It sure seems like Dayton Moore is going through the something like the five stages of grief with regard to the Kansas City Royals as perennial playoff contenders. The Royals, for the last five seasons, have started the season with their sights set on the postseason, which is more than you can say for pretty much any of the 20 seasons or so before that, with few rare exceptions. And, for the most part, they have contended. They even won a World Series in that time, if you don’t recall. So it’s understandable why it’s so hard to say goodbye.
There’s no reason the Royals can’t contend in 2018. That’s the line the Royals took as the 2017 season was ending and as the offseason began. A shrewd move here and a shrewd move there and you never know what can happen in what expects to be a wide open American League Wild Card race once again. Danny Duffy can pitch. Ian Kennedy was hurt all of last season and hopefully will return to health. Jake Junis will have a full season after emerging as a big leaguer in 2017. Even Nate Karns could come back and be a strong rotation for an offense that might be able to take some big strides from young players.
I’ve probably been in this stage a little bit, too. This is counting on basically every young player to improve and veterans like Alex Gordon to bounce back in addition to simply not believing that maybe the pitching isn’t good enough to get the job done.
I’m not sure Dayton Moore has ever really publicly displayed the anger, but there’s the belief that the window was just too short and it’s frustrating that Kyle Zimmer can’t stay on the mound and that the Alex Gordon deal has been such a disaster and how could Kelvin Herrera possibly choose 2017 for the season that he was not just mortal, but bad at times? I mean come on.
Fans are in this stage more than the front office, which is probably a good thing. But it’s still a stage, so I didn’t want to ignore it.
Re-signing Eric Hosmer and one or more of the now free agents is a long shot, but just think what could happen if Hosmer comes back. The next domino is Moustakas to bring back the whole corner infield. Then it’s about finding a few players to supplement with some of the young talent like Raul Mondesi and Jorge Bonifacio. If the Royals can just re-sign a couple of their stars and things align beyond that, they’re going to be in great shape moving forward.
The reality here is that this team was 80-82 with the stars. Sure, they had some breaks go against them, but let’s not pretend like it was all bad. Whit Merrifield had a way better season than expected. Mike Moustakas broke the team home run record. Mike Minor and Scott Alexander because shutdown relievers. More good happened than that, but it’s easy to focus on the bad and not realize that they had plenty of good things happen to get them to be as good as an 80-win team. They’re not re-signing Eric Hosmer away from winning. They’re not even bringing back two of the three big free agents from winning.
This is another stage that Moore hasn’t publicly been in necessarily, but I think looking back on the last two seasons after how great 2014 and 2015 were can put anyone in a bit of a funk. There’s no way to put the last two seasons other than disappointing. This was a team that seemed to be primed for another year or two at the top of the mountain, but a combination of bad decisions, bad luck and bad performance sort of took away the opportunity at a mini-dynasty. That’s a little upsetting to say the least.
The Royals seem to be realizing they need to rebuild. Articles are beginning to come out to talk about the timeline to contention and that they’re making players like Whit Merrifield and Scott Alexander available for trade for the right price. It’s the right choice. They see a group of role players ascending to the big leagues with no one star to really build around. From the sounds of things, they’re actively looking to trade some while willing to listen on anyone, and that’s the right approach to take. Winning a championship just two years ago gives them some leeway and some time to make this work.
I will say that it seems like they’re taking a bit of a step back into the bargaining phase when they say that they see a rebuild happening in three years, but that’s another story for another day. My guess is that if everything works according to the plan, there’ll be a couple of rough seasons in 2018 and 2019 with some hope but still a bad record in 2020. I’m guessing there’ll be a step back in 2021 and then contention in 2022. Guys need to develop, especially pitching, and the Royals need to hit on far more draft picks than they have over the past few seasons for this to work, but it’s certainly possible.
We’re all friends here, so I feel comfortable confiding this in all of you. I’ve definitely gone through this myself. It’s tough to watch your favorite team climb the mountain and then slide off it relatively slowly. We should probably wait to see how the offseason shakes out, but I’m glad the Royals got themselves to the right thinking eventually. And as long as this rebuild doesn’t leak deep into a third decade like the last group of rebuilds did, I think we’ll all be more than happy to go through these five stages again at the end of that run.