Nobody ever said being a Royals fan was easy…especially in the post-Ewing Kauffman era.
Early on in the off-season, it looked like the Royals were going to be taking a different approach in comparison to recent Winters past. The early signings of Mike Minor, Michael A. Taylor, and Carlos Santana seemed to suggest that Dayton Moore and the Royals were looking to take advantage of a slow market fueled by other teams’ adversity to being aggressive, especially after COVID had a huge effect on revenues in 2020. Granted, it did seem unlikely that the Royals were going to make a “major” splash in terms of signing a big-name free agent like George Springer, Trevor Bauer, or Marcell Ozuna. However, there was some hope that Moore would perhaps be able to swing a mid-tier free agent, especially after outfielders such as Kyle Schwarber and Eddie Rosario were non-tendered by the Cubs and Twins, respectively, this off-season.
Unfortunately, it’s been a pretty cold and long winter after the turn of the new year for the Royals. The only major moves the Royals have made have been minor league deals for former Royals pitchers Ervin Santana and Wade Davis, who aren’t even guaranteed to be on the MLB roster by Opening Day. Furthermore, as the Royals have stayed pat, other MLB teams based in the Midwest have been heating up the free agent and trade markets.
Here’s a Twitter list of recent moves AL and NL Central clubs have made in the past week, much to Royals fans’ dismay:
First, former Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, a potential target for the Royals that fit their desire for a left-handed bat, went off the market to the Chicago Cubs. The Pederson signing was a surprising move by Chicago, especially after they let go of Schwarber and Yu Darvish earlier this off-season, which seemed to signal a rebuild. However, not only did the Cubs upgrade their lineup, but it also seemed like they got a bargain in the process as well.
In the American League Central, the Indians also made a pair of aggressive signings, which also came as a bit of a surprise, especially since it seemed like they were going to be starting a rebuild after trading Francisco Lindor to the Mets this off-season.
Even though the Indians acquired two middle infielders in the Lindor trade (Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario), they ended up re-signing Cesar Hernandez, who won a Gold Glove last year playing second base for Cleveland.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Indians made this bold, and somewhat shocking, free agent move to upgrade their outfield and lineup overall:
The Rosario move is particularly interesting for the price and contract length. The Twins non-tendered Rosario this off-season because they didn’t want pay the projected $9-10 million he was expected to command in arbitration. However, while the $8 million was raise from his $7.75 million deal from 2020, it certainly wasn’t the pay day he maybe expected, and it wasn’t out of the Royals’ price range either.
And if seeing potential left-handed hitter fits Pederson and Rosario sign with other clubs on reasonable offers wasn’t frustrating enough for Royals fans, this major MLB news broke last night, which only put further salt in the wound, especially for those who aren’t fans of the “best fans in baseball.”
Even though the Cardinals were one of the more outspoken clubs to talk about the “financial effects” of the pandemic, they ended up taking on not only one of the most expensive contracts currently in baseball, but also one of the most exciting and productive players as well. Even though he had a tough 2020 season, Arenado is one of the most overlooked stars in Major League Baseball who provides tremendous value with not only his bat, but his glove as well (he’s a platinum glove award winner). The fact that the Cardinals did not have to deal much in terms of players or prospects, and that they got $50 million from the Rockies in the deal as well, should only infuriate baseball fans who may not be fans of St. Louis’ team.
And thus, after this big news week across the Midwest for baseball fans, Kansas City fans are simply asking this: are the Royals done, and should Royals fans temper their expectations for 2021?
This week, The Athletic published their survey results different MLB player agents, who answered questions on a variety of topics. In the article analyzing the results, this tidbit about Moore was shared:
The quote is a peculiar one to say the least for Royals fans. It’s understandable that Moore isn’t a Dave Dombrowski or Brian Cashman when it comes to making aggressive free agent deals. Moore has always been about player development, and to see him prefer talent from within over veteran free agents is not necessarily surprising. If the Royals wanted to build a club another way, they wouldn’t have hired Moore in the first place back in 2006.
Furthermore, at the end of the day, the Royals are a small-market club, and play in a market that isn’t necessarily kind to small-market baseball teams as well. Yes, the Reds and Cardinals play in similarly small markets, but they are the main teams in town, as other professional sports teams (Bengals and Blues, respectively) are secondary to the cities’ baseball clubs. As for Kansas City? It’s a Chiefs town first and foremost, and the Chiefs’ recent string of dominance has only cast a bigger shadow on the Royals. Kansas City sports fans do not need to stress about the fortunes of the Royals when the Patrick Mahomes is slinging touchdowns all over the field.
And yet, while having to be frugal is expected, it is still disappointing to see news like this about Moore in print, especially considering how promising this off-season was looking for the club early on. There was hope that with a new ownership group, the Royals would be more aggressive and start to shed that “small market” label that has plagued them in the Post-World Series era. Unfortunately, news like this, as well as the recent sling of moves in the AL and NL Central, show that the Royals are still a long ways away as an organization from being a desired destination for mid-to-high level available players.
Thus, it may be time for Royals to temper their expectations a little bit for 2021. A couple of months ago, it seemed like the Royals were a sure bet to at least be in third in the Central. Now? Third may be a cause for celebration, especially after the Hernandez and Rosario moves may make the Indians a sneaky sleeper, especially if their pitching maintains or gets better from 2020.
Of course, the Royals are not technically done for the Winter, but it feels like the window for a major move may have closed. Yes, Puig may be an option in Kansas City, but as I said before, I am not sure if he moves the needle much, or if he will be a long-term option for the Royals (anything beyond a one-year deal would be a huge surprise). In addition, even if Puig does sign in Kansas City, the signing feels like a consolation, especially after everything began with such promise. A couple of months ago, it seemed like the Royals could swing a franchise-changer in their price range in the right scenario. Now, the Royals will be settling for perhaps another reclamation project, which has been their modus operandi in free agency in the Moore era.
The Royals are trending upward as a club. The young talent they have in the organization, especially on the pitching end, could really help the Royals take another step in the right direction within the next couple of seasons. However, the idea of being a playoff club next year? Stealing the AL Central? Those thoughts may need to temper a bit, especially as other AL Central clubs get stronger. Granted, free agency is not everything, as the Tampa Bay Rays demonstrated last year. That being said, talent wins games, and right now, as evidenced from their projected depth chart, the Royals still feel a bit incomplete talent-wise at the Major League level going into 2021.
The Royals’ “Process 1.0” had its shares of peaks and valleys early in Moore’s tenure as GM, but it did pay off with two pennants and a World Series title in 2015. It’s likely that the “Process 2.0” will experience the same trajectory, even if Royals fans may not be patient for it this time around.
2021 should be better. It (hopefully) won’t be another 100-plus loss season like 2018 and 2019.
But playoffs? Central division title? That won’t happen unless something dramatically different happens for the Royals in free agency.
And if this week taught Royals fans anything, that seems highly unlikely.