Through no fault of their own, Kansas City Royals fans have very little experience with how good baseball teams are supposed to look and supposed to be run because the Royals have failed to display anything resembling competitive baseball for most of the last three and a half decades. This exhibits itself in a lot of ways, but it mainly puts Royals baseball on a weird and depressing grading curve where “bad” is the norm and people don’t get bent out of shape unless they tumble down the hill into “awful.” Even then, the Royals can be awful for a long time until enough people get restless enough for it to matter.
That grading curve has certainly been present this season. After years of spinning its wheels following the last competitive Royals squad, the situation finally got to the point where fans couldn’t stand it anymore. The Royals have not had a single winning campaign in their last seven seasons, and after starting 17-37 this year—a 111-loss pace—a lot of fans were fed up. It was evident that changes needed to be made. To the Royals’ credit, they finally made the type of move they haven’t made in 10 years by firing their hitting coach and replacing him with a team of talented rising stars.
Speaking of talented rising stars: we are, finally, to a place in this season where watching a Royals game no longer feels like a chore and instead feels like legitimate entertainment. That’s because we’re getting a lineup that features six or seven rookies—four of whom were consensus top 100 prospects in all of baseball before their debut—every night. Meanwhile, three of the five rotation spots are filled with members of the vaunted Royals 2018 pitching draft class, two of whom were consensus top 100 prospects in all of baseball before their debut.
On one hand, it is a blast to watch such a stable of young, talented baseball players play baseball, especially with a clubhouse that seems to be enjoying themselves. But on the other hand, such fun comes from a simple fact: the team hasn’t sucked in a while! For a team that had descended to the worst record in baseball this season, they played .500 baseball from June 8 through August 14. Winning baseball is, by definition, fun baseball.
There’s just one problem: the 2022 Royals may be more fun now; unfortunately, this, too, is graded on a curve. Royals fans are rightfully enjoying this team of youngsters, but are enjoying them in part because they look like legit big league ball players, which is not something fans of a franchise which has had two playoff trips in the last 37 years is used to.
This is the most dangerous offseason that new owner John Sherman will face. That’s because it can be easy to be drawn in to the romanticism of a bunch of young, scrappy, talented players showing glimpses of a bright future. But good franchises don’t have to latch onto talented young prospects like the last few life preservers on a sinking ship. They don’t have to pray that they all pan out, less their competitive window collapse before it even opens. They just have them, and they have enough of them that a few duds don’t ruin the team’s entire competitive window.
See, the 2022 Royals are still a very bad baseball team. They are on pace for 96 losses, eight more than last season. Even with all this young hitting talent, they’ve been a bottom-third offense both over the last month and over the whole season. Far more alarming is the pitching staff, which is in the bottom five in ERA (27th), FIP (28th), WAR (28th), and K%-BB% (dead last) despite its most important young pitchers being as healthy as you can reasonably ask a collection of pitchers to be. In any case, recent series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Minnesota Twins have highlighted that the Royals are at a huge talent and coaching deficit compared to playoff caliber squads.
Whether or not the success of this rebuild ultimately depends on John Sherman’s standards. This organization needs changes. That much is absolutely clear—if the organization didn’t need change, we wouldn’t be wondering about whether or not the team would hit 100 losses in its seventh season since its last winning season, would we? Being this bad for this long usually just gets people fired. Just ask Al Avila, whose Tigers have been no less successful than the Royals since the 2016 season.
What needs to change? At the very, very, very least, there’s no reason why Cal Eldred should still be employed come October. Beyond that, though, the Royals need to rip out their pitching process from top-to-bottom and start completely anew. They have been the worst team in baseball at developing pitchers for a decade and a half, and at this point, that’s not just luck. You could also make a good case to move on from Mike Matheny and a case to gut the front office, too; I made that case at the end of May, and nothing has happened to convince me that the fundamental problems with the front office’s modus operandi have been solved.
In an interview with 610 Sports Radio, John Sherman said that the status quo was “not acceptable.” But that begs the question: what is the status quo to him? What part of the grading curve is he on, if he’s using it at all? Is the meager progress the Royals have shown enough to satiate him? We’ll see. Because if the Royals front office won’t make the moves they need to in order to be legitimately competitive and not “feel good competitive,” he’ll need to make it for them.