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Hok Talk: It’s beginning to feel a lot like ‘05

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The flashbacks are coming on strong

Kansas City Royals v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Christmas in June!
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It’s beginning to feel a lot like oh-five
Maaaaan, this team baaaaaad
Take a look in the stadium Royals can’t win again
It feels like no one has a clue; it’s saaaaaaaad

Losing has a way of warping the memory. Yeah, we all know intellectually that the Royals won a world series less than three years ago but it feels like much, much longer. Heck. It feels like two years since I was reading comments from fans about how this team was terrible but at least felt watchable. It’s been two weeks.

But there’s even more about this team to remind of us of the mid-aughts than just their abysmal play. There is also their rebuild strategy. Assuming there is one. Dayton Moore was recently quoted as saying that he hadn’t thought the real struggles for wins would start until next season. On the one hand, that’s a humorous anecdote and, yeah, it’s hard to predict exactly how well a team will do in any given season. Just ask PECOTA.

On the other hand, Dayton Moore has all the inside knowledge on his roster and he still whiffed very badly on how well his own team would perform, this season. That’s not exactly encouraging news for Royals fans. If he can’t be trusted to be as aware of how bad his team will be as random pessimistic jerks on a fan website - who also, by the way, grossly over-predicted how good this team would be, to a man - then what can he be trusted to do?

Dayton Moore is absolutely the guy who built the majority of the roster that took the Royals back to the playoffs and eventually won the world series. He’s the one that convinced David Glass to spend in Latin America and on their own draft picks. He’s not a complete failure by any means. But he’s also the guy who has presided over a front office that has, in the early rounds of the last several drafts, produced collectively a long fart noise. And he is also the one who traded one of their most promising young starting pitching near-prospects and one of their most promising low-minors position player prospects for an injured starting pitcher, a mediocre reliever, and a gasoline can.

Even as the team he built was steamrolling over the competition on its way to the 2015 world series championship some people admitted that he’d gotten the team to that point while questioning how long it took him to get there. Maybe no one else could have gotten them there as quickly as he did. Or maybe he lucked into it a bit. After all, another thing reminiscent of the Royals a decade past was...

Making bad trades

We don’t know how the Kelvin Herrera trade will work out. It’s possible he’ll blow out his elbow next week and Royals fans will be breathing a sigh of relief that Dayton Moore got anything for him. It’s also possible that one or more of the prospects the Royals received in return will magically solve the various issues that plague them and turn into superstars and everyone will be lauding Moore’s abilities as a GM. But for now, it sure looks like a dud.

There are two things worth remembering from that particular trade, however. The bad news is that the Royals had a deal they liked. It was, oddly enough, also with Washington. The Nationals were set to send Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen, and Danny Espinosa to the Royals for him but the deal fell through. That would not have been as good as the trade the Royals ended up making. So Dayton Moore was actually saved, for arguably the second time, by Zack Greinke’s unwillingness to just go along. Had Dayton Moore been allowed to make the first trade he wanted to make the Royals might not have made it back to the playoffs. His judgment has proven to be extremely questionable.

The good news is that plenty of people were saying very similar things following that trade as they are, now. A lot of scouts and other analysts thought the Royals had gotten an underwhelming return for Greinke. Maybe Dayton Moore’s scouts really do know more than everyone else and these guys can solve their problems and become stars. But it’s also worth remembering that they were all top 10 guys in the Brewers’ system and that Alcides Escobar had been ranked as high as 12 by Baseball America. These weren’t exactly nobodies when it comes to prospects, either. One more thing about that trade...

Of course money played a part in it

Max wrote an excellent article questioning the Royals trades, this year, but I want to add one thing to it. I’ve seen a lot of people insisting that it’s possible the fact that Washington will be paying the remainder of Kelvin’s contract may have had little or nothing to do with the return the Royals got. I want to be 100% clear about one thing. Even if the Nationals started negotiations by insisting that they’d pick up the rest of his contract and even if their prospect package was better than that offered by any of the other bidders, money still played a part in it. That’s the way these things work.

If every team currently negotiating only did so by starting out offering to pay Herrera’s contract the Royals could have held out on trading him. Yes, there’s risk in retaining him. He might pitch poorly for a stretch or get injured. But there’s risk for other teams, too. Some other team might acquire him. Or another team might enter the bidding - it’s worth pointing out that two other teams have already lost their closer to injury since the Royals made the trade. Might one of them have been convinced to offer a better prospect package and let the Royals pay Herrera’s salary for the rest of the year? Or perhaps some other team would have done so, had the Royals wanted it. We’ll never know because this is the deal the Royals took. And its disingenuous to pretend that they might not have gotten exactly what they wanted, too.

As Max points out in his article, “money is an asset”. The Washington Nationals agreeing to pay the remainder of Herrera’s contract is a concession to the Royals even if every other team made the same offer. If the Nationals could have acquired Herrera using the same prospect package without paying a dime of his contract they would have done that. Similarly, if the Royals were willing to stand hard on paying Herrera’s remaining salary and they really did like those three guys a lot they could have demanded a fourth.

All of this means that the Royals willingly took a lesser prospect package in order to save money.

That’s it. That’s the end of the story. You can hem and haw about risks and scouting and what other teams were offering but the end of the story is that the Royals decided that it was worth it to dump Kelvin’s salary rather than to try and get a better deal any other way.

And that just doesn’t seem like the path to a fast rebuild.