Kansas City, Mo. Kansas City Royals owner David Glass believes small-market franchises must do whatever it takes to lock up young talent long term, even if it’s a sometimes risky proposition.
That means the pressure is on Royals general manager Dayton Moore.
The Royals are expected to field the youngest team in baseball this season, though that hasn’t diminished expectations. Many expect them to challenge Detroit in the AL Central behind a cadre of youthful stars such as first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Glass said he expects Moore to begin discussions with both of them on long-term deals as early as this season, even though they just arrived from the minor leagues last year.
“The Indians, the Rays and other people have had some success in keeping the young ones,” Glass told The Associated Press on Monday. “I think we’ve got a special group, and keeping them together and the best of the crop is really important to us.”
Tampa Bay may be the best example of how such a gamble can pay off.
Last month, the Rays agreed to a five-year deal with 22-year-old left-hander Matt Moore that includes options that could stretch it to eight years, even though Moore has made only five big league appearances and two starts. But the team was willing to risk big money on his big potential, and if he pans out, the team will have gotten a deep discount on what Moore would command on the open market.
The Rays have worked out similar contracts with pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis, third baseman Evan Longoria and first baseman Ben Zobrist, allowing them to compete in the loaded AL East with big budget teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
The Royals spent just over $36 million on their opening day payroll last season, last in the majors and about $165 million less than the Yankees. But that’s somewhat misleading because so many of the guys in the lineup by September were called up from the minor leagues.
Those are the guys whose contracts Dayton Moore will be eyeing soon.
“Probably during this season,” Glass said. “These guys, the majority of them came up during the season last year. ... Some of them will improve significantly. Others will level off. That’s just kind of the history of the game.”
Hosmer was a rookie of the year candidate after hitting .285 with 20 homers and 87 RBIs last season, while Moustakas batted .352 with four homers and 12 RBIs in September, solidifying their place as not only the cornerstone of the infield but also the entire organization.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar, second baseman Johnny Giavotella and catcher Salvador Perez also showed flashes of brilliance as they locked down spots in the starting lineup.
“We like where we are,” Dayton Moore said. “Six of the nine players in the lineup for us most days will be homegrown talent, and two of the remaining three will be players we acquired through trades of players that were in our system. Now the players need to go out and play.”
The Royals expect another rookie in Lorenzo Cain to start in center field, while left fielder Alex Gordon has talked about signing a long-term deal of his own after a breakout 2011 season.
Glass has always defended the Royals’ often meager payroll, but there are signs he’s willing to loosen the purse strings — especially if the team is finally in contention.
That could be this season, if expectations turn into results.
“We’re never going to be able to do what the big markets do,” Glass said. “The Yankees, if they can have $200-million plus, they’re always going to have two or three times as much as the rest of us.
“But there’s enough flexibility there,” he said. “What small markets need to do is position themselves so if the year’s going well and they’ve got a shot at winning their division, then you need to be able to step up and add to that mix whatever you need, whatever you think you need to win.”