It’s hard enough to worry about your own baseball organization. As a General Manager, you are not only responsible for one Major League team. No; you’re also in charge of multiple minor league teams, scouting operations, coaching, analytics, and a host of other tributaries that feed into the Major League system.
So worrying about other teams is usually something that’s left to the fans. Every team has its own window of success, timeline for rebuild, and farm system strength. Even if you perfectly understand those things, injuries can toss that analysis into complete disarray. Ultimately, you can’t worry about what other teams are doing. You have to build your team and system to the best of your ability, and it’s either good enough or it isn’t.
The Kansas City Royals have one big question they need to answer this offseason: they need to decide if they want to rebuild or retry. Once that question is answered, there is also a secondary question that’s almost as important: with what intensity do they rebuild or retry?
Normally, if you’re in charge of a team, you would just make the best decision for your club independently of what other teams are doing. If the tea leaves suggest a rebuild, then you rebuild. If you snag a free agent at a lower price than you thought you might, then a retry could be in the cards.
While the Royals probably should rebuild, General Manager Dayton Moore has shown reluctance towards the idea of a ‘tanking’ rebuild, and has been weary of a rebuild in general independent of tanking.
In this case, when you’re on the fence, taking a look at the teams around you might helpful. And a quick look around the American League yields a quick answer: there are a lot of young, great teams floating around. In other words, it’s going to be hard for a marginal team, like a re-jiggered Royals team that shunned a rebuild, to cut through to the playoffs.
Oh, a mediocre team that isn’t technically as good or deep as other playoff teams can beat them. The 2014 Royals are a great example of that; they were a good team, but every other team they played was better on paper and boasted better regular season numbers in aggregate than the Royals.
The trick is getting to the playoffs in the first place and, hoo boy, that’s gonna be a difficult feat.
Let’s start in the American League Central, Kansas City’s home division. The Cleveland Indians won the division this past season. Their position players were the fourth-youngest in the AL, at an average age of 28.1. Among their pitchers is reigning Cy Young winner Cory Kluber, and they employ one of the most fearsome lefty relievers in the game in Andrew Miller. Among their position players is shortstop wonderboy Francisco Lindor, and they also employ the third place finisher in the 2017 MVP voting, Jose Ramirez. All four are under contract for at least two more years.
Don’t forget the Minnesota Twins, either. Winners of the second Wild Card slot, the Twins boasted the second-youngest group of position players in the AL. They have a cabal of their own rising young stars, and in 2019 only owe $21 million in guaranteed contracts. They have the payroll muscle to make multiple extensions and assert themselves aggressively on the free agent market.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Just in the last week, Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani chose the Los Angeles Angels. Ohtani has enormous upside and will be paid a relative pittance due to Major League Baseball’s arcane international free agency rules. The Angels now have a core that includes the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, Justin Upton, and Ohtani. They will also be active on the free agency market as well and are a serious prospective landing place for Mike Moustakas.
I haven’t even mentioned the Boston Red Sox or the World Series champion Houston Astros yet, who are both shoo-ins to rack up somewhere between 90 and 100 wins next year. That’s because of the bombshell news that rippled through the baseball world this past weekend, that of Giancarlo Stanton’s trade to the New York Yankees.
Yeah, that’s right. Stanton, the National League’s 2017 home run king with 59 glorious dongs, will join Aaaron Judge, the American League’s 2017 home run king with 52 equally glorious dongs. Pitchers, as we speak, are running away in fear.
Mind you, the Yankees won 91 games last year, and they also boast one of baseball’s best farm systems. Fun!
Let’s say that everything goes perfectly for the Royals this offseason. They re-sign Eric Hosmer and Moustakas, and both play very well. Alex Gordon rebounds, and is an average hitter with some very good center field defense. Jorge Soler breaks the Royals home run record again. Eric Skoglund puts in a solid campaign that results in a surprise top-three Rookie of the Year finish.
None of those things are happening, let alone one. But let’s pretend here. Kansas City adds seven wins to its 2017 total, getting them to 87 wins. They outpace PECOTA by almost 20 wins. They’re a well-oiled machine. Moore made the Royals Great Again (#MRGA).
Well, guess what? That team probably won’t even make the playoffs. Since the second Wild Card was implemented in 2012, only three out of the 30 teams who made the playoffs did so with 87 or fewer wins.
And that’s not even taking into account the reality of the AL in 2018. Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Minnesota, and New York all have young, talented teams who already have playoff experience. Los Angeles and Tampa Bay are a few skips away from contention. Meanwhile, Kansas City just lost their three most important position players.
Where does that leave Kansas City? The answer is, unfortunately, obvious, whether we want it or not.