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Losing has consequences everywhere except Kansas City, apparently

Wins and losses should matter

Detroit Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch speaks at a press conference at Comerica Park in Detroit after the firing of general manager Al Avila Wednesday, August 10, 2022.
Detroit Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch speaks at a press conference at Comerica Park in Detroit after the firing of general manager Al Avila Wednesday, August 10, 2022.

If there’s one word that the current, August version of the 2022 Kansas City Royals have embodied, that word is “fun.” Every night, six or seven rookies are penciled into the starting lineup. Three fifths of the rotation is manned by homegrown Royals starters. The clubhouse is a blast. Though Kansas City isn’t a good team, they are a fun and interesting team, and everyone keeps calling them as such.

But after winning the American League Player of the Week Award, Royals rookie Vinnie Pasquantino had something very interesting to say about his take on that description: we’d rather be winners than be called fun.

So it’s just one of the things I think, obviously, it’s an adjustment to the big leagues, but I don’t want to speak for everybody, but we’re ready to start winning games. We’re tired of getting called fun, and there’s a learning period, but we want to win games and that’s kind of our focus. So we’re not worried about being rookies, we’re worried about trying to score more runs than the other team.

This is exactly the mindset that the players on a professional baseball team should have. They’re here to win! It’s easy to forget, but these players were all the best baseball players on their high school teams. They were the best players on their college teams. They are used to winning and they want to win.

Unfortunately for the players on the team, winning isn’t completely up to them. Each player on the Royals roster can only control their own performance. The actual task of assembling a winning team and of providing the best coaching for said team falls on the front office. And baseball is, like all professional sports, a results-oriented business. The goal? Winning baseball games. You fail to win, and you’re out.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen what happens when you don’t win. On August 11, the Detroit Tigers fired Al Alvila, general manager and front office executive who simply did not win enough games. Tigers owner Chris Ilitch said that the team wasn’t making enough progress, which is why Al got the axe.

“Heading into this season, all of us at the ball club … had high expectations and excitement for the season,” Ilitch said. “Unfortunately, we did not see progress this season at the major league level, and that’s a big reason why I decided it’s time to make a change.”

...“It’s really about progress,” Ilitch said. “I’ve said it for years: Each and every season, we need to make progress, and if we do that, we’ll ultimately reach our goals and our objectives. This year, I think it became evident that we did not make progress, particularly at the major league level.”

But Ilitch, Alvila, and the Tigers weren’t the only ones who went through a front office transformation. Mere days after firing their manager, the Texas Rangers parted ways with their general manager, Jon Daniels, resulting in former Royal and tall human, Chris Young, captaining the GM chair. Majority owner Ray Davis’ explanation: though Daniels had a long and successful run, his teams were losers for too long.

Jon’s accomplishments in his 17 years running our baseball operations department have been numerous. He and his staff put together the best teams in this franchise’s history that resulted in five playoff appearances and two American League pennants between 2010 and 2016. His impact on the growth of our player development, scouting, and analytics groups has been immense. Jon has always had the best interests of the Rangers organization in mind on and off the field and in the community.

But the bottom line is we have not had a winning record since 2016 and, for much of that time, have not been competitive in the A.L. West Division. While I am certain we are heading in the direction, I feel a change in the leadership of the baseball operations department will be beneficial going forward.

For the Tigers and Rangers organizations, losing for years was unacceptable. What is most striking from a Royals perspective is how similar those organizations are to the one here in Kansas City, and how the owners’ statements might as well have been written about the Royals. All three organizations had multi-year playoff runs with World Series appearances and peaked in about 2015, and all three organizations have simply failed to be remotely competitive since then despite years of premium draft picks and ample opportunity to complete a rebuild. Since 2016, the three teams have been pretty similar.

Royals, Rangers, and Tigers, 2016-2022

Team Overall Record Overall Winning % Winning Seasons Playoff Seasons 90+ Loss Seasons 100+ Loss Seasons
Team Overall Record Overall Winning % Winning Seasons Playoff Seasons 90+ Loss Seasons 100+ Loss Seasons
Royals 426-564 0.430 0 0 0 2
Rangers 453-535 0.459 1 1 1 1
Tigers 406-580 0.412 1 0 2 1

By pure composite winning percentage since 2016, the Royals are between the Tigers and the Rangers. But you could make the case that the Royals have had the worst results out of the three—both the Tigers and the Rangers had a winning season in that time frame, but the Royals did not. Furthermore, neither the Tigers or Rangers put up multiple 100-loss campaigns, while the Royals have already done so and are a slump away from doing so a third time (though the Tigers are on pace for another 100-loss season this year, to be fair).

Earlier in the season, I wrote that the Royals seemed comfortable with being awful. It was published on June 6, one day away from the season’s low point of June 7 when they fell to 17-37. The article still rings true.

We have learned the answer to the question of “how bad do the Royals have to be in order for significant changes to be made,” and the answer to that question is “the limit does not exist.”

...Other organizations in far less dire straights are making the kinds of moves that one would have expected the Royals to do given the lack of big league results. The Phillies just fired manager Joe Girardi after a slow start. The White Sox cut Dallas Keuchel even though they owe him over $14 million over the rest of the year. The St. Louis Cardinals promoted Nolan Gorman, one of their top hitting prospects, who was raking in Triple-A.

The Royals did not enact any other changes than making a change at hitting coach. They stuck to their guns and the result was slightly less losing after a dead cat rebound and a midseason haul of prospects from trading useful veterans. They brought up their young prospects, and the season became fun when it had been borderline unwatchable for three months.

But I think that Vinnie knows something that the Royals front office and ownership should be thinking about. Being called “fun” is almost an insult because it is something you say when you can’t call a team “good,” which the Royals are absolutely not. It’s not the players’ fault the team isn’t good. That’s on the front office and the coaching staff. And if a front office and coaching staff can get away with years of losing without repercussions while their similarly performing peers are losing their jobs, what’s even the point? Where’s the hope?