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Are the Royals really rebuilding?

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It’s hard to tell

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Every single major sport in the United States has undergone a massive ideological shift at one point or another over the last two decades. It started with the passing revolution in the NFL and made its way to the three-point revolution in the NBA. The baseball version was the “tanking revolution”, as teams like Cubs and Astros tanked their way to eventual World Series championships.

At one point this winter, that seemed to be the direction the Royals were going. They weren’t openly tanking because that’s not really Dayton Moore’s style. But Royals fans were fully prepared for the Summer of Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier, Adalberto Mondesi, and Bubba Starling, among others.

Then they re-signed shortstop Alcides Escobar. And then came first baseman Lucas Duda and outfielder Jon Jay and eventually third baseman Mike Moustakas. The Royals went from a tanking team to a much older, still bad team in the span of a few weeks.

Even though rebuilding seems like an obvious choice, it’s more than a little difficult trying to peg what direction the Royals are going. I mean, if a team signs Lucas Duda and Jon Jay, does that team really want to get younger? But there’s a bigger problem here that it feels like the Royals are trying to mask.

The talent just isn’t there. Like, at all. I love Khalil Lee and Seuly Matias as much as anybody, but MLB and Fangraphs have their future value at 50 and 45, respectably. Seuly Matias cracked the Baseball Prospectus top 101 prospects list and was considered for the Fangraphs list earlier this year, but currently has a 40 future value at Fangraphs.

The one thing that tanking teams have in common, typically, is young talent and financial flexibility. The Royals have neither. Which makes the trading of Miguel Almonte make even less sense. Here’s Rustin Dodd’s explanation of the decision.

Almonte, who is now the 20th ranked prospect in the Angels system, struggled with injuries in 2017, but prior to that had stayed mostly healthy. And when he was healthy in 2017, he put together a 1.72 ERA over his 47 IP, with 52 punch outs. I don’t think there are many that believe Almonte was the future of Royals starting pitching, but he’s a 25-year-old live arm on a bad team. A bad team that is craving young talent. What need does an old rebuilding team is served by Abraham Almonte?

Kansas City baseball seems to be in a bit of an identity crisis right now and while I have no doubt that Moore has a plan to eradicate that, it is almost impossible to see. And even if there is a plan in place, it’s time that we hold the organization's feet to the fire about their recent drafting woes. Organizational character and chemistry are important, but without talent, that character and chemistry will lose a lot of baseball games.

Had the Royals not won a World Series—and thank God they did, or this next section would be ever more painful—we would have been talking about Kansas City’s abysmal draft record far earlier than now.

Former Royals blogger Kevin Scobee took to Twitter to discuss that draft record. Don’t look if you’re squeamish.

If you extend that list back to 2008 and include supplemental picks, the Royals have made 12 selections in the first round of the June amateur draft over the last ten seasons. Those 12 selections have combined for a 2.0 fWAR in a Royals uniform. Only four of those players have played in Kansas City and none have been starters. Aaron Crow was the only selection to have been a regular for multiple seasons in Kansas City and he wasn’t exactly spectacular.

For reference, let’s look at Aaron Nola of the Phillies. Nola was a first-round draft choice back in 2014. In 2016, he put together a 4.78 ERA over 111.0 innings. Not fantastic. That was worth a 2.8 fWAR. Which means that Nola’s rough full-season debut was worth more than the careers of every Royals first-round draft choice since 2008 combined.

It seems like the right time to at the least recognize the Royals recent failings in the draft and perhaps even look towards reforming their whole strategy. The Royals haven’t selected a position player in the first round of the draft since Dozier in 2013. Of those last 12 selections, just three have been position players and the nine pitchers that have been selected have combined for a whopping zero starts in Kansas City.

The Royals are rebuilding but to rebuild, you have to acquire talent. Dayton Moore has done this in the past, but it has largely been through trades or international acquisitions. Eric Hosmer and Moustakas have been the lone golden boys of Moore’s draft history, while Danny Duffy is the only starting pitcher that was drafted and developed by the Moore regime.

The 2014 and 2015 teams were special teams with a formula and chemistry that will be hard to replicate. If the Royals are going to climb back into contention, they won’t be able to bank on that formula again.

Which means they’re going to have to be less awful at acquiring and developing players. And the draft is a great place to start.