The Royals are in year one of their rebuild, and Royals fans will have to trust that Dayton Moore can bring the Royals back to contention again. I thought it might be useful to see how much progress the Royals have made in their first year compared to some other recent rebuilds. It doesn’t sound like the Royals will take the same path taken by clubs like the Astros and Cubs, who had drawn out rebuilds taking several seasons, but it may be instructive to compare progress made by each club during their first year of rebuilding.
Let’s take a look at the first year of some recent rebuilds.
The Astros really began the rebuild in the summer of 2011, sending Hunter Pence to the Phillies for Jarred Cosart, Jon Singleton, Josh Zeid, and Domingo Santana. But Jeff Luhnow took over that fall and begun the rebuild in earnest, purging the Major League roster of all of its veterans and losing 100 games or more over the next three seasons. Baseball America ranked the farm system as 18th-best in MLB before the season, after spending a full decade in the bottom third of the rankings.
Notable off-season moves: Traded Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie (for his age 28 season) and Kyle Weiland (25); traded Humberto Quintero and Jason Bourgeois to the Royals for Kevin Chapman (24) and D’Andre Toney (20); claimed Fernando Martinez (23) and Justin Maxwell (28) off waivers; acquired Marwin Gonzalez (23) and Rhiner Cruz (25) in the Rule 5 draft; signed Scott Moore (28), Chris Snyder (31) as free agents.
What did they do that summer? The Astros were very active, trading away veterans Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Johnson, Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon, as well as young pitcher J.A. Happ. For the most part, the trades didn’t net much, although the prospect haul did net reliever Chris Devenski for Myers and pitcher Joe Musgrove in a complicated deal with the Blue Jays for Happ.
Who did they take in the 2012 draft? The Astros had the #1 overall pick and used it to grab future All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa. They used a compensatory pick for losing Clint Barmes to draft Lance McCullers. They also selected Preston Tucker, Rio Ruiz, and Brett Phillips in that draft class.
What happened next? The Astros lost a club-record 107 games, a mark they would exceed the next year. After four 90+ losing seasons, the Astros made the playoffs in 2015, losing to the Royals in the ALDS, then winning the World Series in 2017.
Building a contender: By the end of the 2012 season, the Astros already had in their organization several players who would be significant contributors in their 2015 playoff season. Luhnow had inherited Jose Altuve, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Jason Castro, Jonathan Villar, Vince Velasquez, and Josh Fields. Marwin Gonzalez proved to be a steal in the Rule 5 draft. The draft netted Correa and Tucker.
Coming off a 91-loss season, the Cubs hired Theo Epstein in an attempt to end the championship drought at Wrigley Field the way he had done in Boston. The Cubs had the 14th-ranked system, according to Baseball America, with new acquisition Anthony Rizzo joining 2011 draft pick Javier Baez, and prospects like Matt Sczur and Brett Jackson.
Notable off-season moves: Traded Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to the Rockies for Casey Weathers (27) and Ian Stewart (27); traded Sean Marshall to the Reds for Dave Sappelt (25), Ronald Torreyes (19) and Travis Wood (25); traded Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins for Chris Volstad (25); traded Kyung-Min Na and Andrew Cashner to the Padres for Zach Cates (22) and Anthony Rizzo (22); claimed Luis Valbuena (26) off waivers from the Blue Jays; acquired Lendy Castillo (23) in the Rule 5 draft; signed David DeJesus (32), Reed Johnson (35), Joe Mather (29), Paul Maholm (30), Kerry Wood (35), Manny Corpas (29), and Shawn Camp (36) as free agents
What did they do that summer? The big move was dealing Ryan Dempster, who was posting a 2.25 ERA at the deadline, to the Rangers for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva. Epstein acquired Arodys Vizcaino from the Braves for veterans Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson, and made minor deals to ship out catcher Geovany Soto, infielder Jeff Baker, and outfielder Marlon Byrd.
Who did they take in the 2012 draft? The Cubs had the sixth-overall pick and took outfielder Albert Almora. That Cubs draft class also netted David Bote, Paul Blackburn, and Pierce Johnson. They also signed international free agent Jorge Soler.
What happened next? The Cubs lost 101 games that year, but their prize for that was landing Kris Bryant in the next draft. They improved in each of the next two seasons, and by 2015 they won 97 games. The next year, they won the first championship in club history in 108 years.
Building a contender: Of the players that would end up being contributors in the 2015 season, Epstein inherited Starlin Castro, but added Rizzo, Hendricks, Wood and Soler during the 2012 season. Most of the rest of the team was added through later drafts, trades, or free agency.
General Manager Ruben Amaro had resisted rebuilding the core of his championship team for many years, but after back-to-back 89-loss seasons, club CEO Pat Gillick announced a rebuild for the 2015 season. The system was not in great shape, ranked 20th in baseball before that season by Baseball Prospectus. That rebuild would have to be continued without Amaro, however, as he was fired one year later and replaced by a more analytically-savvy GM in Matt Klentak.
Notable off-season moves: Traded Jimmy Rollins for Tom Windle (23) and Zach Eflin (21); traded Marlon Byrd for Ben Lively (23); traded Antonio Bastardo for Joely Rodriguez (23); acquired Odubel Herrera (23) in the Rule 5 draft; signed Aaron Harang (37), Jeff Francoeur (31), Andres Blanco (31), Jeanmar Gomez (27) as free agents.
What did they do that summer? Their big asset was Cole Hamels, who they dealt to the Rangers for five players, including J.D. Alfaro and Nick Williams. Closer Jonathan Papelbon was sent to Washington for Nick Pivetta. They also traded away Ben Revere to the Jays and Chase Utley to the Dodgers, each for a pair of low-ranked prospects.
Who did they take in the 2015 draft? The Phillies had the tenth pick and took infielder Cornelius Randolph. In the second round they selected infielder Scott Kingery.
What happened next? The Phillies lost 99 games that year, and fired Amaro at the conclusion of the season. They would lose 90+ games in each of the next two years, but by 2018, they found themselves in first place by the end of July.
Building a contender: Most of the starters for the Phillies this year were acquired by Amaro. Aaron Nola, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Altherr, J.P. Crawford, and Victor Arano, were already in the system by the time the team began its rebuild in 2015. Eflin, Alfaro, Williams, and Pivetta came over in trades that year. Herrera was a shrewd Rule 5 pickup by Amaro and Kingery was selected in the draft.
John Hart was still officially the GM when the rebuild began in 2015, but many acknowledge Assistant GM John Coppolella was the driving force behind a flurry of transactions. The Braves took a creative and aggressive approach to rebuilding the club, taking on money at times in order to net more draft picks or better prospects. Coppolella would be fired and banned from baseball before his work finally came to fruition this year.
Notable off-season moves: Traded Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller (24) and Tyrell Jenkins (22); traded Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft to the Padres for Mallex Smith (22), Max Fried (21), Jace Peterson (25), and Dustin Peterson (20); traded Evan Gattis and James Hoyt to the Astros for Mike Foltynewicz (23), Rio Ruiz (21), and Andrew Thurman (23); traded David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve to the Yankees for Manuel Banuelos (24); signed Nick Markakis (31), Jonny Gomes (34), Kelly Johnson (33), Alberto Callaspo (32), A.J. Pierzynski (38), Jim Johnson (32), Jason Grilli (38) as free agents.
What did they do that summer? Were they ever busy! The Braves made a huge trade in the first week of the season picking up four players - including Matt Wisler and Cameron Maybin and a 2015 draft pick (Austin Riley) for Craig Kimbrel, that also exchanged some bad contracts with Melvin Upton to San Diego and Carlos Quentin to Atlanta. They picked up another 2015 draft pick (A.J. Minter) in a minor trade for prospect Victor Reyes. They sent four players to the Dodgers for Chris Withrow and veteran Juan Uribe.
They got Touki Toussant from the Braves and agreed to take on Bronson Arroyo’s salary in exchange for a token, infielder Phil Gosselin. They made a huge three-team deal in July that essentially sent Alex Wood to the Dodgers for Cuban prospect Hector Olivera and another draft pick in 2016 (Joey Wentz). They made a cash swap, getting rid of a bad contract in Chris Johnson in exchange for two bad contracts in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. They sent Jonny Gomes to the Royals for a marginal prospect.
Who did they take in the 2015 draft? The Braves had the 14th pick in the draft and took pitcher Kolby Allard. They selected Mike Soroka in compensation for losing Ervin Santana. And they took Riley and Minter with the draft picks they had acquired in trades.
What happened next? The Braves lost 95 games that year, and 90+ games in each of the next two seasons, but by 2018 they were contenders, at least through the end of July.
Building a contender: Despite many trade rumors, the Braves kept Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran throughout the rebuild. Many of the Latin American stars on the current Braves roster were signed before the rebuild began including Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Johan Camargo. The first rebuild season did bring about many contributors however, such as Foltynewicz, Miller (who ended up being flipped for Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson), and even veteran Nick Markakis, and those draft picks ended up being very valuable. After the 2015 season, the club acquired Sean Newcomb from the Angels for Andrelton Simmons.
2017 White Sox
The White Sox had tried in vain to compete in 2016 with some splashy transactions, but soon realized they need to tear it all down and start again. General Manager Rick Hahn traded away big stars with several controllable years left to maximize his return, looking to re-stock a farm system that was ranked 23rd by Baseball America before the 2016 season.
Notable off-season moves: Traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada (22), Michael Kopech (21), Victor Diaz (23), and Luis Alexander Basabe (20); traded Adam Eaton to the Nationals for Lucas Giolito (22), Reynaldo Lopez (23), and Dane Dunning (22); signed Derek Holland (30), Mike Pelfrey (33), and Anthony Swarzak (31) as free agents; acquired Dylan Covey in the Rule 5 draft
What did they do that summer? The White Sox had a busy July, sending Jose Quintana to the Cubs for four players, including top prospect Eloy Jimenez. They shipped Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson to the Yankees for three prospects, including Blake Rutherford. Melky Cabrera, Miguel Gonzalez, Anthony Swarzak, and Dan Jennings were all shipped off in separate, minor trades.
Who did they take in the 2017 draft? The White Sox had the 11th pick and selected Jake Burger, who has missed the entire 2018 season with an injury.
What happened next? The White Sox are still rebuilding. They have the third-worst record in baseball, but have the fourth-ranked farm system, according to Baseball America.
Three years after winning a championship, the Royals lost key players like Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, as well as Jason Vargas and Mike Minor via free agency, triggering a rebuild season. The departures have resulted in a season in which the Royals have the second-worst record in baseball and are on pace to have the most losses in franchise history.
Notable off-season moves: Traded Scott Alexander and Joakim Soria in a three-team trade for Trevor Oaks (25) and Erick Mejia (23); traded Brandon Moss and Ryan Buchter to the Athletics for Jesse Hahn (28) and Heath Fillmyer (24); acquired Burch Smith (28) and Brad Keller (22) in the Rule 5 draft; signed Mike Moustakas (29), Lucas Duda (32), Alcides Escobar (31), Wily Peralta (29), Justin Grimm (29) and Blaine Boyer (36) as free agents.
What did they do that summer? The Royals were active early, sending outfielder Jon Jay to the Diamondbacks for two minor league pitchers and closer Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals for three prospects in June. Closer to the deadline they moved Mike Moustakas to the Brewers for MLB-ready players like Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez, and acquired 27-year old outfielder Brian Goodwin from the Nationals.
Who did they take in the 2018 draft? The Royals had the 18th pick and selected Florida pitcher Brady Singer. They had four of the top 40 picks in the draft and went heavy on college arms early on.
What happened next? The Royals don’t plan on spending several years in the wilderness, with owner David Glass expecting a contender by 2020. Dayton Moore has expressed frustration at losing and seems to be viewing an accelerated timetable towards returning to contention. The large contract of Alex Gordon will have expired by 2020, although Ian Kennedy will still be in the last year of his deal. Although the farm system has impoved during the summer, it was ranked near the bottom of baseball before the year so the club may have a lot of work to do before it returns to the top of the standings.