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There’s no shortcut to the Royals’ biggest problem

A lack of talent on the roster

Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves beats the tag by Michael Massey #19 of the Kansas City Royals during the eighth inning at Kauffman Stadium on April 16, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves beats the tag by Michael Massey #19 of the Kansas City Royals during the eighth inning at Kauffman Stadium on April 16, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Internet slang changes all the dang time, with older phrases falling out of favor and new ones seemingly appearing out of nowhere. A relatively recent phrase started to crop up around the start of the pandemic and has cemented itself as a common term in the gaming community lately, born in the fires of Twitch and competitive gaming: skill issue. Four years ago? Not a thing. Today? Most definitely a thing.

skill issue

As a 30-something now, I am no longer at the vanguard of internet slang. I no longer want to be; once I started to see the term “rizz” being used online, I knew that it was over for me, because I had less than no idea what it was referring to. Skill issue, however, is simple: it speaks to an issue relating to skill. Easy. It’s a description or an insult (depending on how it’s used) to say that, man, you lost because your skill isn’t good enough—not because you had a bad game or had bad luck. It was a skill issue.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that when I watched the Royals’ series against Atlanta over last weekend as Royals announcers kept trotting out excuses about bad luck and hard hit balls and how the Royals have had baserunners but haven’t been able to get them in. To an extent, those things are true; the Royals are unsustainably bad with men on base, they have hit the ball pretty hard, and two Royals (Michael Massey and MJ Melendez) are in the top eight players in the league with the biggest gap between their wOBA and expected wOBA.

But teams get unlucky all the time and still manage to win baseball games. And look: it’s easy to blame the Hunter Doziers of the world for the team’s struggles. Sure, guys like Dozier and Jackie Bradley Jr. and Matt Duffy aren’t going to move the needle much.

But the Royals’ problem is frustratingly simple because it has no clear solution: they have a skill issue up and down the organization. In short, they just don’t have enough viable big league players on the active roster or the 40-man, and it has been this way for a long time.

If that sounds too mean to you, well, I would calmly point to the stats. This year’s start speaks for itself in its badness. But the Royals have also been nearly incomprehensibly bad in a disturbingly wide array of facets for six seasons now. Since 2018, they have the fifth-worst team wRC+—meaning they haven’t hit—and they have the sixth-worst Defensive Runs Saved—meaning that they haven’t fielded well, either. Since 2018, they have the third-worst team ERA, the fifth-worst team FIP, and the league worst team K-BB%.

They didn’t get here because of luck. They didn’t get here by accident. They got here because their baseball operations department was incompetent. This, again, sounds like I’m being mean here, but the Royals had a talented World Series winning team and in the years between 2016 and 2022 they only won 443 games, fewer than all but two teams (the Tigers and Orioles). The only way you win a World Series and then become one of the three worst teams in baseball over a seven-year stretch is if you did so by purpose via tanking or did a bunch of things wrong.

Kansas City did a bunch of things wrong, which has resulted in the aforementioned organizational skill issue. They drafted poorly. They developed players poorly. They thought players and coaches who were doing an objectively bad job were doing great. They had no idea what their timeline was or where they were on the timeline.

This is what got Dayton Moore canned—John Sherman realized that Moore was no longer an effective general manager (something that was also true the moment he stepped in as principal owner, for that matter). Unfortunately, baseball is not the NFL or the NBA. It cannot be turned around in a day. And the current Royals are stuck with the previous front office’s failures, which have resulted in an organization that lacks top-end talent or talent depth anywhere in the organization.

This, also, sounds mean. It is, also, correct, especially as it pertains to talent depth, because they are relying on a team made up of mediocre prospects all hits at once. Here are the number of top 100 prospect lists by major publications, per Baseball-Reference, that each of these young players has appeared on in their careers:

  • Michael Massey: 0
  • Edward Olivares: 0
  • Kyle Isbel: 0
  • Nicky Lopez: 0
  • Nate Eaton: 0
  • Tyler Gentry: 0
  • Samad Taylor: 0
  • Nick Loftin: 0
  • Maikel Garcia: 0

No, never being on a big prospect list is not a death sentence for a successful career. But just think: if a player can’t differentiate themselves enough from fellow prospects, how often do those players stand out against even tougher competition in Major League Baseball? Even guys who make prospect lists don’t always end up as productive big leaguers. Just ask Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic, Asa Lacy, Brady Singer, and MJ Melendez, who have been anywhere from “uneven” to “unplayable, in some cases literally.”

The central issue with this 2023 Royals team and organization is that they just don’t have the talent that other winning organizations have. It’s because of a slew of bad decisions, like not trading Danny Duffy and Scott Barlow and Eric Hosmer and Whit Merrifield and so many other useful veterans when they were at their peak, for one. It’s because of poor drafting and poor coaching, too.

In any case, there is no way out for this Royals team. As former Royals Review writer Shaun Newkirk pointed out on Twitter, this team was assembled via decisions made from two to four years ago. Help is not coming. None of the new baseball operations or coaching personnel are losing their jobs in year one. There are no can’t-miss prospects in the system. Ownership missed the opportunity to green light a significant talent addition in free agency. This is it. Either the Royals make a step forward this year or the lack of progress will doom this team as the beginning of a rebuild rather than the end of one.