Eric Hosmer was in high school in 2008 when Dayton Moore saw him for the first time. "I remember the presence and the athleticism," the Royals general manager recalled earlier this week. "The easiness around the bag. A plus-plus arm. Hard contact to the middle of the field."
He paused and said again, "Somebody who had an easiness."
If Moore sounds like a college professor thinking back on a class of freshmen, well, that makes sense because Hosmer and some of his teammates are like college seniors in their final months before graduation. They are shaping what may be the last chapter of their lives together, before some of them inevitably move on at year’s end. Nobody is ready to really talk about what comes next, so for now, they are in the moment.
The Royals started their season by losing 20 of 30, but have surged almost all the way back to .500. Some of Moore's peers with other teams understand Moore's loyalty and appreciation of this group of players. They believe that unless the Royals completely collapse and fall far behind in the race, there will be no Kansas City sell-off; they think there is no way the GM would break the Royals in the middle of this season without giving them the last, complete opportunity they’ve earned at the end of one of the greatest eras of success in team history.
Moore is known to be a realist, but he is not bloodless. He has seen this group of players win far too often, in much more improbable circumstances, to give up on them. "The players are the ones who are guiding success," Moore said. "Based on how the players are performing, on health, you make decisions at the appropriate time. ... We know these players better than anyone."
Moore recalled the summer of 2015, when the Royals gave up a strong group of prospects to add Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. The reason why the front office went for it, Moore said, was that the players on the Royals were performing well, and they were healthy. "And it’s the same thing now," Moore said.
As draft day approached in 2008, the Royals' staff debated the question of who would be taken with the first pick. Of course they discussed the identity of Hosmer's adviser -- Scott Boras, who almost always takes his clients into free agency. If Hosmer remained with the Royals through six years of major-league service time, Moore and his scouts knew there would be a good chance Hosmer would leave.
The decision was made to draft the first baseman. Moore's message in the room: We're going to have him for six years, and we’re going to enjoy the heck out of him.
Moore’s prophesy has come to almost full blossom: Hosmer and other core Royals -- including 2007 first-round pick Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar -- will be eligible for free agency in the fall, and wow, they’ve all had so much fun. The Royals had a winning season in 2013, their first in a decade, and they reached the postseason in 2014, ending a playoff drought of about three decades. Together, they created one of the best playoff comebacks ever, scrambling for three runs in the eighth inning and another in the ninth before beating Oakland in the 12th, in maybe the wildest wild-card game. They played to a Game 7 in the World Series, conquering everybody in the baseball world other than Madison Bumgarner.
The Royals returned to the World Series in 2015, came back again and again, with Hosmer applying his instincts and a scouting report and sliding across home in the ninth inning to tie Game 5, before the team closed out the Mets in the 12th. Almost a million folks gathered in Kansas City for a parade and celebration that none of them will ever forget. They were together again in January for one of the worst moments, when they said goodbye to Yordano Ventura, their brother, after he died at age 25 in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.
No one knows what the Royals will look like next year. No one knows if Hosmer’s best offer as a free agent will come from Kansas City, or if he will move on. The same is true with Moustakas, Cain and Escobar. The Royals probably can’t afford to pay them all market value, so one way or the other, there will be change.
The players still have this time together, about 90 more regular-season games and any postseason games they might create. Moore, the man who always understood this was temporary, is not going to shut down the show in the middle of the final act.