After writing on Sunday about the somewhat disappointing state of the Farm System under Dayton Moore, I had initially planned to write a followup post laying out my central concerns with the future of the Royals. As I worked on that, a counter-argument started forming in my mind.
Namely, there's no reason why the Royals can't be the Twins.
I kept coming back to the Twins because they share with the Royals a number of frustrating circumstances:
- Although the Twin Cities is not actually a "small market" the Twins have operated under stingy ownership and have typically been in the bottom third of the league in payroll. (Although in recent years this has changed a bit and they're currently projected to be around 14-15th for 2010.) If you were going to pick one ownership group that was most similar to what the Royals have, you'd probably pick Minnesota's.
- When it comes to player evaluation, strategy, etc. the Twins are a very traditional organization. They get an inordinate amount of praise for "doing things the right way" and while from this perspective this is both way over-stated (they were fundamentally horrible against the Yankees in the playoffs) and sometimes counter-productive, we can easily imagine the Royals of the next decade behaving the same way. Every year, it seems like the Twins are doing something with their roster that the analysts that I trust just think is preposterous. Remember this was the organization that produced a three year internet meme of "Freeing Johan Santana" and allowing him to start games. Although they've improved in this regard in the last three years or so, the mid-decade Twins were often their own worst enemy. I see the Royals, even if they got good, always being like that.
- The Twins have not been especially effective with valuing other people's talent. At the very best, they've broke even when it comes to free agent signings and trades. The Twins of the middle of this decade produced some free agent signings that were straight out of Dayton's greatest hits (Ruben Sierra, Sidney Ponson, the increasingly terrible Delmon Young trade). Even when they've been good, the minor moves the Twins make to round out the roster are often bizarre old options. This will be us someday!
Despite those limitations the Twins have produced elite talent (Mauer, partially Santana, Morneau) and an endless stream of generic but valuable position players and back of the rotation guys. Do you like junkballers with non-threatening names out of the 1950s? Allow me to introduce you to Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins. Between 2002 and 2006 the Twins had a Top 10 System according to BA which has produced enough organizational depth to allow the Twins to compete in the Central. Actually, it was more like Top 5: over those years the Twins ranked 6-4-5-4-6.
Essentially, I think the absolute upside for the Royals under Dayton Moore is to become the Twins. Here's what the Twins have done since they've gotten good:
(For 2008 and 2009 I listed their record through 162 games, although MLB considers the one-game playoff to be a regular season game.)
The line you often hear about the Twins is that "they'll always be there" and to some extent that has been true. That being said, since 2006 the Twins have been hindered by their limitations, only to be partially saved by virtue of the Central being lame. And although the '00s Twins started out with an upset victory over Oakland in the 2002 Playoffs, they've gone 3-16 in post-season play since (or 4-17, if you want to count the one game playoffs).
(The A's got absolutely murdered by the mainstream media for four straight playoff series, but those were all 5-game classics against extremely good Yankee and Red Sox teams.)
A part of me wants to consider the lack of post-season success just bad luck, while another believes its indicative of some larger limitation. Perhaps the scariest Twins team of the decade was the '06 squad, that one 96 games in a good Central (Detroit and CWS both won over 90 games) and played something like .700 ball over the last three months to win the division. And that team got swept out of the playoffs by... Oakland. The Twins have had some bad luck, or perhaps, they've never had really good luck in the playoffs. They've also usually been the third or fourth best AL team in the playoffs, which I think has been largely reflected in their 6-18 record. But they've been there a lot, which is really all that matters. I look at the Cardinals as the best example of this: probably their 5th best team of the decade was the one that ended up winning the World Series.
Trying to look ahead at the next five years is difficult. Here's a general impression: the Twins will be the Twins, the Indians will get better, Detroit and Chicago can go in multiple directions. The Royals have a long way to go, and when they get to that Twins level (if they do) it might not be good enough. It might. But it might not. The Twins have finished second quite a bit, after all.
So in sum, I think that this can be our upside: a really solid, mostly consistent, pretty good team. A team that will generate an inordinate amount of media praise. A team that will be taken to represent pure baseball virtue.
All that the Royals need to do is have a Top 5 farm system for half a decade. Get there, and they can win 80-90 games depending on how things shake out and how smart the rest of their decisions are.