Following the 2015 World Series win, I was one of many who called for a fire sale of the Royals best assets. I was not an official
writer Kevin at the time, posting under the moniker ‘mrandersonmm”. Fishing through some comments I made at the time, I find this:
Keeping them together in 2017, and only reaping draft pick compensation for losing them is the recipe for several years of non-contention. A fire sale is the recipe for, hopefully, only a year or two of non-contention and then another 3-5 year window of contention.
I know which I’d prefer.
Of course, I’m someone who makes a hobby of writing about baseball, not an executive or scout who makes a career off of making baseball decisions, but even I expected the Royals to likely make it to the post season again in ‘16 or ‘17 if they didn’t blow it up.
But they didn’t blow it up, and we are now in the midst of yet another 100+ loss season. But what progress has been made? And how do the Royals stack up to other teams that have gone through rebuilds in the last decade successfully? Let’s look at what happened with the Cubs and Astros and compare it to the Royals.
To me, there are two basic ways to measure the success of a rebuild. Win/loss record year-over-year, and farm system rankings.
The Astros rebuild started prior to 2011, but the current GM took over then, so we’ll use 2011 as the starting point.
So much like the Royals, the Astros suffered several years of 100 loss seasons prior to having a massive jump in wins (19) from one year to the next, before squeaking their way into the post season in 2015.
The Cubs rebuild really started at about the same time, 2011. Here is how they fared over several years.
Here we see a less drastic drop off in wins followed by a much more gradual increase in wins.
What the Royals are doing seems to be more like what the Astros did, however the Astros were all but screaming out to the world they were tanking. I believe that GMDM saw his rebuild going much more like the Cubs, but as of now that appears to not be the case as they are now on their way to yet another 100 loss season.
Farm System Ranking
But win/loss record is only part of the equation. Losing 100+ games for the Astros netted the top draft picks who have contributed at the ML level in George Springer (‘11), Carlos Correa (‘12) and Alex Bregman (‘15). The Cubs, in losing so many games, were able to draft future contributors and stars Javier Baez (‘11), Albert Almora (‘12), Kris Bryant (‘13), Kyle Schwarber (‘14). and Ian Happ (‘15).
Using Baseball America’s pre-season rankings, the Astros saw a pretty quick move up the ladder from one of the worst to one of the best.
The Astros continued to show up in the top 3 on multiple farm system reports for years after, showing a successful strategy of drafting and trading away older veterans for prospects.
The Cubs did not have nearly as far to climb. Their farm system in 2011 was decidedly middle-of-the-road, but they shot up to the top 5 in 2013 just like the Astros.
2013: 5 (tie)
And remained in the top 5 for years to come.
The Royals farm system, much like the Astros in 2011, was in shambles heading into the 2018 draft. Baseball America ranked the Royals as the 29th worst farm system out of 30. So the question is where do the Royals stand now?
As of today, Baseball America ranks the Royals farm system 19th overall. This is a significant jump after only two drafts and one off season. This shows that the Royals, at least to this point, are heading the right direction with their farm. They have four top 100 prospects, according to Baseball America, with Bobby Witt, Jr. (19th), Jackson Kowar (64th), Daniel Lynch (76th) and Brady Singer (92nd), a significant improvement from last season when they had no such prospects on the list.
Agree or disagree with the Royals moves near the trade deadline, they have made significant strides towards improving their farm system which was in shambles going into 2018. Their top draft picks in the 2018 draft (all college pitchers, if you recall) combined with having the #2 overall pick this year (Witt) have allowed them to make strong advances.
As of now, it appears they are more in line with the Astros model than the Cubs model. The Royals are playing their way into another top 5 draft pick (the Orioles, Tigers and Marlins are giving the Royals a run for their money in terms of terrible baseball this year) in a draft that is being heralded as “stacked”, the Royals will have another great opportunity to add to talent and improve their system. They seem unlikely to make the jump the Astros made from 18th to 2nd, but a jump to a top 10 system doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.