The Royals have the eighth-lowest payroll in MLB. The Orioles, Athletics, Pirates, Guardians, and Marlins make up the bottom five; they’re all losers, but none of them are losing as many games as the Royals, and all of them are spending significantly less on their rosters. The Rays and Diamondbacks are also spending less than the Royals, but they’re winning more than they’re losing and legitimately competing within their divisions for playoff spots, at least so far.
I hate it as much or more than anyone when I see a baseball team refusing to spend on talented players to improve their roster. But at least they’re executing a plan, even if it’s an awful plan. I can summon some small amount of grudging respect for them; they’re doing the jobs they’ve been asked to do successfully. At least when awful things happened around the Mets, people lost their jobs, and new people were given opportunities to do better. In the Kansas City Royals organization, there is no accountability at any level for any employee of any type. It’s to the point that I assume whoever is in charge of laundry probably runs the washers without detergent, and no one cares.
Let’s look at a few examples, shall we?
Dayton Moore was general manager of the Royals from June 2006 to September 2021. Call it 15 full seasons. During that time, he led three teams that won more games than they lost. He also led teams that lost 90 or more games six times. That’s not a good ratio. The result? He was promoted to team president late last season.
Lonnie Goldberg served as the Royals' director of scouting from 2010 to 2018. During that time, the Royals scouted terribly. They repeatedly drafted busts and signed free agents that as often made the team worse as better. The result? He was promoted to Vice President over Player Personnel late last year.
The Royals’ pitching has been consistently awful since he joined the team. The Royals had a chance to walk away from him when Ned Yost retired. Last year it was revealed it took him almost the entire season to find the mechanical flaw that prevented Brad Keller from pitching effectively. Before that finally happened, Keller admitted that Eldred had no clue what was wrong.
Last year, manager Mike Matheny indicated that they could not get Brady Singer to buy in on the necessity of throwing his changeup more often. This is a ding against accountability for Singer, who was allowed to remain in the rotation despite his refusal to get with the program, but is also a ding against Eldred, who was most likely the point man in getting this message across. Recently, General Manager J.J. Picollo admitted that the Royals had tried to convince Jakob Junis (who is seeing success in the Giants’ rotation this season) to pitch the way he is now but were unable to convince him, either. The same issues with Singer apply here; Junis may bear some blame for not being convinced more easily, but it was Eldred’s (and others’) job to convince him, and they couldn’t do it.
Ryan O’Hearn (and other players)
Listen, I don’t want to bash Ryan O’Hearn. He’s doing the best he can, and he’s not to blame for any of the problems I have with his presence on this team. Instead, it is the Royals/Moore/Matheny who keep him on the roster and keep putting him in the starting lineup when he clearly is not going to help the team now or later.
Alex Gordon was terrible for the life of his second-to-last contract with the Royals, so the Royals gave him another contract and started him for most of that final year despite him still being awful.
Carlos Santana, Mike Minor, Omar Infante, Ian Kennedy, Lucas Duda, Greg Holland, Wade Davis. The list goes on and on. There’s being player-friendly, and then there is allowing players to continue playing well past the point it is doing anyone any good and is preventing the team from any hope of improvement.
Anywhere in the organization
Alec Lewis wrote a piece recently for The Athletic ($); in it, he included this memorable, awful line:
Notably, current Royals big leaguers are not ignorant of the strides others have made elsewhere.
The players know that if they can get out of Kansas City, they have a chance to be good elsewhere. That makes it even less likely they’ll buy into the things the Royals ask them to do now.
In the piece, Alec highlights several pitchers, both outside veterans and prospects developed in the Royals system, that failed to find success in KC and later thrived elsewhere. But there are plenty of hitters, too. Frank Schwindel could never get a chance in Kansas City, but he had a stunning 152 wRC+ (per FanGraphs) in 56 games for the Cubs last year. Even this year, despite relative struggles, he has a 60 wRC+; O’Hearn - not to keep picking on him - is at 33 in the same stat. José Martínez similarly couldn’t get a break with the Royals but hit quite well for the Cardinals in 2016 and 2017 when one extra bat might have been enough to push the Royals into contention. Whit Merrifield has played his entire career for KC but should have been promoted sooner than he was. Edward Olivares did nothing but hit all last season. Still, the Royals continued to send Michael A. Taylor and an injured Hunter Dozier to the field while shuttling Olivares between Omaha and Kansas City the entire season. Vinnie Pasquantino is crushing the ball for AAA Omaha, but the Royals won’t promote him, either. These sorts of things happen to every team, but when they happen to the Royals, nothing changes.
The worst-run franchise in MLB is no longer the Mets, who seem to be getting their act together finally. It’s not the Reds who put Wade Miley on waivers rather than pay him far less than he was likely to be worth to fill their rotation, then traded one of their better relievers for Mike Minor to fill that spot in the rotation for roughly the same amount of money. It’s not even the Cleveland Guardians, who were once such a joke that the franchise starred in the baseball comedy Major League. No, the worst-run franchise in MLB is the Kansas City Royals. The team that doesn’t tank but also pays money to bad players. The team that can’t build a roster to compete now but won’t work to build one that can compete in the future.
The team where anyone at any level can be downright awful at their job, and they’re more likely to get promoted than fired.
Last year, it might have been enough to fire the pitching coach and see if someone new could get the necessary messages across to the players. That is no longer good enough. I never hope to see people lose their jobs, but the problem has grown larger than can be fixed with individual improvements. If the Royals have any hope of improving, there must be massive turnover at every level of the organization.