Quarterbacks are unique in sports. They touch the ball on every single offensive position, and even if they don't have a direct impact on a specific play, their threat and skillsets must be considered by the defense at all times. Furthermore, good decisions made by the quarterbacks make the defense better. The best quarterbacks always win. Tom Brady hasn't suffered a losing season once in his career. Peyton Manning only suffered two of them, both early in his career. John Elway dragged team after team to Super Bowls until he was finally surrounded with good players in order to win one.
Basketball players aren't quite the same, as no single player handles the ball in a fundamentally different way than the other nine guys on the court. But the best basketball players can impact the game because of that--there are only nine other guys on the court. The best basketball players always win. LeBron James has been to six straight NBA Finals and has singlehandedly brought multiple teams to the brink of a championship. Michael Jordon won six NBA finals and his teams were some of the greatest of all time. Shaquille O'Neal was on a smorgasbord of teams and they were all excellent.
Baseball is fundamentally different.
Individual greatness does not inherently equate to team success in the same way in baseball. Mike Trout has a historical argument for being one of the best players ever in his first six seasons; his Angels have been to the playoffs once in his career and they were swept. Bryce Harper is the biggest star in baseball today, and his Nationals have yet to win a playoff series in his career. Felix Hernandez has never been to the playoffs. Chris Sale has never been to the playoffs. Carlos Beltran--possible future Hall-of-Famer Carlos Beltran--has only played in the playoffs five out of his 19 seasons. Randy Johnson, actual Hall-of-Famer, six-time Cy Young winner, owner of one of baseball's 23 perfect games, and best left-handed pitcher of all time has only one World Series ring.
So-called 'competitive windows' happen in every sport. Competitive windows are periods of time where a team has the greatest chance at winning a championship, and exist because teams constantly change and players constantly rotate through the league. It's inevitable. But sign a top-notch quarterback and your competitive window instantly opens and can last a decade. Sign a top-notch starting pitcher and the window will only move an inch.
The Kansas City Royals built their team internally and started to open their competitive window in 2011. Through signings, trades, and the evolution of the draft picks, the Royals made good on their chance, securing back-to-back World Series appearances and a championship.
But competitive windows don't last. It's inevitable. The Royals have structured their team such that there is a breaking point after 2017, the last year that they control Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Danny Duffy, Chris Young, Jason Vargas, and Jarrod Dyson. For years, this team has looked very similar, with minimal turnover for the position players and pitchers alike.
When Dayton Moore set up his strategy to build from within, growing players from the farm system and supplementing it with free agent talent rather than the opposite, he was blessed with a number of high draft picks to utilize. He did a pretty good job with that, securing Hosmer, Moustakas, and Wil Myers, all of whom have helped the team immensely in their own way. But since then, the steady flow of prospects has trickled.
Take a look at the farm system. What pitcher's name do you recognize? Miguel Almonte, whose ERA is almost 4.50 in a repeat of AAA? Kyle Zimmer, whose right shoulder is composed of gauze and sadness? Jonathan Dziedzic, a 25 year-old with a 5+ ERA in AAA? Arnold Schauffler? Brooks Pounders? Harry Armstrong? I just made two of those names up.
And what position players are left? There's Raul Mondesi, who is suspended and hasn't played in weeks. Or Hunter Dozier, who was horrific last year and already 24 years old. Bubba Starling and his .190 batting average in a repeat of AA?
The Royals are where they are right now (second place!) in part of some nice contributions from inexperienced players. Christian Colon, Whit Merrifield, Brett Eibner, and Cheslor Cuthbert have a collective 1.8 WAR in 84 games, which is very respectable for a group of non-prospects (except for Colon, but he was always considered a low-ceiling guy).
But there's not much left in the system, and the Royals are coming to a breaking point. The Exodus in 2018, looms. Surely the Royals will be able to retain at least one of the players in that group; I don't necessarily think an extension for Herrera is out of the cards, and it seems likely the Royals will be able to grab one of Hosmer/Duffy/Moose.
They can't keep them all, though (nor should they). Lest you forget, the reason the Royals succeeded in the first place was because of their cheap, controlled talent. If they will succeed after this group 'graduates' from their time with the Royals, it will be with Hosmer or Moose playing the Gordon role from the 2014-2015 seasons. Somebody else will have to play the Hosmer role.
As we looked at earlier, there is no future Hosmer in the system. And with the Royals' deadline approaching, what can they do about it?
Realistically, Dayton Moore has two ways of captaining this particular ship. One, he can try to ride this group as long and hard as possible. Despite the injuries and significant downturns this year, the Royals are in second place. Faith in his group worked in 2013 and 2014. Maybe it can do so again. Another year or two of playoff success would be worth a few lean years as the Royals regrouped.
The other option would be to sell some of the important assets this year to acquire some minor league talent that will be able to help. You have to trade talent to get talent (a fact that many critics of players-for-prospects trades just don't seem to understand), and Hosmer and Davis have unquestionable talent. That option would be a hard pill to swallow, though, and would assuredly make the Royals worse right now when it isn't necessary. The second wild card, combined with a relatively weak AL Central, makes it possible for a mediocre team in this division to squeeze into the playoffs and do some damage. It's hard to justify such an emotionally draining transaction if there's even a tiny chance that the team could make the playoffs.
But Moore will have to make that decision sometime. This team has holes. Trading the other way works too--the Royals traded for Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, both of whom were invaluable to the World Series win last year. But by tomorrow, all four pitchers the Royals have parted with in those trades will have made MLB starts for the other teams, and those are options the Royals will never have (though their World Series ring is an awfully great prize for the cost). The Royals desperately need some help if they want to make another title run, but any more trades will gut the farm system.
Either way, the inevitable turning point is coming. If Moore makes the right decision, the Royals could have another World Series ring this year or next. If Moore makes the wrong decision, the Royals will flail with an empty farm system. And the tricky thing is that those two are not mutually exclusive; 2018 will not be fun regardless.
The one thing Moore probably shouldn't do is stand pat. Baseball is a game full of movement. Commit one way or the other, but standing still just leaves you exposed.