The KC Royals need rotation help with ace Johnny Cueto, swingman Chris Young, and workhorse Jeremy Guthrie becoming free-agents this winter. However, trying to obtain a long-term rotation headliner by pursuing disgruntled Miami Marlin Jose Fernandez, as ESPN’s David Schoenfield suggests, would destroy the franchise.
Oh sure, it’s tempting.
The 23-year-old Fernandez is an unquestioned stud who flashed his potential in his 2013 Rookie-of-the Year season as a 20-year-old. Jose Fernandez burst on the scene 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, and a 9.7 K/9 while walking 3.0 hitters per nine innings. He racked up an All-Star nod, the Rookie 0f the Year Award, plus finished third in the Cy Young voting behind Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.
Fernandez would become the top dog of the Kansas City Royals staff, with Yordano Ventura as his sidekick. With three remaining years of team control, he’d become a big piece toward making the KC Royals a title contender through the current core’s remaining years of team control.
That’s part of the problem.
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The KC Royals need to secure a long-term revenue stream to lock-in mid-market rather than small-market status. Right now, the last two trips to the World Series have won the team a vast army of new fans. Yet, the Kansas City Royals aren’t reaping the true value of what they’ve created because they’re locked into an unfavorable local TV contract through 2019.
Winning another title in 2016 or 2017, followed by a crash as the KC Royals lose team control over Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain in 2018, would cripple their negotiation position for a TV contract after the 2019 season.
Right now, winning in 2019 is MORE IMPORTANT FOR THE LONG-TERM SUCCESS OF THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS THAN TITLE RUNS IN 2016 OR 2017.
All of this presumes Jose Fernandez will remain healthy over the next three seasons. That’s a bit of a whopper given that he’s never pitched more than 179 innings in a year, and suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in 2014. As well as being a Tommy John survivor, Jose Fernandez endured bicep and shoulder troubles that limited him to 64.2 (highly effective) innings in 2015.
Jose Fernandez is also a guy that “talked to the front office like they were children” and openly asked Marlins exec Michael Hill when would the team would trade him, according to blogger Andy Slater. Fernandez was so arrogant in Miami that an unnamed teammate told Slater:
"“There were times this season where, not all, but some players and coaches hoped Jose would go out on the mound and get shelled,” a player source told me. “We thought it would get him to be more humble.”"
That, KC Royals fans, is a guy that can destroy your clubhouse chemistry.
Certainly, you don’t throw away title chances when you have them. The KC Royals have enough playoff-seasoned veterans that they could become the San Francisco Giants if Dayton Moore makes all of the right moves in the next few years. What you don’t want to do is load up for 2016 or 2017 in such a way that it compromises 2019.
That’s what I believe any realistic deal for Jose Fernandez will do.
Consider the Zack Greinke deal in 2010. The Milwaukee Brewers gave up Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress, who fueled the KC Royals resurrection. Greinke had TWO remaining years of team control.
Jose Fernandez has three arbitration years remaining.
Any package for Fernandez will wipe out the top of KC’s farm system, which is already rather thin. General manager Dayton Moore will have to surrender two of Kyle Zimmer, Raul Mondesi, and Miguel Almonte just to get into the conversation. He’ll probably have to add at least two C+ prospects to close the deal.
Just where will Moore then get new pieces to build a winner in 2019?
Over at Royals Review, Tyler Drenon suggests Dayton Moore should pursue a mega-trade involving six prospects in return for Jose Fernandez, Marcell Ozuna, and Martin Prado.
Sure, that will fill most of the KC Royals holes for title runs in the next two seasons. But then you’d create the exact worst-case scenario (given where the team is today) for their 2019 TV contract.
A winning season, or better yet a playoff berth in 2019, following the golden era of 2014-2015, could lead to the KC Royals landing something similar to the $1 billion deal the Cardinals secured from Fox Sports Midwest. That’s what you’re gambling with a Jose Fernandez deal.
Trading for Jose Fernandez risks a return to the wilderness from which the franchise has just emerged. I’d be happier resigning Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist. I really don’t want to see the KC Royals undertake another 30-year Exodus of failure in my lifetime.
Once is enough.