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Kansas City Royals need to spend money this offseason. Season of ‘evaluation’ proved it

Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

So the beleaguered Royals on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium won for the sixth time in seven games and 10th in 18 September outings. And, honest, that’s part of some compelling stuff going on into the final nine games of the season.

Emerging star Bobby Witt Jr. is one homer from his 30th and two stolen bases from his 50th and on the cusp of becoming just the fourth major-league player to hit 30 and steal 50.

En route to the Royals winning a third straight series for the first time in two years, sudden sensation Nelson Velazquez hit his 12th home run in 31 games with an at-bat as a Royal.

When they resume play on Friday at Houston, lefthanded starter Cole Ragans — like Velazquez, largely a thriller since being acquired midseason — will be in the spotlight again.

Consider other clear breakouts such as Maikel Garcia and Vinnie Pasquantino before his season-ending injury, and it at times feels like there’s maybe something happening here.

But it’s still tough to know what, exactly.

Because it remains uncertain how sustainable Velazquez and Ragans’ revelations have been, for instance. And so much of everything else remains open to interpretation even late in what the Royals have euphemistically called an evaluation season.

Not to mention that this sounds all too familiar.

At 51-102 and perched four losses from matching the franchise record (106), the Royals are doing what they’ve done virtually every season since they won the World Series in 2015: Finish with a bit of a flourish after careening hopelessly out of postseason contention weeks into the season.

Whether the latest is more fool’s gold or legitimate cause for encouragement with a young nucleus will be the essential question of an offseason that begs for the Royals to be busy and ready to spend — especially if they want to gain more public support for their intentions to build a new ballpark and surrounding district.

What should be doubted? What’s worthy of hope? And what’s really a source of faith?

What the Royals have learned and the actions they take from here will loom large from the get-go next season; their first stress test will be to see if they can merely stay afloat a few weeks into the schedule for the first time since 2016.

Toward that end, they still have much to reconcile about a number of position players, a vast amount of pitching and such substantial matters as the future of catcher and fan favorite Sal Perez.

Now 33, Perez is due $20 million next season and $22 million in 2025 and could hold considerable value as the Royals try to be realistic about their timeline toward contention.

In a certain way, that puts Perez squarely at the crossroads of a fundamental shift in philosophy in the first year of J.J. Picollo presiding over baseball operations.

The preferred path forward has become a transactional churn. That’s in contrast to Dayton Moore’s more forbearing approach, which was integral to back-to-back American League titles but a factor in the descent since.

All of which speaks to why this offseason figures to be intriguing and revealing — and pivotal.

Who does the franchise consider a pillar? Who does it deem more valuable in the long run as a trade piece? And what’s the willingness of owner John Sherman to spend money on payroll in ways he hasn’t before?

To reiterate something I wrote a couple months ago, it seems it would be win-win for Sherman and the Royals to invest in some key cogs — particularly some seriously credible starting pitching.

While my belief is that funding the stadium project and the team’s performance now are largely disparate points, many quite reasonably ask why they should want to spend on the team if Sherman won’t spend more to improve the franchise.

This is a chance for him to address that head-on.

When Star colleague Sam McDowell and I interviewed Sherman last month, he said this season “has taught me that we did exactly the thing we needed to do this year. It’s been painful. But I own it. This process and where we are is exactly what we should have done.”

He also praised Picollo for the bold sorts of deals he was seeking to engineer at the trade deadline.

But how that mindset is made tangible will be everything after the season while they also must simultaneously focus on reviving their minor-league system.

None of that necessarily renders this recent micro-sample irrelevant, by the way. It’s a character check, for one thing, and it only adds dimension to the profiles.

Also …

“Certainly, it’s way better than the alternative …” manager Matt Quatraro said after KC’s 6-2 Wednesday victory, later adding, “By no means is anyone in there satisfied with what the total body of work is. But you can only play the games on your schedule that day, right?

“And if you’re going to play you’re going to try to win, and that goes for Day One or Day One-sixty-two.”

“Today,” in other words, like it says on the T-shirts they broke out a week or so back.

But the future starts now — even as they keep assessing major things you’d like to feel are clear or somewhat resolved by now:

What must they do to bolster pitching enough to just give themselves a chance to win? Who beyond Witt, Garcia, Pasquantino and Perez, if he’s still here, constitute the nucleus of a winning lineup? Can MJ Melendez, Michael Massey, Nick Pratto and Drew Waters, among others, more consistently produce what they’ve demonstrated in flashes?

Any evaluation of their evaluations hinge on how the Royals answer those questions and more — while we wait to see if this September has more promising implications than those of the recent past.