There’s an old Italian proverb that says, “Hope is the last thing ever lost.” I think it’s fair to say that in the summer of 2022, a lot of Royal fans lost hope. I did. I hate to admit it, but a person can only take so much, and I hit my limit.
Now that the Dayton Moore era is over, where do the Royals go from here? A new manager and coaching staff are in the future. It remains to be seen what trades and free agent signings new GM J.J. Piccolo will pull off and more importantly, how will he restructure the underperforming scouting and player development divisions?
This is probably an exercise in futility, but I thought I’d compare where the current Royals roster is compared to the 1967 Kansas City Athletics and the 2012 Royals. Both of those teams were on their way to World Series championships, albeit in different ways.
The Athletics had taken full advantage of the new amateur player draft and used that to restock their farm system with future stars. They actually got the ball rolling with the 1964 free agent signing of Rollie Fingers. When MLB instituted the draft in 1965, the Athletics crushed it. They selected Rick Monday, Joe Keough, Bob Stinson, Sal Bando and Gene Tenace, all of whom became productive major league players. In addition, they signed Chuck Dobson as a free agent and picked up Joe Rudi on a waiver claim. They followed that up by selecting Reggie Jackson in the 1966 draft, Vida Blue and Darrell Evans in 1967 and George Hendrick in 1968. It was an astounding haul of talent.
The Athletics didn’t mesh right away. They moved to Oakland for the 1968 campaign but didn’t win their first American League West title until 1971. They went 101-60 that season and lost in the ALCS to the Baltimore Orioles, who were a dynasty of their own. That 1971 season was the start of five consecutive American League West titles and eventually three consecutive World Series Championships (1972-74) for the Athletics. The upstart Kansas City Royals finally knocked Oakland out of the catbird seat in 1976, which began a dynastic run of their own.
Looking at the Athletic team that left Kansas City, around the infield you had Ramon Webster, John Donaldson, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris and Phil Roof. The outfield was Rick Monday, Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi. I’ll throw in Jim Gosger as the DH, just to make the comparisons valid. Their ten-man pitching staff went like this: Catfish Hunter, Jim Nash, Chuck Dobson, John Odom and Lew Krausse as starters.
The bullpen went: Diego Segui, Rollie Fingers, Jack Aker, Tony Pierce and Paul Lindblad. Seven of those players ended with over 25 career WAR and three of them, Bando, Campy and Reggie all had over 50 career WAR. Add in the fact that the team had three guys in the farm system who would soon make their debuts, Vida Blue, Gene Tenace and Dick Green and you had a powerhouse in the making. Those three had a combined career WAR of 108. From 1971 to 1975, that team averaged 95 wins per season. And they were a young team. In their last season in Kansas City, the core of that team had an average age of 23. They let the kids play and eventually it led to a dynasty.
The 2012 Royals were a team knocking on the door. The loaded farm system was sending talent to the major league team and the window opened quickly.
That 2012 team went Eric Hosmer, Chris Getz, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas and Sal Perez around the infield. Billy Butler was the DH. The outfield was Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson/Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francoeur. The pitching staff wasn’t there yet. The starters were Bruce Chen, Luke Hochever, Luis Mendoza, Jeremy Guthrie and Will Smith. The top five in the pen were Jonathan Broxton, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Greg Holland and Aaron Crow.
Their window opened in 2013 with the acquisition of James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana. Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura made their debuts. The team struggled in the first half of 2013 but found their groove after the All-Star break (43-27) to finish 86-76. Cleveland and Tampa took the two wildcards with 92-win seasons, but I have always thought that the Royals had a better team. Every game counts and I’ve always felt, now and then, that the 2013 team missed the playoffs because of poor game management, especially in the first half of the season. In English, what I’m saying is Ned Yost got outmanaged by Joe Maddon and Terry Francona. In comparison to the Athletics, the 2012 Royals core had an average age of 26. Their window opened and closed quickly. Had they had a little more luck, they possibly could have squeezed another playoff or two out of that core, but it didn’t happen.
Barring any unforeseen trades and free agent signings for the 2023 team, I ran the comparisons like this: Around the infield you have Nick Pratto, Michael Massey, Bobby Witt Jr., Nate Eaton and Sal Perez. I have Vinnie Paquintino as the DH. The outfield is manned by Drew Waters, MJ Melendez and Edward Olivares. The starters would be Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Zach Greinke, Daniel Lynch and Jonathan Heasley. The pen would run with Scott Barlow, Dylan Coleman, Amir Garrett, Brad Keller and Carlos Hernandez. There’s some talent there if GM Picollo hires the right coaching staff to bring it out. The average age of that core is 26. That number is inflated by the two silverbacks, Greinke at 38 and Perez at 32. Amir Garrett at 30 and Scott Barlow at 29 are the next two oldest. Everyone else is still in training pants.
The 2023 Royals, at least on paper don’t seem to have much in common with the 2012 Royals or the 1967 Athletics. Yes, they are young and yes, they have a few talented pieces. The 1967 Athletics had more talent in their minor league system, which kept their window open longer. Plus, they didn’t have to deal with losing players in free agency. Of course, they couldn’t bring in any free agents either, so that washes out. The 2012 Royals had better hitters than the 2023 squad, but once the 2014-15 roster was filled, the minor league system was drained. That’s one thing the 2023 Royals have in common. All the debuts this past summer have drained most of the talent in the minor league system. There are still a few players who could have a future impact, such as Anthony Veneziano and Gavin Cross. Most baseball pundits have the Royals current minor league system graded in the mid to low 20s, which isn’t encouraging. None of the Royals' four affiliates posted a winning record in 2022 and as a group they played .428 ball. That’s not good.
Bottom line, I don’t see any positive comparison between the current Royals team and the two World Series-winning predecessors. Dayton Moore staked his job on the 2018 draft and aside from Brady Singer, he rolled snake eyes. It ultimately cost him his job. Now it’s up to JJ Picollo to try and build a winner. The 2022 Royals don’t have anyone going to the Hall of Fame aside from Zach Greinke. The 1967 A’s had three Hall of Famers and four others who are in the Hall of Very Good. Sal Bando accumulated almost 62 WAR in his career. Bert Campaneris came in at 53. Vida Blue finished with 45 WAR and Gene Tenace surprisingly came in at almost 47 WAR. By comparison, Sal Perez, easily the best player the Royals have had over the past decade, sits at 32 WAR. I know that some Alex Gordon fans might take exception to that, and yes, Gordon’s career WAR at 34 is still higher than Salvy’s. About 75% of Gordon’s total WAR was accrued between 2011 and 2014. From 2015 on, he was just a shade above replacement value.
The best-case scenario I can envision would be that Picollo makes a blockbuster trade (or two) this winter ala Shields/Davis and signs a couple of solid free agents like Dayton Moore did with Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez. With the right development of our young hitters and arms, a core like that could run a repeat of the 2014-2015 Royals.
Hope. It can be a dangerous thing. Ask an Oklahoma Sooners fan about hope. Or a Denver Bronco fan. Bronco fans spent all off-season crowing about going to the Super Bowl. Then Russell Wilson turned into a pumpkin. As Andy Dufresne said, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Let’s see now if JJ Picollo can restore hope for this franchise.