At the risk of being redundant, I felt that I needed to throw my own two-cents into the conversation regarding the Royals and their frustrating start to the season. You’ve likely read other writers at this site saying similar things: the bullpen is crap, the bottom half of the lineup is crap, the bullpen is extra crap, Owings is extra crap, and why, Duda, why?
Really, that could be the extent of this piece, but I really wanted to explore the apparent philosophy of the organization (at least for the last two seasons) and see if I could make any sense of it. The front office appears to be afraid of using the words “rebuild” and “tanking”, and I guess I can understand their reasons for that. In the end, it’s about butts in the seats.
The front office is scrambling, trying to get more fans to ballgames. Attendance dropped almost a full 7,000 per game in 2018 over 2017. I don’t know how much revenue goes through The K for every fan, but using a rough, conservative estimate of $58 per-person ($233.30 for a family of four) you’ll see that the Royals likely saw revenues go down about $406,000 each game, over $32 million dollars, year-over-year.
It feels like the front office is more concerned with trying to get a few extra thousand fans through the gates each game this season than doing what is best to position the team for the future. It’s unfortunate to say, but the Royals were destined to be a bad team this season. We’ve been dreading the 2017-2021 window since 2015, when we depleted our farm system in trades for Cueto and Zobrist (to be fair, only one of those players we traded, Sean Manaea, has had any real productivity at the MLB level).
I am in no way saying we should not have made those trades. The Royals became World Champions for the first time in 30 years in large part because of the two players acquired near the trade deadline. The reality was, and is, that trading minor league talent for half-season rentals is something that will nearly always snowball (would the Royals have felt the need to spend on Kennedy? to trade Strahm for Cahill/et al?).
So, armed as we were with the knowledge this stretch of baseball seasons was going to be difficult for fans, the losing is not, or should not be a surprise. But the front office has done everything in their power to lead fans to believe that the team has a real shot at competing this season (as they did last season). And yes, I didn’t REALLY buy it coming into this season, but in the months leading up to opening day there was that little nag planted in the back of my head by the front office. The division is weak. The roster has enough talent that with a few good breaks they could be in it. Wouldn’t being in the playoffs again be really, really fun? It would be.
That’s not to say that I disagree with a lot of the moves made by the front office. Many of them, including loading the pitching staff with one-year reclamation projects in the hopes of trading them at the deadline for prospects, are moves I agree any team in the midst of a rebuild should be making. On the other hand, others, like ponying up $3 million for Owings, $5.2 million for Hamilton, and whatever it is we are paying Duda, do not make sense.
None of those three are likely to command anything in return come July. And any return we do get will undoubtedly be lessened by the front office’s unwillingness to eat salaries when trading players. The front office knows this, regardless of what they might say in public. The only reason for these signings is because these players may be marginally better than the younger, less experienced players whose positions they are taking up on the bench (Starling and Arteage, along with a few others). These players may allow the Royals to only lose 98 games instead of 100, and thus, the front office hopes, see a few thousand more fans coming to games throughout the season.
The sad fact is, like last year, the Royals front office are missing the forest for the trees. The fastest way to get more people out to the games to watch is to field either a winning team, or a young team with lots of potential. There are still 11 teams with a younger roster, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, and yet the Royals are not winning games. I know I don’t want to watch Lucas Duda or Chris Owings hit. Hamilton has been somewhat fun to watch, but his empty average (hitting .286 with a 69 wRC+) doesn’t do much to inspire hope.
It’s time for the Royals to be rid of aging veterans and have younger, untested, unproven players take their place. The team will likely lose a few more games (though what is the real difference between 95 and 100 losses?) but at least we as fans would have a reason to watch. And after posting the lowest attendance numbers since 2010, hopefully the front office will come to realize they need a different philosophy and embrace the rebuild. Because 2014 and 2015 were a hell of a lot of fun, and the quicker we get back to contending, the better for everyone.