The Kansas City Royals have played four games in this young 2018 season. They have won one game, Tuesday’s 1-0 contest that teetered on the edge of a knife the entire dreary afternoon. Their point differential is -12, which to say that it is not good at all. They aren’t scoring much, aren’t walking much, aren’t hitting for much power, and aren’t pitching well.
It is of course essentially impossible to glean any meaningful information about a team from four games. This is why playoff baseball is so erratic and unpredictable. However, this four-game stretch hasn’t surprised anyone. Most of the Royals Review staff predicted the Royals to win between 70 and 76 games, with only one prediction at 80 wins. None of the 29 ESPN MLB experts predicted the Royals to make the playoffs this year. And taking the human prediction factor out doesn’t do any good, either: the well-respected PECOTA projection system predicted the Royals to win only 66 games, pegging them as the worst team in baseball.
And the Royals have already suffered a few major injuries. Salvador Perez won’t play until mid-May after injuring his knee. Nate Karns, who was good last year when healthy and is probably Kansas City’s second or third-best starting pitcher, began the season on the disabled list, has a lengthy injury history, and has no specific return date. Danny Duffy, who is undeniably the Royals’ best starting pitcher, exited his final game of spring training due to shoulder tightness, was lit up in his first start of the year, and there are serious questions about his velocity. A trip to the DL for Duffy wouldn’t be unheard of.
It would be better for everyone if we all agreed that the Royals aren’t going to be good this year. It’s ok. That happens. It is functionally impossible for small market teams to compete with the same longevity of large market teams.
But, man, the least that the Royals could do is be interesting.
You know what interesting is? Interesting is watching a young, 25-year-old second-year pitcher toss a gem to his 25-year-old rookie catcher. That’s cool! It’s fun to dream about upside!
You know what is not interesting? Watching Alcides Escobar, Jon Jay, Lucas Duda, Paulo Orlando, Drew Butera, Blaine Boyer, or Ryan Goins. We all know what they can do at this point—which, in some cases, is not much at all—and they sure aren’t helping the team win a playoff game.
It would be far, far more interesting to instead see Ramon Torres, Terrance Gore, Hunter Dozier, Trevor Oaks, and Ryan O’Hearn. It would be more interesting to see Bubba Starling and Adalberto Mondesi in Kansas City rather than Omaha when they come back from injury.
Enduring losing seasons is something that Royals fans have done a lot of over the years. Remember: between 1995 and 2012, the Royals had one winning season. A, singular, uno, 1. The trick to enjoying a bad baseball team is by focusing on other facets of the game other than the win. And that’s where interest comes in: even if, like, 25-year-old first baseman Frank Schwindel and his minor league career 3.3% walk rate isn’t likely to become a good major leaguer, the possibility still exists that he could.
If sports is drama, a losing team is an awful film. But anyone can enjoy an awful film if it’s self-aware that it’s bad or if there are enough little nuggets of excellence to make it enjoyable. Unproven minor leaguers getting shots at the big league level are the ultimate ‘will they or won’t they’ plot line.
This requires an awareness of badness that General Manager Dayton Moore seems to lack. Moore in fact seems to reject the idea that being bad can be useful.
“I believe that we can put a strong, competitive team on the field each and every night and also develop in the minor leagues,” [Moore] said. “I believe we can build our farm system back to the level it was in 2010 and 2011, and maybe even do it better and still win games at the major-league level.
“You can’t just turn it on and turn it off. If you want a a winning culture, you’ve got to do everything in your power each day to win.”
Anytime a general manager speaks to reporters, the words spoken may or may not actually mean what they do on the surface, so you have to take things with a grain of salt. For instance: Moore isn’t actively lying here, but what he’s saying is clearly preposterous.
The World Series team was built primarily on the backs of Alex Gordon (second overall pick in 2005), Mike Moustakas (second overall pick in 2007), and Eric Hosmer (third overall pick in 2008). That 2015 squad was also served well by Luke Hochevar (first overall pick in 2006) and Christian Colon (fourth overall pick in 2010). You don’t get top five picks by winning games at the major league level. That’s, like, literally the opposite of how that works. And you don’t get your farm system better than it was in 2011 without those top picks.
There’s also the embarrassment of losing so much while trying to compete. Ain’t no one gonna care if the Tampa Bay Rays lose 100 games this year. They traded away Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, Brad Boxberger, and Steven Souza Jr and straight-up cut Corey Dickerson. Those are not the moves of a team that cares if they win 80 games over 70 this year.
But the Royals? Well, again, PECOTA has them at the worst team in baseball. If they end up as a bottom-five team while trying to win, that’s a huge indictment on the front office’s current roster construction and timeline evaluation skills.
And, lest you think that maybe Moore’s talk was standard GM Speak and they’re actually trying to tank, well...
In their lockers this spring, Royals players found charcoal-colored T-shirts with the words “We Compete” printed in bold-faced type across the chest.
Even bad teams compete. Those dudes are professional athletes. That’s what they do. That’s a given. The least that the Royals can do is, if they are gonna be bad, to be bad with purpose and interest.