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The Royals’ early off-season moves are sending mixed signals

Will they be aggressive in improving the roster or content to coast to another 100 losses?

Jackson Kowar #37 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch during the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 12, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.
Jackson Kowar #37 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch during the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 12, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

This off-season is unlikely to be a very important one in the history of the Kansas City Royals. At least, not in terms of the results of the following season. It could be a very important off-season for the 2025 season, though.

The Texas Rangers won the 2023 World Series after losing 102 games in 2021. They immediately went out and signed two of the best free agents available, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. They further added Jon Gray and went on to trade for Mitch Garver and make a few other, smaller signings. It does not seem like a stretch to say that while those moves seemed worthless in the immediate aftermath - the Rangers still lost 94 games in 2022 - they were vital for the Rangers in 2023.

The Royals are also very unlikely to be good in 2024. But part of the reason there is no hope for the team to be good in 2024 is that they did practically nothing before the 2023 season. No one should be more familiar with the idea that it can take time for roster moves to impact the wins and losses columns than the Royals who declared 2012 “Our Time” but didn’t reach the post-season until 2014. If the Royals want to be good in 2025, they need to learn the lessons of the 2021 Rangers and 2012 Royals and go out and make some moves now.

Obviously, the Royals aren’t going to make any signings at the level of Seager or Semien. Unless you count the potential extension of Bobby Witt Jr., at least. Still, that doesn’t mean they have to sit on their hands. They already made one savvy trade, sending away former top prospect Jackson Kowar for former 20-game winner Kyle Wright. Wright is, as has been widely reported, recovering from surgery and incredibly unlikely to pitch at all in 2024, much less effectively. This then is a move geared toward potentially, drastically improving the team’s 2025 effectiveness. As a first move, it’s not bad at all. But it cannot be the only or even biggest move the Royals make this off-season if they want to improve.

It’s still early in the off-season, so there’s plenty of time to act aggressively. Still, the Royals are sending something of mixed signals as they aggressively moved on from Jackson Kowar but ensured they could retain the services of Josh Taylor. If you don’t remember who Taylor is, I don’t blame you. He will be 31 next year and has pitched a total of 17.1 innings (to an 8.15 ERA) over the past two seasons while missing most of them with two very lengthy injuries. The Royals reached an arbitration agreement with him for $1.1 million, which isn’t going to break even their bank should they change their minds and cut him later. The problem with the move isn’t the money or even the roster spot, but what it appears to signal about the Royals' intentions.

If I were the general manager of the Royals, I would absolutely not tendered Josh Taylor a contract. I’ll always advocate for pitching depth, but if the Royals are serious about making drastic changes to this roster ahead of 2024 then they’re going to need 40-man roster spots. And Taylor absolutely seems like a guy who could be one of the first casualties should those spots be needed. Guaranteeing him major league money would seem to indicate that they aren’t all that sure they’re going to need his 40-man roster spot. The Yankees might throw a million dollars at a guy without thinking, but that is a not-insignificant percentage of the Royals’ 2024 payroll. Again, they can easily move on from him, but I can’t imagine why you would guarantee him the money if you plan to move on from him.

I suppose it’s possible the Royals aren’t planning to be aggressive in free agency but think they can improve their roster through more trades like the one that brought Wright to Kansas City. I’d have to question such logic, however, as there can’t be that many guys like Wright available. To say nothing of the willingness of other teams to make a trade like the one Atlanta did for players who have performed horribly at the major league level to this point for Kansas City. The Royals definitely aren’t in a position to be trading from their limited stock of minor-league talent, and if they were they’d still need that 40-man roster spot for those kinds of transactions, too.

The Royals’ biggest problem for years has seemed to be an unwillingness to make a move until it is too late. Joakim Soria, David DeJesus, Scott Barlow, and Whit Merrifield are all rather infamous cases of players that the team held onto for far too long and received only marginal returns for despite being highly sought-after once upon a time. Taylor’s situation is obviously different, but the same kind of thinking is what kept Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn in Kansas City for far longer than they should have been.

It’s far too early to judge the returns of this off-season, the Royals have plenty of time to make some splashy moves and get us all excited about the future of the team again. But offering Josh Taylor guaranteed money only makes sense if you think there is at least a reasonable chance you can’t or won’t find a better use for his roster space later this off-season. And that should concern all of us.