That 2020 has been a unique year would be an understatement, but it is true nevertheless. The global pandemic has impacted every industry, including Major League Baseball. In short, revenues have dropped significantly, and the landscape of the game is changing through the contraction of Minor League Baseball teams.
As a result of this change, many baseball teams have made rather drastic changes and cuts in their front offices, coaching staff, and even in their minor league rosters. It started with MLB cutting the 2020 Amateur Draft from 40 rounds down to 5 rounds, a cost-cutting move that nevertheless only saved $1 million per team. Coinciding with the move came massive changes to MiLB, ending the league as we know it, and resulting in up to 42 clubs that won’t return next year. And some teams even made cuts to their farm system rosters.
But the Royals have zigged when other teams have zagged. Early in the summer, when it wasn’t clear whether or not minor league players would be paid, the Royals committed to paying their minor leaguers—and not making any cuts to their staff.
Additionally, the Royals will not have any layoffs or furloughs. Nearly 150 employees will not take pay cuts. Higher-level employees will take tiered cuts, but the organization plans to make them whole when greater revenues start coming in next year. https://t.co/yZCcMT6ecr— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 29, 2020
Relatedly, when teams around the league were slashing scouting department budgets left and right, the Royals again took a different approach. Under general manager Dayton Moore, a former scout, the Royals actually went and signed some of the newly available talent on the market, as it were.
While #MLB teams are slashing budgets and laying off great scouts, kudos to the #Royals for adding three veterans to their pro scouting department.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 30, 2020
But it’s not just staffing and scouting that the Royals are emphasizing. Player development has remained a core facet of the Royals throughout this process. Like the rest of MLB, Kansas City kept their players busy at their alternate site at T-Bones Stadium. But after the season ended, the Royals widened their roster to allow for legitimate intrasquad games at Kauffman Stadium in addition to the players sent to the Arizona fall camp—these camps included 121 players. No other team assembled a second fall site at their home park like Kansas City, and as a result more Royals minor leaguers have played this fall than any other team.
The Royals are a small market team with brand new ownership who immediately endured a financially brutal year, with operational losses for the 30 teams summing to $3 billion. They are unable to compete with the likes of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities on the free agent market. But perhaps the Royals have engaged in a bit of Moneyball.
Moneyball, as explained in the titular book, is not the art of utilizng base percentage or sabermetrics or designing a roster to squeeze every last ounce of talent from every penny paid in salary. No; Moneyball is simply about one thing: exploiting undervalued assets.
And in 2020, when teams are tossing scouts overboard and circling the proverbial wagons around expenses to stop the bleeding—and when frazzled writers unabashedly mix metaphors to attempt to describe the insanity that this year has wrought—what the Royals are doing stands out.
There is simply a limit to player development if said players don’t play games. We do not know what will happen to Royals players who have been at the alternate site or either of the fall camps. But we do know that the Royals are putting more work into getting their players reps than any other team in baseball, and they are committed to keeping and acquiring minor league talent even when other teams have, well, not.
Hopefully, these competitive advantages the Royals are seizing will turn into better talent and more wins. Again, we won’t know for sure until next year. But it is encouraging to see the Royals do all that they can do, and I’m eager to see the result.