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Burnt ends

What’s new, what’s old?

MLB: JUL 14 Royals at Blue Jays Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Groundhog day.

Much ink has already been spilled about the Royals abysmal start to the season. For many of us, it feels like the season is already over, from a contention standpoint. Or even from a being halfway competitive standpoint. Look, I think we all understood that this team had no chance of garnering a playoff berth, but I do think many are surprised at how bad they’ve looked in most games.

Aside from a very brief window, Royal fans have become accustomed to losing. It doesn’t mean that we like it or have accepted it. Far from it. There are fans on this site who root for the Chiefs, who have won big and regularly in recent years. There are many fans here who align with the University of Kansas, who have fielded one of the nation’s best college basketball teams for several decades. There are fans here from Kansas State, who have enjoyed their school’s success on the gridiron and basketball court. Bottom line, we know what winning feels like and we can tell when the owner or people in charge of a team are trying to produce a winner. And we can tell when they’re not.

In recent years, Kansas State had a middling basketball program. Fan and alumni interest was waning. The administration finally realized they needed to make a change and they did. They brought in Jerome Tang, who changed the culture. The team started to win and nearly made the Final Four. Fan and alumni interest soared to levels not seen since the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Winning is fun!

We, Royal fans, want to have some of that fun. Is that too much to ask?

Brian Henry suggested the idea of relegation. I saw an idea once that if an owner can’t produce a winning team, he should be forced to sell the franchise to someone else and give them a crack. I love that idea.

John Sherman is in his third year as owner of the Royals. The clock is ticking. Is the franchise better off today than when he took over? That’s a tough metric to measure. Even though Sherman has replaced the manager and general manager he inherited, he still has most of the players drafted and signed by the previous regime, as well as many holdovers in other key administrative and scouting positions. Did the culture really change or is this the same play, second act? We know that it takes longer to restock a major league baseball franchise than say a college basketball team or even an NFL team.

How much time is sufficient? I would say five years. Five years of drafts and free agent signings should give you a pretty good idea of the future direction of the franchise. If the Royals have done this right, hired the right people, overhauled the needed departments, they should be competitive by the 2025 season. A small market team like Kansas City must do everything better than their large market competitors. Their margin for error is smaller. To me, baseball has always been the hardest sport to analyze talent. What is this franchise missing? Is it scouting? Player development? Money? All of the above? Does Sherman have the will and the passion to identify and correct those deficiencies? Time will tell.

Fans like a winning team. Even Chicago Cub fans, long known as fans who tolerated a losing team as long as they could bask in the sun with a cold beer at Wrigley and be entertained by Harry Carey, found out that yes, they too like to cheer for a winner.

It could be worse. Fans of the Padres, Rockies, Rangers, Mariners, Brewers and Rays have never won a World Series, though that may change this year as the Rays look tough and the Padres and Rangers have made a commitment to the talent needed to get there. We’ve won two and had a couple of other cracks at it. Would they trade places with us? I’m thinking they would.

Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!

I caught some of the Storm Chasers game with the Iowa Cubs a couple weeks ago and it was ugly. Bearded lady at the circus ugly. Iowa ended up winning this game 14-1, but there are no words to describe how lopsided it was. What’s up with Jonathan Heasley? There were times I thought he could develop into a nice number 4 or 5 starter for the Royals, but in this one he lasted just 2 13 innings, needing 71 pitches just to get those seven outs. The I-Cubs tagged him for 9 runs on 11 hits. I turned it off after watching Maikel Garcia slam a ball off the left-center wall then nearly get himself thrown out at second after taking his sweet time watching his blast.

My big concern was Nick Pratto, who was hitting just .159/.259/.319 before coming back to Kansas City, and a pitching staff that ranks near the bottom of the league in nearly every single statistical category. After getting a taste of the big leagues in 2022, Pratto should be tearing up AAA, so yeah, I’m concerned about his development. His recent promotion and success after being called back up eases some of my anxiety. Heasley and Jackson Kowar, two guys the Royals had high hopes for, both have an ERA of 9.00. Either AAA is tougher than we thought, or something is very wrong in the Royals player development apparatus.

The secret sauce. Or a lot of luck.

I’ve written about these items in the past, but I believe they bear repeating when evaluating the current Royals roster. First, I believe that in order to contend, a team needs five to six impact hitters and five to six impact arms. The Royals charitably have three impact hitters: Sal Perez, Vinnie Pasquantino and Bobby Witt Jr., and truthfully the jury is still out on Witt and Vinnie, but I like what I’ve seen so far. Unfortunately, Sal will be retired the next time the Royals contend. As far as impact arms? That’s tougher to quantify. Brady Singer? So far not in 2023. Aroldis Chapman? Yes, but he’s a one inning guy. Maybe I’m missing someone, but I can’t think of another impact arm on the roster.

The second thing is: genius shows itself early in life. Doesn’t matter if it’s in music, art, literature or athletics, the very best present themselves at a very young age. George Brett won his first batting title in his third full season at the age of 23. Stan Musial won his first MVP after his second full season at the age of 22. So many of the greats made their debuts before they were 20. Some were even more extreme. Bob Feller made his debut with Cleveland at the age of 17. Roy Campanella played for the Washington Elite Giants of the Negro Leagues at the tender age of 15 and by the age of 23 had already played in parts of nine seasons.

A player’s best years are typically scattered between their age 23 and age 31 seasons. A lot of players hit their peak around age 27. A player very rarely improves after the age of 32. They can still be effective, but performance is almost always in decline.

That means time is running out on this collection of Royals. The average age of this team is 27. Vinnie, Michael Massey, Kyle Isbel and Nate Eaton are all 25 and 26. MJ Melendez is 24 and Bobby Witt is 23. Everyone else is either not part of the future or is older. A look at Omaha’s roster is even more alarming with the average age of the hitters being almost 26 and the average age of the pitchers just a shade below 28. When the Royals won it all in 2015, the average age of the team was 29. Yordano Ventura, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Lorenzo Cain were all between 24 and 29.

The point I’m making, and you can see it, is that age is not on the Royals side, either at the major league or AAA level. Add in the fact that they don’t have enough impact arms or bats, on the roster and in the pipeline, and well, it’s starting to smell like liver and onions.

Alpha Stadium developments.

In the summer of 2019, my wife and I toured Petco Park, the beautiful home of the Padres. Before Petco was built, that part of San Diego was, shall we say, a little rundown and rough. I walked around the Petco construction site one summer morning back in 2003 and was happy to make it back to my hotel without getting knifed. Now the neighborhood is thriving with bars, restaurants, shops and condos. It’s something to think about when discussing plans for a downtown stadium in Kansas City. Kansas City officials could do much worse than traveling to San Diego and looking at how that city put the pieces together: the hotels, the convention center, the light rail, the shopping and residential districts. It’s really an ideal setup.

While on that Petco tour, we made a stop in the Padres dugout. The batting helmet rack caught my eye. The top slot was reserved for Eric Hosmer, with Manny Machado and Wil Myers underneath him. I thought it was an interesting alpha male dynamic since Machado was clearly the better player. At that time, Hosmer had the largest contract of the three, so I suppose money talks.

I read a recent piece that highlighted former World Series champs who were still hanging on and owed a lot of money by their former teams. Once again, two former Royals were on the list: Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. The Padres are still on the hook for nearly $37 million while Hosmer plays out his career with the Cubs. The Reds are paying Moose over $17 million this season to play for the Rockies. The Royals, meanwhile, continue to play Hunter Dozier while paying him $7.5 million, chicken feed compared to the other two. As of this writing, if Dozier gets 485 more plate appearances in 2023, the Royals are contractually obligated to bump up his salary by $1.5 million. There’s no way that happens, right? Right??

Losing Hosmer was a good thing that could have been a lot better. Dayton Moore desperately wanted to resign Hosmer, which would have been a grave mistake, but was saved from himself by the Padres free spending GM AJ Preller. It would have been ideal for Moore to trade Hosmer (and others) while he still had some value to Kansas City, but we all know that sequence of events never happened. Thus, the Royals are left with an uninspiring big-league team and an equally uninspiring minor league system. Dayton Moore, the gift that keeps on giving.

What’s new. What’s old?

I see players are still wearing a prodigious amount of ridiculous looking gold chains. I used to see a lot of this in the late ‘70’s, but it was mostly confined to coked up guys going to a discotheque. Now it seems like players are in a competition to see who can sport the most obnoxious chains. It must be a generational thing. When you’re a grouchy old fart like me you realize that chains are uncomfortable to play in, what with them always pulling out your chest hair and bouncing into your face while you’re flailing at a slider out of the strike zone. Plus, you’re finally wise enough to understand that jewelry, while much appreciated by your wife or girlfriend, is a terrible investment. If you want to impress your entourage, just use that cash to light cigars with. Instead, put that money into a dividend paying, blue chip stock and forget about it for 25 years.

The other new thing I’m hearing this season is the term, Sweeper. As in, with two strikes, he threw his sweeper. I try to keep up on baseball terminology as much as the next Kevin, but I have to admit, I hadn’t heard the term sweeper until this season. Now I’m hearing it every day. Turns out that sweeper is just a hip way of saying a guy has a nasty, horizontal breaking slider. If anything else new comes along, give me a shout. I’ll be in the front yard, yelling at the neighborhood kids.