The Royals are bad, this is not news. Everyone thought they would be bad, but so far they’ve been even worse. There are a lot of reasons for this. You probably don’t want to hear, but a big one among them is luck. The Royals are probably going to win more than the 30-some-odd games they’re currently on pace for. Whether you consider that luck in terms of opponents faced so far, in terms of bad outcomes on well-struck balls, or bullpen arms not living up to the team’s hopes it’s definitely a factor.
The Oakland Athletics are the only team with fewer wins than the Royals. They just made a huge step that will likely lead to them leaving Oakland and moving to Las Vegas. This move, as most major sports franchise moves are, has been a long time coming. The Athletics are likely bad by design; the team has had good players. and rather than make any effort to build around them it has consistently traded them away for the past few seasons. The prevailing theory is that the team did this in part to make fan interest in Oakland diminish to make it easier to move. Of course, they also did it because their team owner is cheap.
John Sherman bought this team and made promises that he would spend “when the time is right.” So far, the time has not been right. Even as we know that internally the Royals felt they were going to be able to take a step forward in 2022 and the failure to take that step forward was a big part of why President Dayton Moore was fired. The time has been right, however, to talk about moving the team to a downtown location that will just so happen to be much more profitable for the team owner regardless of how well the team performs. Any such deal would include real estate Sherman could develop and make plenty of money off of. Real estate, of course, is one of the few ventures as safe and as profitable as owning a sports team.
So, anyone paying attention to the news out of Oakland must reasonably wonder. Are the Royals as bad as they are in 2023 because the team wants to make it more appealing to move the team? There are reasons why and why it doesn’t make sense. Those should be considered before reaching any conclusion.
Reasons why it doesn’t make sense
Welcome to the City
The Royals’ new slogan for 2023 is #WelcomeToTheCity. Kansas City isn’t really known nationally as any kind of “The City” and Kauffman Stadium is so far from anything reasonably considered a part of the city itself that it feels like a slogan aimed solely at people excited about the move downtown. The moment they announced it I rolled my eyes and told anyone who would listen that it was a silly slogan that was being deployed way too early. That slogan would have made a lot more sense once the team had actually made the planned move in a few years.
But the connection between this slogan and the team’s awful record don’t sync up for a move downtown is because the slogan is now forever tied to whatever record the team has this year. If the Royals lose 100 games, as they are currently on pace to do, it will go down in history as one of the more unfortunate slogans along with 2012’s “Our Time.” No one wants to be welcomed to the city by a triple-digit-losing baseball team.
The fanbase is the same
The reason it made sense for the Athletics to try and kill their fanbase’s interest was that the move would look less greedy if the team could argue that fans just weren’t showing up for the team anymore. It’s possible the Royals could make a similar argument for the team being so far outside downtown, but ultimately they’re going to be trying to convince the same people to show up to the new stadium as would show up to the old. It just rings a bit hollow.
Reasons it does make sense
Doesn’t it seem like so many baseball decisions simply come down to money? Sherman and the rest of the owner group are going to have to fork out some money; they won’t be able to convince the taxpayers to cover the entire bill of their new stadium plus surrounding real estate. One reason the Royals are so bad this year is that the biggest move they made in free agency was to acquire innings-eater Jordan Lyles. With the Royals’ ownership knowing they’re going to need to spend in the near future, it may be that they simply decided it wasn’t worth supporting this year’s roster and saving a few million that they can then turn into more profitable investments later on.
New stadium optics
It seems possible, though perhaps not particularly plausible, that the team also wants to set up a scenario where the team that starts playing in the new stadium will be associated with winning. It will be much easier to establish that reputation if the last few rosters before the new stadium opens are awful. Expectations would then be significantly diminished to the point that even a .500 roster might reasonably be expected to get fans excited. To go with the point above, it would save them money now and later. If that were their goal, their best move is to do as they have done and spend almost nothing now and then the spending necessary to exceed expectations once the new stadium opens would similarly be diminished. If they had a good roster now but wanted to make the team seem like it had improved in the new stadium they’d have to spend more on free agents and contract extensions in order to ensure the team was even better.
In the end, I don’t really think the Royals are intentionally losing in order to somehow benefit them when the team inevitably moves downtown. However, that is a far cry from being convinced that the team’s ownership cares whether the team is winning or losing. Apathy about wins and losses in the face of profits and value that rise regardless of record has long been a disease among MLB teams even if it is difficult to prove. It would not surprise anyone, I think, to discover the Royals and John Sherman are the latest to catch it.