Here lie our beloved Kansas City Royals, one of five teams in baseball with a winning percentage under .400. Now, if you had projected the Royals, Blue Jays and Giants to be lumped in with the Braves as the worst teams in baseball, go ahead and sell the wife, kids, cars and house and head to Vegas.
Snark aside, the Royals have dug themselves a deep hole and while they seem to have stepped up their game to move from lifeless hulk to occasionally not horrible, even someone like me that enters almost every season optimistically (you know, why not?) now sees this season as, at best, teetering on the brink of real ugliness. Based on what the core group had accomplished, I was first in line at the ‘win as much as you can and worry about the future later’ window, but the days are numbered before it becomes time to pull the plug on both 2017 and this championship core.
When is that time, however? Certainly, trading earlier often yields more in return, but doing so also risks giving up on a season too soon. How quickly does one decide when a team that has been .500 or better four straight years and been to two World Series is, once and for all, done? You know, D- U- N, done!?
In my feeble mind, the first goal of contending baseball is assembling a group that you believe can get to 87 wins. That’s an arbitrary number, but one that certainly puts a team in the hunt. From there, as the season unfolds, you adjust. Some years you go get Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto and others you ship off Carlos Beltran, but deciding when you go which direction is the trick. When is it too early to give up versus too late to get value?
You can make the case – and there is a segment of Royals’ fandom that may or may not believe this team really won a World Series – that believes the Royals are already tardy when it comes to selling. I do not agree with that mindset, but I will also acknowledge that Dayton Moore might be remiss to think the trading deadline is decision day. Listen, if two months of Lorenzo Cain gets you two minor league players, then four months might get you three. Sure, that third guy might be a journeyman or a total flyer, but sometimes those guys turn into Ben Zobrist. Those types of jackpots admittedly don’t happen often, but I’ll take three lottery tickets over two every day of the year.
Still, the question is when? To me and to many others (most of them old, like me), Memorial Day is something of your first benchmark. I went out a touch further and took a look at how many wins teams that ended up with 88 or more victories had on June 1st.
From 2010 through 2016, seventy-four teams collected 87 wins or more. Of those seventy-four, only EIGHT had losing records on June 1st. That is neither surprising, nor is it good news for the 12-20 Kansas City Royals. With twenty-one games left before June 1, the Royals would need to go a blistering 15-6 – which is pretty much the old 15 out of 20 standard – to be over .500 by that date. That is a tall order for a team that seemingly cannot score any runs unless they are playing in Tampa.
Of course, if you want some optimism, one of the eight teams mentioned above was the 2014 Royals, who were 26-30 on June 1, 6.5 games back of first and finished with 89 wins. That same year, the Pittsburgh Pirates had an identical June 1 record, were 7.5 games back and finished with 88 wins to make the playoffs. The 2012 Tigers were also four below .500 on June 1st (24-28) and won on to finish with 88 wins.
Those 2014 Royals proceeded to win 13 of 15 games after June 1st, but found themselves back down to two games under on July 21st. We all remember them winning 17 of 20, post trade deadline to surge into the playoffs. That was done with the ‘core group,’ a group that has in the past shown a penchant for going on runs. Do they have a couple more in them?
The 2014 Pirates got to the. 500 mark on June 14th of that year, floundered around for the better part of two months (losing EIGHT times on walk-off hits along the way) and finally used a 17-9 September to surge their win total. The 2012 Tigers, on the other hand, did not reach .500 until July 6th – when they began a three game sweep of your Royals. They proceeded to go on an 11-2 run from there and finished the season by winning 9 of 11 to win the Central by three games.
What if the Royals are further below .500 on June 1st?
The 2015 Blue Jays were six under (23-29) and won 93 games. The 2010 White Sox were seven under (22-29) and won 88. The 2013 Dodgers were eight under (23-31), going on to win 92 and the 2012 Oakland A’s were also eight under (22-30) and went on to win 94 games.
Let’s take the Blue Jays first as we know a big part of their surge to 93 wins was by dramatically changing their team via trades. Despite their record, they were just four games out of first in the East and after dropping the first game of a doubleheader on June 2nd, went on to win 11 straight games. Starting on July 29th, they won another 14 of 15 as they added Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Latroy Hawkins and Ben Revere.
The 2010 Sox were 8.5 games out on June 1st, won four straight starting June 9th, lost a game, and then won eleven more in a row. They messed around for a week before winning another nine consecutive games. From there, they were tied with the Twins for first as late as August 11th, but simply could not keep up the rest of the way as Minnesota finished with 94 wins. This was pre-second wild card team times and the Sox missed the playoffs by six games. They would have missed being the second wild card team, if in existence back then, by a game.
The 2013 Dodgers, no doubt bolstered by their big trade deadline acquisition of Drew Butera, followed up a 19-6 July with a 23-6 August. All that occurred after still being five games under .500 at the end of June. They were 7.5 games back on June 1st, reached first place on July 22nd and then won the division by a whopping eleven games despite a losing September record. Worth noting here, that the Dodgers got a grand total of four games out of Hanley Ramirez prior to June 4th (he hit .345 that year) and had their rotation topped by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Fun facts: Edinson Volquez was a waiver acquisition in August of that year, Peter Moylan pitched in 14 games for LA and old friend J.P. Howell was a force out of the pen, setting up Kenley Jansen, who has no connection tot he Royals but is quite good.
Finally, the 2012 Oakland A’s, floundering eight games under on June 1st and nine game out of first in the West, would not get to .500 until July 6th. They would win 13 of 16 from that date forward and another 15 of 17 starting on August 15th. The A’s didn’t see first place until the second to last game of the season and won the division on the last day, finishing the year on six game winning streak. That team had just two pitchers start 25 or more games (Bartolo Colon, a youthful 39 at the time, started 24) and just one player appear in more than 130 games (Josh Reddick played in 156). Kila Ka’aihue got 139 plate appearances for them that year, while Yoenis Cespedes was a rookie sensation for them. This was the season before Josh Donaldson became JOSH DONALDSON. Brandon Moss hit 21 homers for the A’s and Coco Crisp stole 39 bases. I’ll be honest, I look back at the 2012 A’s and still don’t know exactly how in the heck they won that many games.
In the end, we are left with eight teams in seven season to come from under .500 on June 1st to the coveted 87-win plateau (the 8th by the way were the 2014 Nationals, who were just a game under at the time), so history is not a friend to teams with losing records after Memorial Day. Still, I look at those teams that surged and I look at the 2017 Royals, with all their issues, and I still find myself thinking that Dayton Moore HAS to wait until at least June 1st to even consider becoming a seller and maybe much further beyond that.