It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, mostly due to preparing for my sister’s wedding which took place in Boston this past weekend. While I love the Royals, even amidst their losing, family comes first, especially since I haven’t seen my sister in two years due to the COVID pandemic:
However, to say it’s been a “busy” Royals past couple of weeks for the Royals is putting it lightly. First, there was the news of owner Richard Sherman promoting Dayton Moore to President of Baseball Operations and JJ Picollo to General Manager. The move was the first major front office shuffle in Kansas City since Moore was named General Manager of the Royals in 2006 by former owner David Glass.
And if that wasn’t enough, in the same press conference, Sherman seemed to imply that the Royals were open to playing somewhere else beside Kauffman Stadium after the stadium’s lease expired after the 2031 season. As hinted before, this opens up the possibility of the Royals moving to a newly-built stadium in downtown Kansas City in the future. I have already made my feelings known about such an idea on this blog before, but it seems like many Kansas City sports fans feel the same way about a possible move from Kauffman:
As Sherman comes to finish his second MLB season (and first FULL MLB season) as owner of the Kansas City Royals, the most recent moves make it abundantly clear: Sherman is ready to make his stamp on this Royals franchise for the foreseeable future.
Understandably, like most new managers who take over a new position in an organization, be it public or private, Sherman spent his first couple of years observing everything within the Royals organization. He observed the front office. He observed the current structure. He observed the fanbase and what it would take to make the Royals a major player again in a city which is clearly owned by their NFL counterparts (don’t think Sherman’s courting of Patrick Mahomes as a part-owner was just a coincidence).
And now, as Sherman begins his third year as owner of the Royals, he is making his intentions quite clear: he is ready to build the Royals to be the next “Cleveland” over the next decade (at the very least).
That being said, the question is this: will that strategy pay off for Sherman and the Royals?
I have talked about the idea of the Royals molding themselves in the “Cleveland” model as a sensible strategy before on this blog. The Indians (soon to be “Guardians”) have been a model MLB franchise over the past decade, even if they have not won a World Series championship in the process (they still are searching for their first one since 1948). After going 68-94 in 2012, the Indians have not posted a losing season since (though they are currently 73-75, and in the process of going 73-76, as long as the Royals do not blow it). They have made the playoffs five times, including three times in a row from 2016-2018. They were pretty much a batter away from winning a World Series title in 2016, and they have built a consistent winning club, despite never ranking higher than 15th in total payroll over that timespan, according to Cot’s Contracts.
Cleveland is a passionate sports city that has a national imprint, even if it may not be the biggest television metro market in the United States (Cleveland ranks 19th in market-size, just below Miami and just ahead of Sacramento). Even though Kansas City is considerably smaller than Cleveland (they rank 34th in comparison, just below Columbus, and just ahead of Cincinnati), it too is a passionate sports market. People live and die on the Chiefs and Royals, much like Clevelanders are betrothed to the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers, even if those three teams have been inconsistent performance-wise over the past decade.
Thus, it makes sense why Sherman would see the similarities between Kansas City and Cleveland and try to build this baseball franchise in a similar way to the Northeastern Ohio counterpart.
So, how is Sherman building the Royals similarly to the Indians?
Well, there are three things we have recently seen from Sherman that mirror the Cleveland situation since 2012:
- A President-General Manager model in the front office
- A push for the downtown stadium
- Keeping and promoting their best pitching prospects, even with a tremendous amount of depth in the system.
In terms of the first point, Cleveland really took off when they promoted Chris Antonetti to general manager in 2010. Antonetti initially served under Mark Shapiro, who also was promoted to president in October of 2010. What’s interesting though about this situation is that Shapiro and Moore had very similar career arcs leading up to their respective promotions from general manager to president of baseball operations.
Shapiro became general manger of the Indians back in 2001, and was known for his expertise in player development in the Cleveland system, which was a prime reason why he was named general manager in the first place. Furthermore, he was also named executive of the year in 2005 and 2007, after helping build 90-plus win teams those seasons (they ended up losing in the ALCS in 2007 in seven games to the Red Sox). However, while Shapiro experienced some highs, clubs under his watch struggled with consistency, as they only made the postseason three times under his tenure as both general manager and president.
One could argue that it’s been a similar situation for Moore in his time in Kansas City, though with slight differences. Moore has better successes than Shapiro (two pennants and a World Series title), but worse blemishes, especially when it comes to win-loss record (only three winning seasons in his tenure as GM). That being said, Royals fans thinking that Moore has a “lifetime” job with his promotion should probably check themselves a bit. If anything, the move was more about giving JJ Picollo more say and responsibility in the organization rather than solidifying Moore’s place in the front office.
Because if the Royals do fail to win at the MLB level, but continue to show gains at the Minor League level (which they have done this year), it would not be a surprise to see Picollo take over at the top spot sooner than one would think, especially considering Picollo’s influence in helping the Royals adapt to modern analytics, especially at the player development level.
So the front office structure is similar to Cleveland. But what about the other two? Well, Cleveland has had their downtown stadium for a while (it was built in 1994). However, there’s no doubt that Sherman is probably convinced that a downtown stadium could rejuvenate the Kansas City downtown area, much like Progressive (then Jacobs) Field did for the city of Cleveland, which was not a “highly desired” city to visit on a national scale prior to the stadium’s opening.
That being said, after the success of Cleveland’s downtown baseball stadium, development in that area (which includes Rocket Mortgage Arena) exploded, and now, Cleveland has a legitimate downtown that is a place of envy among other Midwestern cities, whether it’s during baseball or basketball season.
Not easy to do in a place that was known for decades as the “Mistake on the Lake.“
Granted, is a new downtown stadium going to make downtown Kansas City the place to be in the Midwest? Well, it depends. It depends on whether or not the club is a winner, for the opening of Jacobs (now Progressive Field) also coincided with one of the Indians’ most successful eras (six playoff appearances in seven years from 1995 to 2001). Sure, a new downtown stadium may generate some buzz with Kansas City locals, especially if it can find the balance of being “state of the art” while still keeping the great features that made Kauffman so special (i.e. the fountains). But at the end of the day, the Royals need to win, and they need to win consistently and long-term in order to fully leverage and profit on the construction of a downtown stadium (especially since they just renovated Kauffman from 2007-2009).
And to do that, it appears that Sherman is willing to trust Moore to build a consistent winning franchise through tremendous starting pitching depth throughout the Royals system, both at the Major and Minor League level.
That is something Cleveland has done to find consistent success under Antonetti.
After the debut of Jon Heasley, the Royals have started five pitchers who were drafted by the Royals during the 2018 MLB draft, which is the first time that has ever happened in MLB history (five guys pitch for a team from the same draft year and drafted same team). That being said, history doesn’t bode well for Kansas City when it comes to all of the Royals’ touted pitching prospects making it as starters at the MLB level long-term, as Matthew Lamar somberly reminds Royals fans in his recent post on Royals Review:
However, despite Royals Review’s concerns, the bottom line is that the Royals are building depth, and they’re building an identity both in the system and at the MLB level. And having an identity is essential to building a blueprint for success, especially in a sport like baseball where there is no salary cap and the payroll differences between clubs can be massive.
As of now, this Royals team doesn’t need to overpay for pitching, because they have reinforcements in both the short and long term. The Indians have found success with that model. Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger were an incredible combo for Cleveland for a while, and yet, they were shipped away when their price tag (and health risk) became too high, which ended up being the right move for the club (Shane Bieber most likely will be next in a year or two). Don’t be surprised to see the Royals employ a similar method, especially with arms that show flaws or injury issues at the MLB level. Free agent pitching just costs way too much for small market franchises like the Royals, and I guarantee Sherman is letting Moore keep his promising arms with this in mind, which is something I don’t think Glass fully understood as owner.
Of course, building a club in this fashion is a tremendous risk for Sherman, who has built a ton of good will in this city in short tenure as owner of the Royals thus far. While Kansas City sports fans would appreciate a consistent winner, this city has gotten spoiled by the Royals’ World Series championship in 2015, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl in 2020, and even Sporting KC’s MLS title in 2013.
Winning seasons are nice, but what ultimately matters in Kansas City is hardware.
The “Cleveland” model didn’t produce such championships, as evidenced by the Indians’ 73-year World Series drought. Yes, Cleveland made the playoffs more than the Royals, but I imagine Indians fans would gladly trade more losing seasons for an elusive World Series title. After all, at the end of the day, “flags fly forever”, and Progressive Field’s flagpoles are emptier than Kauffman’s when it comes to this category.
I imagine Sherman doesn’t want to wait 30 years again for another World Series title. Furthermore, he doesn’t want to wait 29 years for another postseason appearance (which was the case last time). With an expanded playoff format, a World Series title is easier than ever in the history of the game. All the Royals need to do is just make the field…then after that…well, Royals fans know how it can go, with 2014 being exhibit A.
A new era of Royals baseball is brewing in Kansas City, and it’s looking a lot like the one in Cleveland nearly a decade ago…
Let’s hope Sherman’s strategy pays off for not just the Royals, but the sports fans of Kansas City.
Because if it doesn’t….
Well, let’s just say the gap in relevance between the Chiefs and Royals will only grow even more over the next decade.
Photo Credit: Royals Rundown