The one constant of sports fans is that they will complain. One need look no further than across the parking lot where football fans - who currently cheer for a team that has made five straight AFC championship games, appeared in three of the past four Super Bowls (winning two of them,) and currently lead their division - are absolutely apoplectic about about the most recent contest. It seems a bit silly, doesn’t it?
So the fact that Royals fans are currently up in arms over the fact that they got what could be described as the worst possible draft pick following the draft lottery and that the team has yet to sign or trade for a significant player is no shock. And that’s before you get into more nitpicky complaints such as their decision to trade away Dylan Coleman to free up a roster spot to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft rather than any of a half-dozen other players.
It’s possible Taylor Clarke, Josh Taylor, Garret Hampson, and Jonathan Heasley all contribute greatly to a very successful 2024 Royals season while Dylan Coleman fails to ever pitch effectively in the big leagues again. It’s also possible that the Royals will draft the next Zack Greinke with their sixth overall pick in the 2024 draft and none of us are concerned about which pick they used to do it. It’s even possible that the Royals go out and acquire two or three legitimate players through free agency and trades that really bolster the team before this offseason ends. Still, no matter how silly these complaints might seem in the future, it’s perfectly reasonable for Royals fans to be upset now.
In life, nothing brings goodwill forever. Eventually, if you stop doing the thing that bought you goodwill for long enough, people will get fed up. The Royals reaching the World Series in 2014 and winning it in 2015 bought the team several years of goodwill, even though they haven’t won more games than they’ve lost in the eight seasons since then. Of course, there are other issues that go back further than that.
When was the last time the Royals signed a big free agent to an impressive deal? Maybe you’re willing to say the Alex Gordon signing, but he was only a free agent because the Royals had chosen not to extend him beforehand. Ian Kennedy signed for a then-record amount, but it’s not like he didn’t come with question marks. Edinson Volquez was on a prove-it deal. Kendrys Morales was on a bounce-back deal.
For my money, you’ve got to go back to the ‘90s, at least, to find a big free-agent signing. More than 25 years ago! They’ve done a bit better with trades. When they acquired Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist at the 2015 deadline they were the consensus best pitcher and position player available. Of course, even that deal is more than eight years old, now. Non-rental category belongs to the Shields/Davis trade. That deal is more than a decade old.
They also have made some pretty bizarre choices in the draft, completely eschewing common consensus and making guys like Blake Mitchell and Frank Mozzicato first-round picks when almost no one saw them as being worth the spots the Royals drafted them at.
And the lack of big change hasn’t just come at the player levels, they’ve also come in the front office. When owner John Sherman realized how bad the team was doing and fired Dayton Moore, he allowed Moore’s right-hand man to take over the franchise and keep almost the entire group who had worked for Moore to stick around.
Again, a lot of this stuff hasn’t completely played out yet - there are actually some bright signs coming from the current front office even if many of them were the same people working for Dayton Moore. But the fact that the Royals never seem to do anything big or exciting is reason enough for Royals fans to be justified in their disappointment so far this off-season.
A lot of talk on the internet surrounding the Royals has been about how they need to prove their commitment to winning if they want fan money to help pay for their new real estate development project. Setting aside for a moment the arguments about who should be responsible for paying for what, it’s not like the Royals’ decision to seek out new profit centers is a surprise to them. Why haven’t they already been building up fan goodwill? Much ado has been made of the fact that the Royals have so closely tied themselves to the football team because the football team has much greater goodwill.
Why do they have all that goodwill? Of course, winning a lot in recent years doesn’t hurt. But this is also a team that’s made an effort to keep many of its superstars over time. Chris Jones, Travis Kelce, Patrick Mahomes, Tamba Hali, and Will Shields are just some of the NFL players who have only ever played in Kansas City. Many others spent large chunks of their career in KC after signing extensions even if they played for other teams before or after their stints in red and gold.
The Royals were third to last in attendance last season, better only than the Athletics and Marlins. Honestly, it’s amazing that they drew as many as they did, considering not only how poorly the team played but just how little the franchise has invested in bringing in or keeping stars on their roster over the years.
Some people talk about the Royals moving because the fanbase has stopped supporting them, but why should anyone support this joke of a franchise? Sure, things were great for a handful of years in the mid-teens, but they were awful for decades before that and now almost a decade after that. They largely didn’t appear to even be trying for huge stretches.
This is not a declaration that I’ve stopped being a Royals fan. Believe me, if I knew how to quit rooting for them I’d have done it by now. I’m going to keep watching games and celebrating their victories and being sad when they lose. I just think it’s important to be realistic about what the team is bringing to this relationship - and it ain’t much.