A few months ago, I watched Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace again for the first time in almost a decade. It’s a divisive movie—by any stretch or definition, it isn’t nearly as good as any of the originals. Truth be told, it’s a mess. There’s a fascinating moment in the official video documentary for the film (at about 55:52) when George Lucas and the producers realize sort of at once just how much of a mess it is, saying things like, “It’s a little disjointed,” “It’s a lot,” “I may have gone too far in a few places,” and “It boggles the mind” after an early internal screening.
However, my biggest takeaway from The Phantom Menace wasn’t an opinion on its level of badness but instead an overwhelming feeling of just how boring it was. I did not expect this. The Phantom Menace has a lot going for it—a timeless soundtrack, strikingly unique visuals, an enduring aesthetic, interesting characters, some really great and memorable scenes—and a lot bad going for it, enough of which that it would be silly to list.
Baseball teams are not movies.* But I am reminded of The Phantom Menace when I look at this Kansas City Royals teams. Namely, one of my takeaways of this year is that the Royals are just so very boring. In fact, they are far too boring for being this bad, and the Royals are really freaking bad.
Do the Royals have good and interesting players? You betcha! Do the Royals have boring players? You betcha, but, like, even moreso, fam (see, I’m boring myself writing about them; please forgive my sudden slang usage).
The Royals are boring because they have a bunch of boring players. Funny how that works. I’ve gone through the 25-man roster and, with my SCIENTIFIC METHOD and TOTALLY UNASSAILABLE GUT determined the following players to be Definitively Boring:
- Jake Diekman, 32
- Brian Flynn, 29
- Wily Peralta, 30
- Martin Maldonado, 32
- Cheslor Cuthbert, 26
- Lucas Duda, 33
- Glenn Sparkman, 27
- Kevin McCarthy, 27
For those of you who want some manner of explanation, I’ll supply it. Diekman, Flynn, and Peralta are around 30 years of age, making them inherently less interesting; furthermore, Flynn is the platonic definition of a replacement-level player, Wily Peralta has devolved into a replacement-level player over the past three seasons, and Diekman was signed for the express purpose of being trade bait and might not even accomplish that. Maldonado and Duda are also over 30 and one-year hired guns; neither is particularly good. And while Sparkman, McCarthy, and Cuthbert are younger, they aren’t actually young anymore and have been replacement-level players over their big league careers.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term “replacement level,” just turn to Steve Slowinski’s definition over at Fangraphs:
Replacement level is simply the level of production you could get from a player that would cost you nothing but the league minimum salary to acquire. Minor league free agents, quad-A players, you get the idea. The concept is pretty tidy. These are the players that are freely available and if five of your MLB level players came down with the flu, you could go out and acquire replacement level players without really giving up anything you value other than their union mandated payday.
By literal definition, a bunch of these Definitively Boring players have wholly replaceable skills and can be swapped out for Rey McSriff or Shown Furcotte or whomever is floating around on the slightly depressing Triple-A grass somewhere in the country without much effort. That’s not interesting!
There’s another tier on the Royals’ roster that I will dub Arguably Boring players. These players aren’t hugely better but have something going for them that you could squint your eyes at and think “yeah this player might be worth watching under certain circumstances.”
- Ian Kennedy, 34
- Jorge Lopez, 26
- Billy Hamilton, 28
- Cam Gallagher, 26
Kennedy is being paid a boatload of money to not be good enough to be a starting pitcher, but on the other hand he’s been somewhat intriguing as a reliever. Lopez has been a dumpster fire at the big league level but might have the stuff to stick as a reliever. Hamilton’s defense and baserunning is compelling (though his horrific offensive output is probably too giant a problem to ignore). And poor Gallagher might turn out to be a competent backstop if he ever got more than 20-something games to play in a single season—maybe.
There’s one more category, which I’ll call Potentially Boring Depending on Your Point of View. There are two persons in this category.
- Homer Bailey
- Terrance Gore
Bailey would be every bit the washed up old dude and, thus, Definitively Boring or Arguably Boring. However, Bailey somehow forgot the part about being washed up and has actually been a consistent and perfectly serviceable back-of-the-rotation pitcher. You could still argue that the 33-year-old is still boring because he has no impact on either the short- or long-term success of the Royals organization and that his most interest trait is being a dead-on Christian Bale lookalike.
As for Gore, well. Gore steals bags like a hedgehog strapped to a rocket. Gore hunts down fly balls like a bird of prey starved for white leather spheres. Gore beats out infield singles like a millennial sprinting away from continual existential crises. If that were all that mattered, Gore would absolutely be in the Not Boring camp. However, merely seeing Gore play is somewhat as common as witnessing an Elon Musk tweet about his love for the Securities and Exchange Commission: it is theoretically possible but extremely unlikely. How interesting you see Gore is dependent on whether you’re focusing on his game or his Waldo-esque position on the roster.
Ultimately, depending on where you land on these camps, the Royals have between 8 and 14 players on the roster that are not interesting. That’s somewhere between one third and almost three fifths on the roster. That is not good. That—not being bad—is Kansas City’s main crime.
In 2011, the Royals were a horrific mess, much like they are today. But they were the exact opposite of boring. On August 10, 2011, Salvador Perez made his big league debut. Kansas City lost that game to fall to 49-68. However, 15 Royals stepped onto the field that day. Not a single one was over their age-27 season, and all but a few were 25 or younger.
Personally, I’m fine watching a bunch of inexperienced young players with potential lose a game. It happens. I am much less fine with watching a collection of bad, old, or generally washed up players replace each other like replacement level Russian nesting dolls.
Are we cursed to continue enduring this boring roster for the rest of the season? No! Thankfully, the Royals have a bunch of players in the minor leagues right now that are more than capable of replacing these boring players. Here’s what the Royals could do tomorrow if they so chose:
- Bubba Starling 26 > Billy Hamilton 28
- Brett Phillips 25 > Terrance Gore 28
- Kelvin Gutierrez 24 > Cheslor Cuthbert 26
- Josh Staumont 25 > Wily Peralta 30
- Richard Lovelady 23 > Jake Diekman 32
- Kyle Zimmer 27 > Brian Flynn 29
- Ryan O’Hearn 25 > Lucas Duda 33
Pulling off these roster replacements wholesale would lower the combined age of the team by a staggering 31 years, and probably wouldn’t even make the team worse.
Rebuilding years can be fun because we can get collectively drunk on hope, taking a sip each time the Nicky Lopezes of the team step to the plate. Rebuilding is a precious time when wins and losses aren’t as important as how the game is played, and as a result it’s more freeing and less anxiety inducing.
The trick, of course, is providing the drink of hope in the first place. Like any memorable party, if there’s no booze to grease the wheels of conversation and fun, what’s the point?