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The entire Royals organization is a mess right now

Bad, bad, bad

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KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 30: Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman is seen on Opening Day prior to a gam against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on March 30, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 30: Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman is seen on Opening Day prior to a gam against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on March 30, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Buddy Bell managed the Kansas City Royals in 2006, during which he presided over a brutal 19-game losing streak. After the tenth consecutive loss of that streak, Bell uttered one of the most memorable quotes in franchise history: “I never say it can’t get worse.” So, yes, Royals fans are well aware that it can get worse. It can always get worse.

As a result, rock bottom is negotiable; you can always roll around in the dirt or bring a shovel and dig a little lower. In any case, whether or not the Royals are at rock bottom is immaterial: everything is a mess right now.

The losing is a big part of it, obviously, but that’s not just it. The farm system stinks. Watching Royals games as a cord-cutter is like solving a very annoying and very unrewarding logic puzzle. The stadium situation is a mess. And, oh yes, the Royals org is getting heat for mistreating the community and its workers.

This is the State of the Union for the Royals. It is not good.

Pervasive Losing at the Big League Level

Losing 100 games is the mark of a truly awful baseball team. In practice, there’s not much difference between a 99-loss team and a 101-loss team, but humans like big round numbers and so that 100-game plateau is a big one. The Royals have seen 100 losses six times since 2002.

But the Royals have also nearly accomplished the unthinkable. Since the begging of 2018—a period of six seasons and 779 games—the Royals have played at a 99.4-loss pace. They’ve nearly been a 100-loss club over more than half a decade.

This year has marked a new low. If the Royals continued the pace they’ve played over their first 71 games, they would finish with the fourth-worst record in league history since 1947, the year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. They would be third-worst, if not for an Oakland Athletics team abandoned by their owner in search of more money in the desert. The Royals are doing it the old-fashioned way: they are simply bad.

Worst MLB Teams Since 1947

Season Franchise Wins Losses Pct.
Season Franchise Wins Losses Pct.
1962 New York Mets 40 120 0.250
2023 Oakland Athletics 19 55 0.257
2003 Detroit Tigers 43 119 0.265
2023 Kansas City Royals 19 52 0.268
1952 Pittsburgh Pirates 42 112 0.273
2018 Baltimore Orioles 47 115 0.290
2019 Detroit Tigers 47 114 0.291

While players like Hunter Dozier and Mike Mayers and Jackie Bradley Jr. have been a drag on the team, the reason why the Royals are so bad goes deeper than the fringe veteran roster cases.

Kansas City’s famous draft class of 2018 college pitchers has, five years later, yet to yield one reliable starter or reliever. Former second overall pick Bobby Witt Jr. is hitting worse than he did last year. So, too, is MJ Melendez hitting worse than last year. And Vinnie Pasquantino. And Drew Waters. And Kyle Isbel. And Edward Olivares. And Michael Massey. And Nate Eaton.

Yes, injuries have impacted the team. But injuries impact every team; provided you have star power and depth, it is something every team can deal with. The Royals lack neither, and are of top-end talent and depth—especially pitching depth. The team is bad because its players have been bad. It is that frustratingly simple.

A Gutted Farm System

At least the Royals have a good farm system, right? Right?

The answer is clear: no, the Royals do not have a good farm system. Not only are the 2023 Royals a 100-loss team, but per Baseball-America, they also have the second-worst farm system in Major League Baseball.

Well, if the farm system overall is bad, at least the Royals have a few top prospects, right? Right?

Again, the answer is no. No Royal appears on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list nor Fangraphs’ top 112 prospects list. This is true despite the Royals drafting in the single digits. Over the past years, the Royals have had three picks within the top nine selections: Asa Lacy, Frank Mozzicato, and Gavin Cross. None are anywhere close to a top prospect list.

Accusations of Mistreatment

In the last month, the Royals have been increasingly under fire for how they are treating a variety of underserved and undervalued groups, a pattern that is at odds with the Royals’ long-cultivated public persona.

Last week, about 100 people showed up at City Hall at a rally to demand the Royals follow through with promises they made to important community groups, like Stand Up KC and Missouri Jobs with Justice. Leaders from these groups accused the Royals of not listening and stalling negotiations.

“We cannot trust the Royals to keep their promises all on their own. We must have a negotiated, signed, legally enforceable contract that guarantees the benefits that our community deserves,” said Rose Welch, a lead organizer with the SEIU Local 1, which represents Royals workers. “We’ve all heard the Royals say they’re listening, but as far as we can tell, they aren’t even listening to their own workers, much less our whole community.”

...Stand Up KC workers believe the Royals are avoiding the community benefits agreement altogether while promising the public that the ownership group is listening.

“I’m feeling like the Royals organization is stalling us, to be honest,” Bill Thompson, an organizer with Stand Up KC, said. “So far we’ve just heard talking points. We want them to come forward with this agreement that has the workers in mind.”

Independent of the new stadium, current workers are negotiating with the Royals with no progress. Just a few days after the rally at City Hall, the Service Employees International Union Local 1 filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the Royals participated in bad-faith bargaining and threatened workers along the way:

SEIU Local 1 has demanded raises for the lowest-paid workers at the stadium — such as restroom attendants and ushers who are paid less than $15 an hour. Welch says that the Royals have so far refused to offer a living wage.

“The Royals made an offer that was less than inflation — essentially a pay cut,” Welch said at a Stand Up KC rally earlier this week. “We countered with a fair wage proposal based on inflation and the Royals refused to budge by even one single penny. When we asked for fair wages for ushers, a vice president at the Kansas City Royals looked us in the face and said, ‘Ushers get paid to watch the game.’”

Among the other complaints lodged by workers include a stadium policy that prevented them from bringing their own water bottles to the stadium — which often meant that employees, especially those stationed outside, didn’t have access to adequate water during a shift.

Union representatives allege that the Royals’ bargaining committee has repeatedly walked back on tentative contract agreements, which is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. In other instances, workers allege that Royals management has threatened their jobs and screamed at them in front of fans.

In addition to these allegations regarding worker rights and fair pay, there seems to be other mismanagement within the Royals organizations. Earlier in the month, Black coaches criticized the Royals Urban Youth Academy for not opening its doors to urban kids and baseball teams:

[Brian] Hall said, whenever he tried to arrange practice there, he’d go through the application process but was always told the fields were booked.

Then, he and others would see teams from outlying areas practicing there.

“It’s not for the African Americans in the inner-city. For baseball, it’s more for people out in Johnson County and kids that have money,” said Hall, whose son Allante went on to play catcher in the Minnesota Twins system after his time with the Expos.

“There’s others that do feel the same way, that it wasn’t really designed for the urban kids,” he said.

Such frustration at the Royals organization across so many areas does not bode well as a sign of trust in the organization at the very least.

Stadium Woes and Frustrations

The Royals want to leave Kauffman Stadium for a new, shiny downtown stadium and a ballpark district. They are interested in constructing “a new ballpark district and all that comes with it, one that is woven into the fabric of our city, can host events and concerts, and boosts our local economy.”

Along the way, the Royals have publicly lamented Kauffman Stadium’s long-term viability, claiming that it would cost as much to renovate Kauffman as it would to open a brand new stadium.

According to experts at the Kansas City-based sports architecture firm Populous, the structure suffers from something called alkali silica reaction, or ASR. Moisture absorbed by the concrete causes the material to swell, crack and crumble, which is called spalling.

“This is typically known as cancer of the concrete,” Sarah Dempster, a principal at Populous, said at a public meeting last month. “Getting another 30 years of life out of the concrete could require major removal and replacement of the concrete that is affected by the ASR.”

However, this report from Populous does not align with the most recent inspection report from Burns and McDonnell, which do not reference concrete cancer or ASR. “Spalling” is mentioned four times in the document, three of which mention that there was no major spalling found, and the fourth mentioned that “some” spalling was observed but that the “original reinforced concrete columns and walls are in satisfactory condition.” While the two reports are different in scope and purpose, the fact that the Royals themselves hired Populous while Burns and McDonnell operates under the neutral sports complex authority is at least a little curious.

Reasonable parties can disagree about what the physical state of Kauffman Stadium might look like in a few decades. But the Royals’ stadium issues go beyond that. In a recent report in the Kansas City Star, city officials are viewing the Royals stadium build as increasingly frustrating and contradictory:

“Get us out of purgatory,” said one city official who has been in meetings with the Royals. “We’re all exhausted by this conversation.” The Royals insist they are not hiding specific details, but rather have not settled on them. In an interview with The Star on Tuesday, team president of business operations Brooks Sherman said the team has narrowed to two possible sites and is on course to announce its choice by the end of the summer. “We want to get it right,” he said, “so we don’t think it’s right that we should rush into anything.”

Local officials view that as contradictory to the team’s own rhetoric, which has implied urgency. The Royals continue to float looming dates for a public vote on the stadium — before they have secured the backing of the public. Or the city. Or Jackson County.

Additionally, the Royals have agitated key parties by pursuing a second site in the Northland. These parties view the team as trying to set up a bidding war between Clay and Jackson counties. From the Star article:

Despite the steps the city has taken, there have been no formal negotiations with the city, county or developer about the East Village site. “It’s time for specifics for the people of Kansas City,” Lucas said, “rather than perhaps a new site every few weeks.” Last month, Clay County officials issued a letter seen as campaigning for the Royals. They laid out a vision for a neighborhood-centric ballpark village similar to Chicago’s iconic Wrigleyville. After months of leading Kansas City Hall to believe East Village was their preferred location, the Royals immediately followed Clay County’s statement with one of their own, calling the Northland plan a “progressive and creative vision.”

If the Royals had hoped to be wooed, they got it from North Kansas City. But not in their hometown, where City Hall subsequently ignored calls from the team. City officials are adamant that they have no desire to engage in a bidding war for a project they have viewed closer to a luxury than a necessity.

Former Royal and Jackson County Executive Frank White put it in no uncertain terms: “I won’t entertain this while the Royals attempt to pit local communities against each other.”

Two years after announcing the intent to move downtown, and the Royals haven’t picked a site while simultaneously antagonizing the government officials who they must work with in order to make it happen.

Who’s to Blame?

Dayton Moore is responsible for a lot of the Royals’ baseball-related struggles to this day. Baseball organizations have a lot of inertia, and it simply takes a long time to pivot from bad decisions and thought processes. Since it takes years for draft picks to make the big leagues—and years for fully guaranteed and unsightly contracts to drop off the books—you just can’t turn around an entire franchise in a year.

But so much doesn’t go wrong in an organization by accident, and Moore can’t be blamed for the labor negotiations or for the haphazard space the Royals’ push toward a new downtown stadium has appeared. It is therefore reasonable to wonder if John Sherman and the current ownership group are doing a good job as stewards of the franchise. Sherman and company have helmed the franchise since November of 2019, and what we’ve seen is a PR push for public money to subsidize a private investment while the payroll plummets and the team just keeps losing.

The Royals are residents of the Show Me State. And what have the Royals shown over the past almost four years? Why should Royals fans believe that the team is going in the right direction? Why are so many things on and off the field still broken? Royals fans want to root for the team. However, those in power must realize that there are very, very good reasons why Royals fans don’t want to or can’t root for the organization right now. It needs to be better.