This crazy, weird, covid-afflicted season is finally over. The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in six games, giving the Dodgers their first World Series championship since 1988. Coming from a family of Giants fans, it’s tough to see the Dodgers win it all, but at the same time, baseball is baseball (I mean, it seemed like we were not even going to have a season in April), and one can’t help but feel somewhat happy for Clayton Kershaw, who exorcised some playoff demons this postseason.
So, before we begin the off-season, what can Royals fans take away from this World Series, which took place in the most unique season in the history of the sport? In this post, I will write about three takeaways for Royals fans that focus on not just the World Series, but how it could impact the Royals in preparation for 2021.
Brett Phillips’ hit was a feel-good story…but trading him was still the right move
The former Royal had himself a news-worthy series, as Phillips came up with a big walk-off it the bottom of the ninth in Game 4, which tied the series 2-2. While the hit was nothing special (I believe it had an exit velocity in the 80’s), the whole play was bonkers, as evidenced in the video below:
As a Royals fan, it was awesome to see Phillips have his moment in the sun, especially during an up and down campaign in Kansas City in which he struggled to find consistent playing time. I talked about it before on this blog, but there was some rooting interest in him before the season, mostly due to his antics during COVID while playing MLB the Show, which endeared him to a lot of Royals fans (especially younger ones). However, the trade for Franchy Cordero put Phillips in a peculiar situation, especially as he competed for playing time with Bubba Starling in the outfield, who had the advantage of being a local guy from Gardner, as well as a first-round draft pick. And thus, though he got off to a decent start at the plate in 2020, and continued to be a solid late-inning base runner and defender in the field, he was eventually traded to Tampa Bay in exchanged for Rays utility player, Lucius Fox.
Thus, with this big hit, did the Royals make a mistake trading away Phillips? Honestly, probably not, and I tended to be a bigger Phillips fan than most Royals fans. While posing plus-speed (his sprint score ranked in the 94th percentile, according to Baseball Savant), he struggled to make much hard contact at the plate in 2020 with both the Royals and Rays, as he only posted a hard hit rate of 22.2 percent and exit velocity of 84.9, which were both significant regressions from 2019. While Phillips did sport a decent walk rate 13.6 percent, his strikeout rate still was relatively high at 25.4, and he was coming off a season where his strikeout rate was 29.1 percent. Thus, one has to wonder: over a 162-game season, would that BB and K rates stay stable, get better, or perhaps get worse? As pessimistic as this sounds, it’s likely that his K rate would rise and his BB rate would fall, which would hurt Phillips’ value even more.
And thus, with outfielder prospects such as Kyle Isbel and Khalil Lee on the verge of breaking into the Major Leagues in 2021 or 2022 at the latest, as well as the addition of Cordero and Edward Olivares, it seems like it would have been tough for Phillips to really do anything in Kansas City. Even in Tampa Bay, the outfield situation is crowded with Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot, and Kevin Kiermaier, and besides a couple of pinch-hitting opportunities, we haven’t really seen Phillips play all that much with the Rays this postseason, which may not bode well for his chances to be much more than a fourth outfielder, at best.
So, while Phillips’ performance may be nice to see and root for this postseason, Royals fans should not be longing for the days of Maverick in KC. The Royals have moved on, and it’s probably better that Phillips is in Tampa Bay now rather than Kansas City.
The Rays’ model falls just short…and that may be a good thing for the Royals
It would have been interesting to see what kind of ripple effect in baseball would have happened should the Rays won it all. The Rays have already gotten ripped by some in the media for being a team that wins, but does so without keeping their best players. In many ways, the Rays are the “Moneyball Oakland A’s” but to the “tenth degree”, for it seems like the Rays trust their model of winning on the cheap, instead of building something substantial for the future, even if it may cut into the owner’s profits a little bit.
Again, the Rays’ argument has always been “well, we don’t have a great fanbase, thus we don’t have the budget to keep our players.” Unfortunately, it becomes a chicken or the egg argument from there. Do the Rays not spend because fans don’t support the team? Or do fans not support the team because the owners do not spend money on players? If you argue the former, that is understandable, as the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning and NFL’s Buccaneers have strong attendance figures, and pretty much serve the same metro area. On the flip side though, the team plays in a dumpy stadium, traffic is apparently a bear to get in the stadium, and it’s hard to root for guys who shuffle in and out of Tampa Bay on a frequent basis.
Nonetheless, while the Rays front office should be commended for what they do and how they compete despite a lack of resources, I do not think the Royals employ a “Rays” model at all. The Royals are actually in a “smaller” market than the Rays, and from 2014-2017, the Royals demonstrated that they could spend at around the middle of the pack to at least maintain a winner. Now, the Royals didn’t spend wisely (Ian Kennedy and Brandon Moss being prime examples), but this organization isn’t a cost-cutter like their AL East brethren in Florida. While that may have been the case in the early days under David Glass, that has slowly started to change since Dayton Moore arrived, and it seems like finances are even less of an issue with new owner John Sherman, though his spending seems to be focused on player development and the Minor League system for now.
The Tampa Bay Rays made a good run in 2020, with an AL East title and AL Pennant to show for it, which is nothing to shrug about. And their emphasis on pitching, defense, and timely hitting did make Royals fans nostalgic for those 2014-2015 days. However, the Royals are not the Rays, and hopefully, the Royals can become a winning club at the big league level again in 2021 or 2022, and show that small-market teams can win without necessarily being total penny pinching franchises like Tampa Bay or Oakland.
Justin Turner and MLB’s shameful COVID-19 response in Game 6
During the game, this report broke out in regard to Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner:
The whole report was mind-boggling on so many levels. How was Turner allowed to play while waiting a test, especially one that could be positive? MLB players have access to some of the fastest and most accurate testing in the world, and yet, how did MLB not “know” Turner was positive until the end of the game? And how on earth did this happen in the Tweet below:
Honestly, the Dodgers and MLB should be ashamed of everything that transpired with Turner’s positive test. First, the whole things stenches of a cover-up, and they pretty much took Turner out after the Dodgers took the lead. Furthermore, baseball players and on-field personnel have been so lax with mask regulations in the dugout this postseason that it seems unlikely that Turner is the only one who stays “positive” from all of this (manager Dave Roberts is a particularly gross offender). And how does baseball allow Turner to come onto the field and take a picture and celebrate, with his mask down?
Without a doubt, this was a complete, and total mess as well as shit show from Major League Baseball.
And that makes me curious how this season in 2021 will go.
As a Royals fan, I want to be back at Kauffman Stadium. Not seeing baseball in person was killer in 2020, and I know many baseball fans feel the same way. But if MLB doesn’t learn from this and doesn’t have consequences for this behavior (especially since the Dodgers were the ones primarily crying about accountability for three years), it’s totally plausible that baseball may be in the same boat for at least part of the season in 2021. I imagine we will have a slew of positive tests from the Dodgers’ and MLB’s actions, and it seems like everyone involved doesn’t care, which is frustrating to see. If we want baseball back, this virus needs to be taken seriously, and regulations, especially at stadiums, need to be established and enforced from the get-go. If not, it could be another season at the K of empty seats and simply watching games on TV, which could be difficult for Royals fans, as Sinclair proceeded to screw KC households yet again.
So Royals fans, wear a mask, social distance, and do the right thing. And vote out on November 3rd anyone in office who doesn’t take this virus seriously in Kansas or Missouri.
Kansas City needs baseball back at the K and we as denizens of the KC Metro need to make sure it is safe for everyone involved.