In baseball, where there is no salary cap and large market teams have a not insignificant competitive advantage over small market teams, losing is sometimes inevitable—especially for said small market teams. The Royals are one of those small market teams. And when small market teams have no option to rebuild, it is what it is. Restock. Reload. Try again.
At the end of the day, “rebuild” isn’t a dirty word. Fans get it if you market and position what you’re doing correctly. Where you go wrong is when you’re always in a rebuild or if you position your team as being ready to compete when they, in reality, are a long ways away.
The Royals are guilty of both. At 14-26, the Royals are at the bottom of their division, have the third-worst record in baseball, and have the third-worst run differential in baseball. But the Kansas City brain trust would like you not to believe your eyes. They’re gonna compete!!!!
“We’re still in this race,” Royals GM J.J. Picollo said today.— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) May 16, 2022
“You look at where the division is, we’re in a spot where we can make a run and be competitive.” #Royals
If this sounds like deja vu to you, well, the Royals said they expected to compete in 2021, too. They ended up one game away from being the worst team in the division, had the ninth-worst record in baseball, and had the seventh-worst run differential in baseball. It’s competition time, baby!!!!
“We expect to win next year. What does that look like? Is it going to be enough wins to make the playoffs? We’ll find out. Our mindset is going to be to win every single pitch, every inning, win every game. That’s the only way that we’re ever going to win another championship, you’ve got to expect to win at all aspects.”
The Minnesota Twins just made mincemeat out of the Royals in this previous series. They dropped 20 runs on the pitching staff and came back from a 6-0 deficit to win yesterday, an all-timer of a meltdown. The Royals became the fifth team in history to get seven scoreless innings out of their starting pitcher, score at least six runs, and lose. The fifth team out of one thousand, four hundred forty-two such situations.
Before today, teams that got exactly 7 scoreless innings from their starter and scored at least 6 runs were 1437-4 all-time.— Kurtis Seaboldt (@KSeaboldt) May 22, 2022
It’s now 1437-5. pic.twitter.com/pbQOO7GLL5
And remember just above when I said that the Royals were one game away from last place in the American League Central Division in 2021? Well, the team that was in last place was the...Twins. That team went from losing 89 games to, after 40 games this year, leading the division and owning MLB’s eighth-best run differential—they ain’t a fluke. Meanwhile, the Royals are floundering all the same, on pace for 104 losses after a quarter of the way through the season. Hmm.
Actions speak louder than words, but in this case the Royals are in lockstep with both: they’re trying to win—or at the very least, trying very hard not to lose. They are, of course, failing spectacularly. But it is worth noting that after the Royals felt the need to fire the hitting coach and make a major overhaul to the coaching staff that their general manager still felt that they could do well this year.
At the root of the Royals’ problems this year is their refusal to actually follow through with a rebuild. Their rookies and young talent is not the problem. Per Fangraphs, the Royals’ 15 position players have combined for 3.6 Wins Above Replacement thus far. The four rookies—Bobby Witt Jr., Kyle Isbel, Emmanuel Reivera, and MJ Melendez—have combined for 1.4 WAR on their own. Three more younger players at or under the age of 27—Andrew Benintendi, Edward Olivares, and Nicky Lopez—have combined for another 1.8 WAR.
Rather, the problem with the Royals is that they have given a huge amount of playing time to older players. Carlos Santana, Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez, Michael A. Taylor, and Hunter Dozier are all over 30 and all have, at minimum, 109 plate appearances each. They’re a little better on the pitching side, but at the same time only one pitcher under the age of 25 has pitched any innings for the Royals, and he (Kris Bubic) is in Triple-A Omaha right now.
Nobody is mad at the Royals strictly for losing. No one was mad at the Royals for losing a bunch of games in 2018 after five of their best players became free agents at the same time and the bill for going all-in for 2014 and 2015 came due. But the reason why the Royals are getting ratio’d on Twitter and why people were booing on Sunday and why the Royals are averaging less than 16,000 attendees per game in a full, non-pandemic year for the first time since 1981 is simple. The Royals are awful in the worst way possible: by trying not to be awful.
The 2022 Royals are awful with no purpose, bad for no reason. Rebuilding is fine. The Royals are not doing that.