Kansas City Royals players and manager Ned Yost reflect on the final week of the season as several players near free agency. John Sleezer and Vahe Gregorian The Kansas City Star
Kansas City Royals players and manager Ned Yost reflect on the final week of the season as several players near free agency. John Sleezer and Vahe Gregorian The Kansas City Star

Vahe Gregorian

Royals as you know them gird themselves for goodbyes and a new era

By Vahe Gregorian

vgregorian@kcstar.com

September 26, 2017 10:05 PM

The Last Stand of this resurgent version of the Royals began Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium with a strand of a flicker of a glimmer of hope that the inevitable somehow could be delayed. After all, the core of the group that reincarnated baseball here after a generation of futility theoretically remained alive for a wild-card berth if only they could win their last six while Minnesota lost its last six.

Despite the Royals’ 2-1 win over Detroit, then, it was all over moments later when the Twins beat Cleveland 8-6.

Afterward, manager Ned Yost said he wasn’t in the mood to be reflective.

And perhaps the flimsy prospect of one last preposterous comeback together, denial couched within desire, was why he initially was terse before the game when asked about any sentimentality he was experiencing as the 2017 season fizzles out and a parade of Royals free agents will test the market.

The exodus will likely mean a reinvention of the team as you know it.

Behind his sunglasses, arms crossed, Yost sat in the dugout before the game and in his patented way started to shut down the question … before being unable to resist answering.

“I mean, I say ‘no,’ but … ,” he started, before laughing and launching into a story about Eric Hosmer as a rookie.

At the end of the 2011 season, Hosmer came to Yost’s office and gave him a signed bat as a form of gratitude.

“ ‘I’ve never had a rookie do this,’ ” Yost remembered thinking.

With a mix of bemusement and anticipation, he put the bat in the corner of his office and wondered about what “the kid” might accomplish in the next six years.

So on Tuesday, he called in Hosmer, who will turn 28 next month.

And Yost had Hosmer sign the bat with a few of those accomplishments that will go on his ledger and be part of his legacy with the Royals:

“Three-time Gold Glove winner, 2016 All-Star MVP, 2015 World Champion.”

Of these, of course, the title will be the most enduring in Kansas City and with teammates and anyone who was around it all.

Which is why this week should be not just a melancholy time but also one of reflection and appreciation, one that you can bet will end with a curtain call Sunday no matter how the game ends.

Even while not knowing who will be back and who won’t, particularly among the four impending free agents (Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas) who were vital to the Royals’ rebirth and back-to-back World Series appearances, you do know how they transformed the mind-set of a city with a mystical, magical time.

Having the decades of woes purged by a group you saw grow up before your eyes and become entwined with the community and pull it all off with an unprecedented knack for the postseason comeback was the stuff dreams are made of.

And if you think it’s hard being a fan knowing an extreme makeover is ahead, imagine being part of the group as the band is about to break up in some way or another.

“It’s part of the game,” catcher Sal Perez said. “And it’s going to be hard.”

Then there’s pitcher Danny Duffy, who literally still was in his high school cap and gown when the Royals drafted him 10 years ago.

“We’ve just got to make sure we soak up every moment (left) and hopefully give plenty of incentive for everybody to come back,” Duffy said. “I’ve spent my entire adult life with Moose (and) Hoz, and most of it with LoCain and a lot of it with Esky.”

Noting he’d become close with Jason Vargas, who also will be on the market, he added, “They deserve everything that they get. They reserve the right to test (it) because they’ve made it this far.

“I’m proud to have called them teammates, I’m proud of all the work they’ve put in to get here. You know, selfishly (I would) love to see them come back. That (remains) to be seen.

“Right now we’ve got to enjoy the last home stand and appreciate everything that we’ve had in the last decade.”

And that’s really the striking thing, isn’t it?

It’s really been a decade since general manager Dayton Moore’s first official draft.

And up-and-down and fragile and in doubt as his well-documented “process” seemed at times, the trajectory ultimately was to the top before the team parachuted back down to Earth the last two seasons — a story in itself and for another time.

Now, the process in essence will start over with the Royals almost certainly unable (or unwilling) to pay to bring back all the free agents, with Hosmer perhaps the most likely target they’d go all-in on.

Hosmer and Moustakas weren’t available in the clubhouse before the game Tuesday, but Cain and Escobar somewhat addressed the looming topic.

“It’s tough to really comment on it right now,” Cain said. “No one knows what’s going to happen.”

Said Escobar: “I don’t know what’s going on and who’s coming back after this year; I want to stay here, but I don’t know.”

That’s another part of the oddity of this.

By the time the Royals finish play on Sunday, they’ll be parting ways without really knowing who they’re parting with.

“I’ve never had to deal with something like that,” Duffy said. “This is a pretty big group of dudes that you know could in all reality spend their last day in a Royals jersey — but they’ll always be Royals. They’ll always be a part of this city.”

Indeed, stay or go, each will be stamped Forever Royal, with Hosmer and Moustakas representing the virtues of the draft and Cain and Escobar standing for the benefits of the Zack Greinke trade.

Add it all up, and the combination has left an indelible mark regardless of what’s ahead — something that Vargas summed up after his career-high 18th win.

“I’ve experienced things there that I’ve never experienced in my life before, made better friends here than I’ve ever made,” said Vargas, who will start Sunday. “I’m just looking forward to getting to put the uniform on one more time.”

Meanwhile, changes won’t necessarily be limited to lost free agents.

“It could be the last day for any of us,” Duffy added. “You’ve just got to appreciate what we have right now. It’s not just the dudes that are free agents. Baseball has a way of humbling you quick. I’ve seen it. I’ve known it forever.

“If God doesn’t want us to be Kansas City Royals tomorrow, we’re not going to be Kansas City Royals tomorrow. So it’s not just five or six dudes. It goes for all of us.”

Duffy’s way of handling it, he said, is to be thankful for today and tomorrow.

Not to mention yesterday — which six years ago suddenly felt like to Yost even before he felt ready to give in to reflection.

“Do I do it in my own little way? Yeah,” Yost acknowledged, later thinking of Hosmer’s bat and adding, “It’s gone by quick.”

After Royals' postseason elimination, manager Ned Yost 'not in a reflective mood'

The Royals beat the Tigers 2-1 on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium behind a dominant six-inning performance from starter Jason Vargas. But they were eliminated from the wild-card race when the Twins beat the Indians.

Maria Torres The Kansas City Star

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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