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After 16 years, the Royals front office is making the same mistakes it always has

These are the same problems that have always plagued the team.

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Kris Bubic (50) reacts after giving up a home run to New York Yankees right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (not pictured) during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Kris Bubic (50) reacts after giving up a home run to New York Yankees right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (not pictured) during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s state the obvious: the 2022 Kansas City Royals suck. They’re awful. They can’t hit (fourth-worst wRC+ in baseball) and they can’t pitch (fourth-worst ERA in baseball). Their starters have thrown the fewest innings in baseball despite a rotation theoretically staffed with four healthy members of the vaunted 2018 draft class, who have, by and large, also sucked. At 9-18, the Royals are on pace to win a mere 54 games.

Now, the Royals are likely to get better and they are probably unlikely to lose 100 or more games this season. But how much better? See, the Royals also sucked last year, with a starting pitching staff that was bottom ten in both ERA and innings pitched and whose hitters had the sixth-worst wRC+ in baseball. The Royals also sucked the year before, albeit in a limited 60-game stretch thanks to the pandemic. And we would be remiss in talking about suckitude without mentioning the 2018 and 2019 squads, which lost a combined 207 games.

If this sounds a little too harsh, consider that sports are a results-oriented business, and that the Royals have been somewhere between noncompetitive and completely irrelevant for the past five seasons. They have not had a winning season in seven years. This is a long time!

And here we are, mid-May of 2022, and the Royals are on pace to be even worse than they were in 2018, when they lost 104 games as a rudderless ship without a core group of players or a supporting cast.

How is this happening? Why is this the case? Ultimately, it’s because the front office and brain trust haven’t gotten meaningfully better in their 16 years helming the club. They are making the same basic mistakes that they made in 2008 and 2011 and 2014 and 2017 and 2020 and now. There are five that show up every year in some variety:

  • An inability to develop pitchers. To date, the Royals have developed precisely two consistent, productive starting pitchers acquired and developed internally: Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. That’s it.
  • A refusal to trade big league talent when it makes sense. See: Merrifield any time in the last four years, Danny Duffy after 2017, David DeJesus in 2009. Zack Greinke demanded a trade, and the Royals acquiesced—not the other way around.
  • A pattern of blocking minor league talent with mediocre veterans. See: Carlos Santana, Omar Infante, Mike Jacobs, Chris Getz, pick a name.
  • A lack of strategic roster building. The Royals are always in some sort of limbo between trying to compete and rebuilding, with never enough talent for the former and never enough young players for the latter.
  • A disproportionate loyalty to players and coaches. The Royals believe in themselves and their players even if data says otherwise and make moves at a glacial pace.

We’re seeing the results of all five core issues on clear display this year. The team continues to employ Santana and O’Hearn even though they offer no utility for a winning team or a rebuilding one. Their starting lineup is staffed with five 30-year-olds, multiple of whom they had the chance to trade but who they doubled down on. The 2018 draft class has stunk. Meanwhile, no one’s job seems to be in jeopardy.

When discussing the front office, the World Series teams in 2014 and 2015 are necessary talking points. But what is important to note is that these issues were still on display then, too—people just didn’t want to think about them. The result was a window of competitive opportunity cut short.

Don’t believe me? History might convince you. Of the 42 World Series squads since 2000, 35 of them had a winning season the very next year. Only one of them has taken four or more years to see their next winning season, and yes, that team was the 2015 Royals.

World Series participants, 2000-

Team World Series Year Next Winning Season Years Until Winning Season Next Playoffs Years Until Next Playoffs
Team World Series Year Next Winning Season Years Until Winning Season Next Playoffs Years Until Next Playoffs
Boston Red Sox 2013 2016 3 2016 3
Colorado Rockies 2007 2009 2 2009 2
Los Angeles Angels 2002 2004 2 2004 2
San Francisco Giants 2012 2014 2 2014 2
St. Louis Cardinals 2006 2008 2 2009 3
Arizona Diamondbacks 2001 2002 1 2002 1
Boston Red Sox 2018 2019 1 2021 3
Boston Red Sox 2007 2008 1 2008 1
Boston Red Sox 2004 2005 1 2005 1
Chicago Cubs 2016 2017 1 2017 1
Chicago White Sox 2005 2006 1 2008 3
Cleveland Guardians 2016 2017 1 2017 1
Detroit Tigers 2012 2013 1 2013 1
Detroit Tigers 2006 2007 1 2011 5
Houston Astros 2019 2020 1 2020 1
Houston Astros 2017 2018 1 2018 1
Houston Astros 2005 2006 1 2015 10
Kansas City Royals 2014 2015 1 2015 1
Los Angeles Dodgers 2020 2021 1 2021 1
Los Angeles Dodgers 2018 2019 1 2019 1
Los Angeles Dodgers 2017 2018 1 2018 1
Miami Marlins 2003 2004 1 2020 17
New York Mets 2015 2016 1 2016 1
New York Mets 2000 2001 1 2006 6
New York Yankees 2009 2010 1 2010 1
New York Yankees 2003 2004 1 2004 1
New York Yankees 2001 2002 1 2002 1
New York Yankees 2000 2001 1 2001 1
Philadelphia Phillies 2009 2010 1 2010 1
Philadelphia Phillies 2008 2009 1 2009 1
San Francisco Giants 2014 2015 1 2016 2
San Francisco Giants 2010 2011 1 2012 2
San Francisco Giants 2002 2003 1 2003 1
St. Louis Cardinals 2013 2014 1 2014 1
St. Louis Cardinals 2011 2012 1 2012 1
St. Louis Cardinals 2004 2005 1 2005 1
Tampa Bay Rays 2020 2021 1 2021 1
Tampa Bay Rays 2008 2009 1 2010 2
Texas Rangers 2011 2012 1 2012 1
Texas Rangers 2010 2011 1 2011 1
Kansas City Royals 2015 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Washington Nationals 2019 N/A N/A N/A N/A

When it comes down to it, the Royals front office is just not very good at putting together good baseball teams. Dayton Moore took over in mid-2006, with his first season in 2007. They had a losing year, naturally—he inherited a team coming off three consecutive 100-loss campaigns, after all. The Royals had a losing season in 2008, too. They had a losing season in 2009. But then they had a losing season in 2010. They had a losing season in 2011. They had a losing season in 2012. Only in 2013—in the seventh year of the Moore-led Royals—did the Royals even win more games than they lost.

Kansas City has been ruthlessly efficient at losing baseball games since the George Bush administration. Unless this season significantly turns around, they will have lost 87 or more games in 11 of the 16 seasons since Moore’s first full year. They will have also lost 90 or more in half of those 16 seasons. And in equal parts damning and frustrating, Moore’s front office will have led the Royals to 100 or more losses just as many times as his brain trust has led the team to win more games than they lose.

The hard wins and losses bear this out. Since 2007, the Royals’ winning percentage of .460 ranks 27th out of the 30 MLB teams. Beneath them: Pittsburgh, Miami, and Baltimore, three teams with, shall we say, questionable ownership or tumultuous management.

What makes this all the more frustrating is that we’re not that far from a team that could be significantly interesting and much friskier. The talent is in the system. The Royals have done a very good job at keeping their payroll flexible, and they have a huge amount of money to throw around for extensions and free agent signings. We’re so close to a daily lineup that includes Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Nick Pratto, Kyle Isbel, Emmanuel Rivera, and Edward Olivares.

Of course, to do so, the Royals would have to acknowledge that their processes have flaws. They’d have to jettison entrenched guys in the organization and bench players and ruffle some feathers along the way. It would involve actually being more transactional rather than just talking about it.

This just seems...unlikely. The Royals are who they are. The people in charge have been in charge for a decade and a half. Organizational philosophy is entrenched. And I fear that their success will make the organization less receptive to honest introspection and process improvement—even though the organization’s flaws are precisely why their window was so short. Those same flaws are why we’re here, year five of the new rebuild, with no progress.