortstop.
These conversations are a prelude to the team's most significant target: first baseman Eric Hosmer, who is the Royals' version of McCutchen, as a superstar-level talent.
"It's important for us to sign as many of our good young players as we can, long-term," Royals GM Dayton Moore said Sunday. "We need as much flexibility as we can get the next three to four years ... obviously, there is risk involved with it, but there's cost certainty.
"And you're going to have a comfort level with your own players, the guys who are homegrown, because you know them and know their families."
The risk for the Royals, of course, is if the players don't turn out to be as good as expected or if they get hurt. The Cleveland Indians were the pioneers of this kind of long-term thinking in the '90s, and with their best young players locked up, the Indians were able to build and plan and add.
A foundation of Hosmer, Gordon, Escobar and Perez not only would give the Royals a chance to win, but also would frame a structure well into the next decade, because salaries would be locked in place and budget space would be defined.
If the Royals cannot sign Hosmer, they will be in the same position as where the Brewers were with Prince Fielder the last couple of years. Because Milwaukee couldn't sign him to a long-term deal, it had to decide whether to trade him for less than equal value on the market or keep him and try to win as long as possible, knowing that he'd eventually walk away as a free agent. The Brewers kept him, and fans filled their ballpark in 2011 as Milwaukee made the playoffs, a last hurrah with Fielder before he signed with the Detroit Tigers in the offseason.
Fielder is represented by agent Scott Boras, whose clients typically go into free agency rather than signing a long-term deal in the way that Tulowitzki and Braun did.
Hosmer is a Boras client.
There are agents and general managers who believe, however, that it is extremely difficult for any young player to turn down a massive offer with a big, crooked number. "If you're 23 years old," said one agent, "are you going to turn down tens of millions of dollars?"
McCutchen did not, an enormous moment of progress for the Pirates. How will Hosmer react? We may well find out sometime in the weeks and months ahead.
If the Royals are to sign Hosmer to a Tulowitzki-like deal, a leap of faith will be required from Kansas City's ownership. But keep in mind that every time Moore's front office has asked for an extraordinary expenditure -- whether it was a free-agent signing of Gil Meche or Jose Guillen, or an investment in a draft pick -- the Glass family has responded. If there is a Hosmer deal that can be made, it's hard to imagine it won't get done.
The Royals had a good first day.
• Bees delayed a game 41 minutes, as Nick Piecoro writes.
- The Rockies have a program in which a player can call the team and arrange for transportation if the player believes he has had too much to drink.
- "We sat down with these guys and explained to them that in this area in Scottsdale, they have to be really careful," [General Manager Dan] O'Dowd said.
- O'Dowd said he was glad that White was upfront about the incident.
- "We'd be much more upset if the kid didn't handle it," O'Dowd said. "He walked right into (manager Jim Tracy's office) this morning and said, 'Here's what took place.' Then he asked Jim if he could talk to the team, went into the theater room and got up in front of everybody and said, 'Here's a stupid decision I made last night and here's what happened, and I'm sorry to all you guys.'"
Here's the thing: The players have even less of an excuse than the average person, because like the Rockies, all teams now have a support system built for them. If a player knows he's going to drink at all, he can have a ride prearranged.
• Joel Zumaya will try again. He has decided to have elbow reconstruction surgery. Talked to Minnesota Twins GM Terry Ryan about him the other day, and Ryan said Zumaya was throwing so well that there had been a real sense that he could help Minnesota this year. If Zumaya was that good this time around, there's really no reason to think he can't be throwing well again a year from now -- if healthy.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. Buck Showalter is looking for a leadoff hitter.
Dings and dents
7. Rafael Furcal's goal is to stay healthy.
The battle for jobs
1. I can't remember many spring days here in Florida when there was as much wind as there was on Sunday, so all the results from yesterday should be taken with a major dose of perspective. Especially if your name is Julio Teheran.
6. Travis Snyder is swinging a hot bat.
10. Ryan Braun heard a mixed reaction.
• A psychedelic structure in the batter's eye might be a problem for left-handed hitters in the Marlins' new ballpark, writes Clark Spencer.
• A Reds catcher is settling in.
• Cary Spivak writes about Shyam Das, the arbitrator in the Braun case.
• The Mets' camp, like a lot of camps in spring, is loaded with early risers.
• The Padres' bullpen has been revamped, writes Dan Hayes.
• The Players Association believes the leak in the Braun case was an isolated instance.
• Lenny Dykstra is looking to change his plea.
• There is no story from the sports weekend better than this one: Pat Summitt cut down the nets again.
And today will be better than yesterday.