Paulo Orlando attempts to rob a home run.

The Value of Mediocre

Goals are a funny thing in baseball. I’ll always remember going on a local radio show in spring training of 2013 and being asked what would constitute a successful season for the Royals that year. My answer was a meaningful game in September. It wasn’t playoffs or a World Series or even a winning record. It was a meaningful game in September. They finished 86-76 that year and played some games that most would consider meaningful. It was a good year. The next year, though, a successful season to me meant to make the playoffs. That’s different.

You all know what happened that year and then the year after that and then the year after that, which happens to be this year. Heading into 2013, the Royals hadn’t had a winning season since 2003. Before that, the last winning season was a year they didn’t even finish, 1994. Times were tough for the Royals. Simply seeing an 81 in the win column was sort of a victory for both the franchise and the fans.

Winning changes things, though. Making it to back-to-back World Series and winning one of them means that 81-81 is a disappointing season. The Royals have gone from just being happy to be nominated to becoming Ricky Bobby because, you know, if you’re not first, you’re last.

And that’s how I think they should view the next few days. It’s pretty clear this version of the Royals isn’t anything special. They’re not bad necessarily. They’re just mediocre to slightly below that. As I’ve said so much, it’s not entirely their fault. I mean, 40 percent of their Opening Day roster has either been injured, sent down or flat released. It’s been a weird year, and the Royals haven’t come out smelling like roses like they have the last two or three. It happens. I think Royals fans are worried they’re heading back into the doldrums, but I don’t think that’s the case. Teams have bad years all the time.

I remember back to 2012. The Royals had that terrible 12-game losing streak in April that basically torpedoed a season that had some promise. I mean, it was “Our Time” and everything. What most don’t remember is that after that terrible stretch, they clawed back and got to 35-39 a few weeks later. That seemed like a victory. When the 2016 Royals fell to 18-19, it seemed like the sky was falling. What a difference.

And that brings us to today and the upcoming trade deadline. Everybody has an opinion on it and I’m no different. I completely agree with Craig’s article from yesterday regarding reloading by trading guys who aren’t going to be on the next great Royals team (2017, in my opinion). Deal off the guys who will be free agents – Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Luke Hochevar – and listen on deals for guys who won’t be in Kansas City beyond 2017 who could potentially be replaced next year.

That, to me, is pretty much Wade Davis and Mike Moustakas, though Moustakas would be tough to sell while he’s rehabbing from his injury and won’t be back until next season. To be clear, I wouldn’t deal anyone under contract next year who is being counted on to be a part of a championship team unless they get a king’s ransom, but you can’t just plug your ears and sing loudly. You have to listen on everything.

Because the thing here is that winning 81 games (or 79 or 83 or 77 or whatever it is) doesn’t really matter to this franchise anymore. There are no long playoff droughts to end. There’s no long stretch of sub-.500 seasons to break to appease a fan base. There’s no need to show progress to keep jobs. These are the World Champion Kansas City Royals. There’s literally nothing left for this organization to accomplish, other than winning again. And, quite frankly, that’s not happening this year. If it does, it will be a minor miracle.

No, the time to chase .500 was three or four years ago. In 2013, I didn’t understand not trading Ervin Santana when the Royals were 43-49 with 70 games to play. It seemed to me that the core of a really good team was emerging but they still needed help. Making that trade could provide that help. The Royals stood pat, and I criticized that move. They went 43-27 the rest of the way and it paved the way for the greatest two-season run in franchise history. The value of just being above average was huge, even though they missed the playoffs.

Now, though, there’s no goal but to win the whole thing. And if you can’t do that, you might as well do everything you can to win the whole thing next year because that goal isn’t changing anytime soon, nor should it. The game has changed for the Royals. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back to take the three steps forward they need to take to reach the expectations they’ve brought on themselves. It might make for a tough couple months of baseball to watch, but to make the 2017 team better and beyond is worth it because mediocrity isn’t an option anymore. It’s World Series or bust.

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