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The route forward is obvious for the Royals, but will they take it?

Trade vets, play the young guns, revamp pitching.

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Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates with Hunter Dozier #17 after connecting with a Cleveland Indians pitch for a two run home run in the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium on May 3, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates with Hunter Dozier #17 after connecting with a Cleveland Indians pitch for a two run home run in the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium on May 3, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Would you believe that the 2022 Kansas City Royals—the same ones who were at one point the worst team in baseball this year—have been playing .500 baseball for a month and a half? I would have not believed it myself, but sure enough, the Royals stood at 17-37 on June 7. They’d go on to win 22 of their next 44 games.

This is the case for a number of reasons. The pitching staff, which is still bad, has been not quite as disastrous. But the hitting side is where things have really taken flight. Since June 8, the Royals have been a top ten offense in baseball. While the power isn’t quite there, they have the fifth-best on base percentage in the league over that span of time.

Of course, this hasn’t happened in isolation. The Royals have turned the corner on their youth movement. Vinnie Pasquantino, Nick Pratto, Nate Eaton, and Michael Massey have all made their big league debut over that time. The first two have taken starting roles. The latter two will soon.

Well, that’s not quite the case. See, the latter two should have starting roles. They will likely be regulars, even. And therein lies the problem with the Royals: their route forward is obvious, painfully obvious, but they have not decided to take that route quite yet.

The way forward is clear as crystal in two ways. First, the Royals must completely revamp their pitching strategy from top to bottom. It must be a wholesale shift in both philosophy and execution at every level of the organization. Without hyperbole, the Royals have one of the worst big league staffs in modern baseball history and the remaining promising pitchers in the minors have fallen on their faces. Asa Lacy, Frank Mozzicato, Noah Murdock, Alec Marsh, Zach Haake, Ronald Bolaños—starter or reliever, if they’re on a list of top Royals prospects, they are scuffling at best.

Second, the Royals must purge their roster of veterans as soon as possible (read: by August 2). And by purge, I really do mean purge. Yes, Andrew Benintendi is now gone. Whit Merrifield is more than likely to be dealt, too. Ditto Michael A. Taylor. But they shouldn’t just stop there—most of the veterans in the Unvaccinated 10 have done double damage by causing clubhouse rifts and no longer fitting in with the team’s roster construction or timeline. Hunter Dozier shouldn’t be a Royal in August. Cam Gallagher shouldn’t be a Royal in August. Brad Keller shouldn’t be a Royal in August. The aforementioned six players have more value to the Royals as trade chips than by taking up a roster spot.

But, of course, this is the Royals. I forgot where I read it—Fangraphs or on Twitter, I think—but a national sports writer recently commented something along the lines of “it is difficult to get the Royals to act in the team’s best interests.” Even when it’s obvious to everyone else in the industry what to do, the Royals often...don’t.

They have their reasons; the front office isn’t guessing. It’s just making poor decisions based on flawed processes. The Royals don’t need a new front office if they self-correct enough. Therein, however, lies the problem: not self-correcting fast enough has been a feature of the front office for a decade and a half. Maybe if they had realized they needed a skills acquisition camp and a completely restructured hitting development philosophy in 2014 as opposed to 2019, we might have witnessed the Royals make playoff runs in 2016 and 2017 with contributions from the likes of Bubba Starling and Chase Vallot. But they didn’t, and here we are.

The good news about the Royals is that their problems are completely fixable. It’s a seller’s market, and the Royals have plenty of pitching talent—they just need to bring their pitching development up to par. The team has actually done a stellar job of developing hitters, and throughout the minor leagues they have guys legitimately mashing.

The other piece of good news is that ownership is getting antsy. In a candid interview at the end of June, John Sherman said that “The status quo is unacceptable.” In the same interview, Sherman was asked straight-up if Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo were the right guys for the job. He declined to offer his support sidestepping the question and focusing on their work ethic. Recently, as the most interesting throwaway line all year, Eric Longenhagen said that “There were pre-draft rumors about ownership starting to hover around this ops group” regardint the Royals in a piece at Fangraphs.

Now, Sherman isn’t literally hovering around the front office in a helicopter floating by Dayton Moore’s office with a sign that says “TRADE WHIT MERRIFIELD OR ELSE.” But there’s probably some fire there—Sherman and his investment group expected their billion-dollar purchase to perform a certain way, and it has not. That can only continue for so long.

But none of this ancillary information matters when you get down to it. The Royals have a route forward, both at the trade deadline and over the offseason. Will they take it? I’m guessing not, though a pleasant surprise for this organization is overdue.