The signing of Lucas Duda does not matter to either the 2019 Kansas City Royals or to the future of the Royals. Let’s get that straight. It doesn’t matter. Duda hasn’t been particularly noteworthy since 2015, and over the last three years has been, in aggregate, a league average bat. For a first baseman—a 33-year-old one, at that—that’s not worth much.
One of two things will happen with Duda in his second tour with the Royals: either he’s surprisingly excellent and gets flipped at the deadline for a lottery ticket prospect, or he’s anything less than that and is cut sometime in June when he hits a profound slump that extends to its fifth consecutive week.
Neither of those results is meaningful. Even if Duda ends up blocking some minor league player, it’s a long season. Somebody will get hurt. Somebody will get demoted. It always happens. Hand-wringing about the opening day lineup is a baseball tradition, but one that is almost entirely useless. Last year, the Royals replaced two thirds of their entire lineup, multiple bench players, and most of their pitching staff by the end of July, and it didn’t happen all at once. Most teams make multiple roster changes a month.
No; it’s not because of his performance that fans are frustrated. Duda’s signing is so frustrating to fans for two main, other reasons.
First, that the Duda signing is reminiscent of moves general manager Dayton Moore did ten years ago when he was captaining the helm, year after year, of crushingly depressing baseball. Duda is the latest in a long line of veteran acquisitions that wasted money and benefited no one. You know them: Scott Podsednik, Willie Bloomquist, Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Kendall, Ryan Freel, Miguel Tejada, Rick Ankiel, Jose Guillen, Mike Jacobs, Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt.
Not one of those guys was any good, everybody could have predicted that, and none of them made sense for rebuilding teams desperate for young, long-term talent. The reason why it took until 2013 for the Royals to post a winning season—Moore’s seventh full year—was because Moore and the front office were complete garbage at roster construction and scrounging talent at the big league level. That level of garbage is built on dozens of small, mostly meaningless decisions that just...add up. And in year 13, it’s not clear Moore is any better at it.
Second, that this very thought process would have destroyed one of the most joyful parts of recent Royals teams and is in danger of doing so again. Look, the Royals are so very proud of Whit Merrifield. He’s gritty! He came from nowhere! He worked to be where he is! He’s versatile! He’s fast! He is the epitome of Process 2.0!
But the Royals didn’t want to play Merrifield at all. In 2015, when Alex Gordon injured himself in early July, the Royals didn’t call Merrifield up to the big leagues. And in 2016, the Royals begrudgingly turned to Merrifield because it was clear that Omar Infante had burnt out his big league star and Adalberto Mondesi wasn’t ready. Kansas City even demoted Merrifield in 2016 after a short skid, though Merrifield again forced his way back.
Moore’s proclivity for turning to veterans instead of his own young players is clear, and if Infante was remotely close to reasonable performance, do you really think Merrifield would have ever gotten a shot?
Duda won’t be a Royal long, and in August we will probably have forgotten he was even on the team. However, Duda is evidence of a rotten thought process, a thought process that is a siren song for the front office when they should know better. That’s because, while it might not matter this time, or next time, or the time after that, it’ll matter sometime. Then, you’ll miss out on a Whit Merrifield. No rebuilding team can afford that.