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The art of caring when nothing matters

Well, almost nothing.

Starting pitcher Kyle Zimmer #45 of the Kansas City Royals is removed by manager Ned Yost #3 during the second inning of the spring training game against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium on February 26, 2017 in Surprise, Arizona.
Starting pitcher Kyle Zimmer #45 of the Kansas City Royals is removed by manager Ned Yost #3 during the second inning of the spring training game against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium on February 26, 2017 in Surprise, Arizona.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Recently, there has been honest-to-goodness Kansas City Royals news. The Royals cut Cheslor Cuthbert, using his 40-man spot to re-sign the oft-injured Kyle Zimmer to a Major League deal. This transaction is probably the biggest news of the entire offseason. For one, it means a vote of confidence for Hunter Dozier when it was by no means assured considering Dozier’s very poor 2018 season. By extension, it might also be a secondary vote of confidence for Ryan O’Hearn, as Dozier can’t simultaneously play both infield positions.

It also means that the Royals have legitimate reason to believe in the resurgence of Zimmer, a former top-five pick whose pro career never left the ground because of a Shakespearian level of tragic injuries. This offseason, Zimmer worked with Driveline Baseball, whose magicians and/or scientists managed to get him to throw without pain for the first time in years at, uh, 100 MPH. With a 40-man roster spot, Zimmer is free to debut with the big league club without any administrative wrangling or logistical limbo. Zimmer might even be one of the seven best relievers in this system right now.

As offseason transactions for a rebuilding team go, this one is a pretty big deal. Zimmer and Dozier will be under team control for a while, and if they achieve success they will be Royals for years.

And yet, this transaction is indicative of one of the largest problems with a team deep in a big rebuild like the Royals, which is that nothing matters. More specifically, there is very little the MLB team in a rebuild can do that will actually matter to the club. Almost every transaction that happens now matters to the players involved, but its impact on team history is essentially nothing.

If you think back to the first rebuild that Dayton Moore and his front office oversaw, you can see this is the case for a vast majority of deals. The results of large free agent signings Jose Guillen and Gil Meche, while big deals at the time and were even bigger conversation pieces, had zero impact on the team’s winning years. Kila Ka’aihue never really getting a shot, Kyle Farnsworth blowing 2009 Opening Day, Mike Jacobs absolutely sucking, the Yuniesky Betancourt signing—none of that mattered.

Everything that had to do with marginal talents back then didn’t matter. Willie Bloomquist, Ryan Freel, and Jason Kendall are inconsequential in the annals of Royals history. Ditto Sidney Ponson, John Bale, Brandon Duckworth. The 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 Royals were always going to be so bad as to make that stuff inconsequential.

You know what did matter back then? Luke Hochevar being a bust of a #1 overall pick. Aaron Crow and Mike Montgomery being busts of first round picks. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Wil Myers not being first round busts. The scouting, signing, and development of a smiley Venezuelan named Salvador Perez. Greg Holland coming out of nowhere in particular. Later, the failures of Christian Colon, Zimmer, and Dozier, signing Omar Infante to an albatross deal, the doubling down on Jeff Francoeur and Chris Young.

The fact of the matter is that, at the moment, the 2019 Royals are so bad and so far away from contention that almost everything they do will be in Duckworth/Ponson territory. I can’t stress how little it matters that Chris Owings is good, or bad, or neither. The Royals shuffling around marginal talent like Terrance Gore, Cuthbert, Zimmer, and Dozier doesn’t matter. Whether or not Jorge Bonifacio or Brian Goodwin or Billy Hamilton get more plate appearances doesn’t matter. These are all guys whose upside is, maybe, ‘league average’ for a season or two. Furthermore, Hamilton, Gore, and Zimmer are technically on one-year deals anyway.

What is actually important for the Royals in 2019 and 2020 and possibly even 2021 is what happens in the minor leagues and to six or so Royals currently on the 40-man roster (Ryan O’Hearn, Adalberto Mondesi, Brad Keller, Jake Junis, Brett Phillips, and Whit Merrifield).

These are the guys who will be around in 2022 when the Royals are looking to compete.

These are the guys who the next generation of Royals fans will identify with.

Five years from now, kids are going to be chanting the name of a player as they step up to the plate in a September postseason race. It’s not gonna be Brian Goodwin or Bubba Starling or Jorge Bonifacio. It’s going to be Seuly Matias or Khalil Lee or somebody yet drafted.

What happens at the big league level is enormously important when your team is ready to compete. Moore’s draft botches from 2009-2013 were enormously influential in how long the Royals’ window was open. The lightning-in-a-bottle Chris Young signing was a big deal, the trades for Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto magnificent, the Ian Kennedy signing a millstone around the Royals’ necks.

That time is not now. The 2019 Royals are gonna be bad, folks. The next wave of prospects are basically teenagers. These transactions don’t matter in the long run for that reason. But somebody has to play. We all have players we like to watch, even when things are bad. It is that which is the art of caring when nothing matters.