The Royals are 3-5 and currently fourth in the AL Central standings, as they are a half-game ahead of the Minnesota Twins, whom they play this week. The Royals were not able to go up or down in the standings today, as their series finale against the Detroit Tigers was postponed due to weather (and rescheduled for July 11th).
If one peruses Royals Twitter at all lately, it’s very easy to see this fanbase learning more on the negative end.
And I get it.
It’s been tough on Royals fans since 2018 to see this team lose games on a frequent basis and seemingly not make adjustments in order to counter those losing ways.
Whether it’s the failure of the young pitching prospects’ ability to develop at the Major League level, the continued tenure of pitching coach Cal Eldred, the presence of struggling veterans such as Carlos Santana, or just the general inability to drive in runs in scoring situations, there has been a lot in the past few seasons to discourage Royals fans from going “all in” in terms of believing in this team and its future.
(And that’s not including other “fan-specific” issues such as $20 parking at Kauffman Stadium, the difficulty to watch Royals games on stream, and the uncertain stadium future of the club, just to name a few.)
However, just how bad is it for the Royals and Royals fans?
I ask that question because I look east to Southeast Ohio, and there is another small market baseball team and fanbase that is going through their fair share of struggles both on the field and off that somewhat mirrors the Kansas City Royals.
That club is the Cincinnati Reds, who are currently 2-8, good for last in the National League Central division.
The Reds are one of the oldest and most successful clubs in professional baseball history, as they were a charter member of the American Association in 1881 before joining the National League in 1890. The Reds have won five World Series titles over the course of their club’s history, and they are typically seen as a model small-market franchise where baseball is “king”, despite it being a multi-pro sports town.
In many ways, Cincinnati’s passion for baseball mirrors closely with St. Louis, where baseball has been the No. 1 pro sport in the city, even with the Blues and at one point, Rams, also sharing the same home with the Cardinals.
And yet, with a losing record currently, a roster filled with aging veterans or Four-A players, and an owner who has antagonized and alienated a loyal fanbase, it seems like Cincinnati is getting fed up with the Reds, which is easy to do, especially considering the Bengals made the Super Bowl a season ago.
So, which fanbase currently has it worse? The Reds? Or the Royals?
Let’s take a look at both and dig deep into their cases as the more “tortured fan base” as of now.
The Case for the Royals
I’ll start with Kansas City, as this is a Royals blog.
The Royals have had a history of recent success, as they won an AL Pennant in 2014 and a World Series title in 2015. Considering the Reds have not won a playoff series since 1995, and World Series since 1990, Cincinnati sports fans would probably tell Kansas City Royals fans to take a step back and chill out.
However, take away the 2014 and 2015 runs, and the Royals’ profile looks awful dire.
Since the strike-shortened season of 1994, the Royals have had only three winning seasons (2013, 2014, and 2015), and have lost 100-plus games in a season six times, which included three seasons in a row from 2004 to 2006. Since winning the World Series in 2015, the Royals did stay competitive in 2016 and 2017, though various swoons throughout the season dropped their win totals to 81 games and 80 games in those seasons, respectively.
Since 2018, the Royals have been undergoing a rebuild, which makes sense after Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain left via Free Agency prior to 2018, in addition to Mike Moustakas and Kelvin Herrera being traded away in 2018 (after signing and playing briefly).
The rebuild hasn’t been kind, as the Royals lost 100-plus games in 2018 and 2019. While the Royals have stocked their system with pitching talent in the 2018 and 2019 MLB Drafts, it hasn’t produced much fruit at the Major League level thus far.
None of the Royals’ pitching prospects from the 2018 draft haven’t necessarily “broken out” at the Major League level. However, there have been flashes of promise from a few of them over the past couple of seasons, with Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, and Daniel Lynch (and international signing Carlos Hernandez) being prime examples.
The Royals do have one of baseball’s most fascinating prospects in Bobby Witt, Jr. Also, MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto bring hope that they could hold down the catching and first-base position over the next decade if given the opportunity, which is a step in the right direction for this franchise.
When it comes to veteran talent, it has also been an up-and-down affair. Salvador Perez had a sensational 2021, but he missed all of 2019 due to injury, and he also struggled with injuries in 2020 as well. Whit Merrifield is one of the faces of this Royals franchise, but he’s obviously in regression, and he’s off to a horrendous start at the plate in 2022.
Lastly, Carlos Santana was brought in through free agency last year and expected to bring a veteran presence, some budding power, and base-on-balls skills to the Royals lineup. However, he has been incredibly lacking in that middle category the past two years, and at 36-years-old, there isn’t a whole lot of hope that he can turn it around anytime soon.
Off the field, Royals fans are struggling to be patient with this club, especially with general parking prices rising to $20 for a second straight year, and the team flirting with the idea of creating a downtown baseball stadium in the near future (Royals fans, especially older ones, are really attached to the K). In addition, patience has also started to wear with Dayton Moore and the Royals front office, especially after his refusal to shake up the coaching staff in a major way this offseason (i.e. part ways with pitching coach Cal Eldred).
While Moore has been a solid citizen and supporter of the Kansas City community, there are many who feel that the Royals would be better off with a change in baseball philosophy in the front office, especially considering the lack of success in his tenure, sans 2013-2017.
With Sporting KC and the Kansas City Chiefs being frequent playoff participants, it has been easy for Kansas City sports fans to tune out from Royals baseball, especially with the MLS season in full swing and the NFL Draft about to happen soon (and with the NFL Draft about to take place in KC in 2023). That has been particularly evident in lackluster attendance at the K this year, as there have already been two games this year at Kauffman where attendance dipped under the 10K mark (which never happened, even in the dark days of Moore’s tenure).
In many ways, Royals fans feel stuck with this club, especially since Moore was promoted to team president, and with owner John Sherman behind Moore more than ever after the past couple of seasons that were affected by the COVID pandemic.
Those who are less patient with this club have already walked away.
And for those who are patient and still around?
Well, who knows how long they will be around, especially if things go south in 2022.
The Case for the Reds
I am writing this as an outsider, but I do have some friends from graduate school who are from Cincinnati and love the Reds.
And safe to say, it hasn’t been easy for them, especially over the past couple of seasons.
Now, going into 2020, I thought the Reds were a model small-market franchise, as they were spending on free agents, in addition to investing in coaching and analytics at the time (they hired Driveline founder Kyle Boddy to be an organization-wide pitching coordinator in October 2019).
Though the Reds had not had a winning season from 2014-to-2019, they entered the 2020 season as a team built for the short and long-term, especially with their mix of veterans (Joey Votto, Nick Castellanos) and promising young arms (Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer).
The Reds did make the playoffs in 2020, but the shortened season didn’t help things, as they only finished 31-29. Additionally, outside of Cincinnati, the Reds were more known that season for Thom Brennaman’s racial slur and awkward on-air apology (which happened against the Royals, ironically) which is a shame considering how talented the Reds were in 2020.
In the Wild Card, the Reds were swept by the Atlanta Braves in a three-game series. After Bauer signed with the Dodgers in free agency, the Reds’ outlook suddenly went from hopeful to freefalling quickly.
Even though the Reds lost Bauer, they tried to maintain the ship and stay competitive in 2021 while not necessarily spending a whole lot in free agency. With Castellanos in the last year of his deal, Cincinnati tried to go for it with the core that they had, hoping to take advantage of down seasons from the Cubs and Pirates as well as bouncebacks from Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals surged at the end of the year and leapfrogged the Reds in the Central standings to garner a Wild Card spot. While the Reds finished 83-79, still above .500, it seemed that the Reds’ window to compete had suddenly closed after last season ended.
And then, the fire sale started to occur.
Castellanos left in free agency as expected, and the Reds traded away veterans Amir Garrett and Sonny Gray as well as younger key players like Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez away for prospects, veterans on expiring contracts, and cash returns. The Reds also didn’t make any major moves to make up for those losses, with the exception of Tommy Pham, who was a last-minute signing who probably signed because Spring Training had already started (though frankly, Pham didn’t make much sense considering the current needs of the roster).
To make matters worse, at the conclusion of the 2021 season, Boddy also walked away from the organization after only two years, with some people rumbling that dysfunction in the organization was a primary reason. Unfortunately, owner Bob Castellini hasn’t done much since the lockout has ended to sway Reds fans away from the notion of dysfunction that’s driving away coaches, players, and even fans:
The Reds have history, World Series titles, and a beautiful stadium located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati right on the river (it’s on my bucket list to visit).
But man, I feel for my friends who are Reds fans right now.
Who Has It Worse?
This is a tough call. In some ways, the Reds have the advantage over the Royals.
Their downtown stadium looks great, and it seems like $20 is the maximum one would pay for parking, as there are $12 and $17 options. Furthermore, considering it’s located in downtown Cincinnati, it seems like it’s easier to travel to games without having to make a huge commute (which doesn’t really exist at Kauffman, unless you want to pay for a “surging” Uber ride).
Also, while the Reds have not won a World Series title since 1990, they have made the playoffs more consistently than the Royals, as they have made the postseason four times since 2010, unlike the Royals who have only made it twice. And, even though the Reds payroll is down $20 million from a year ago, at $111 million, it is still almost $20 million higher than the Royals’ current payroll (and that is despite Cincinnati actually being a smaller metro than KC).
And, the Reds may have one of the most dynamic pitching prospects in baseball, who made an electrifying debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers the other night:
However, while it is easy to focus on those things and automatically think Reds fans have it better than Royals fans when digging deeper, it sways a lot more toward the opposite end.
Sherman may not be a perfect owner, and Moore is not a perfect baseball executive. And yet, they at least publicly show respect toward the City and the fanbase.
Could they lower parking prices? Could they make tickets a bit more affordable? Could they offer better deals on game day?
Absolutely, and addressing any of those items would go a long way with fans.
That being said, Royals fans have never felt antagonized like Reds fans have by the Castellini’s. The Royals have always “gone for it” when they had the chance, even if it was detrimental to the Royals’ future in the short-term (i.e. 2017).
As for the Reds? They have openly and publicly blown up their team this offseason, and have had little to show for it in terms of making their team competitive.
Heck, take a look at what their current lineup looks like, via Fangraphs’ Roster Resource Depth Charts:
And I thought the Royals lineup didn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence.
It hasn’t been easy to be a Royals fan, not just this year, but since 2018. It’s been mostly frustration and disappointment, even with meager expectations.
But what Reds fans have gone through has been absolutely backbreaking. And it makes sense why Cincinnati has now become a Bengals town, which seemed unthinkable a decade ago.
At least Royals fans have some hope on the horizon with Witt, Pratto, Melendez, and a few of the Royals’ pitching prospects (a couple will break through eventually).
Other than Greene, I’m not sure what Reds fans are looking forward to in 2022…
And that is a dark place to be in as a baseball fan.
Photo Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports