@drv421g @KeeneMLB Only thing is that during the middle of a pennant chase, it’s tough to write projection pieces because of relevancy.
— Matt Whitener (@CheapSeatFan) September 12, 2014
When Matt said this, it got me thinking, and eventually my mind took a major detour and I thought about teams who focus on the present while sacrificing the future, then dealing with the consequences in the offseason. Which would a fan rather have, a team that plans ahead, keeps its farms stocked projecting the next year and maybe beyond while staying competitive, or a team that trades prized prospects for rentals, then watches the rentals go play somewhere else when free agency beckons.
Take the Royals, they traded their top prospect, Wil Myers, for two years of James Shields, who is a free agent at the end of this year. Well the Royals are in the playoff hunt, just one game behind the Tigers in the AL Central, and were in first place not that long ago. However, Shields, who is one of the catalysts behind the Royals run, is basically auditioning for big market teams right now as his price will likely be way too high for the Royals. Heck, the other player in that trade, Wade Davis, who has been a phenomenal setup man, is due seven million next year. The Royals, a historically thrifty organization, may hesitate to pay seven million for a setup man, no matter how good he is. While Myers has had his health issues, he’s hit when he’s been well.
Now, I know that two pitchers having good years do not a playoff team make. The Royals have some good players, and a possible future ace in Yordano Ventura, as well as a resurrected Danny Duffy. Plus, Jason Vargas has been good for them as well. There other starter, Jeremy Guthrie has been so-so, with a 4.35 ERA and the highest FIP (4.33) and WHIP (1.324) of the bunch. Still, he’ll work as a fifth starter. They’ll really miss Shields though. With him, they’re only a game up in the WC race. Hard to see where they’d be without him (And Davis for that matter.) Add that their offense has had some troubles, to put it mildly, and that they rely on pitching speed and defense, and the losses of any valuable pitchers are more pronounced. Yet I’ve heard no rumors that Shields may be staying in KC. He seemingly is out the door as soon as free agency starts.
Then there’s the development aspect. Yes, some pitchers are starting to pan out, but the of the offensive players they’ve developed, only one has had a good season this year: Alex Gordon, and while his offensive numbers are solid, quite a bit of his value is derived from defense. Gordon signed a deal that now looks like a bargain. Four years for 37.5 Million, which expires at the end of 2015. If his next deal isn’t team friendly as well, there’s a decent chance he may be gone.
So by the end of 2015, they may have lost their best pitcher as well as their best overall player, with no stud position players coming up to replace Gordon. This partly explains why GM Dayton Moore made the trade. He had a small window, and knew the odds were short that he’d be able to expand it. Partly due to failed draft picks and partly due to the owner’s tight wallets, and partly due to a lack of long term planning. Why, for example, wasn’t Gordon signed to a seven or eight year deal, instead of a four year one? Yes, longer deals can be disastrous, but they also demonstrate to your fan base you’re willing to lock up your best players. Why not offer closer Greg Holland a long term deal *now*, even with free agency a few years off? He’s one of the best in the game. Lock him up. Think ahead Royals, or your window truly will be short.
Now compare the Royals to the 1991-2005 Braves. They won the division 14 out of 15 years. Yes they won only one World Series, but the point here is that there were in the playoffs every year with a chance to win a WS. Can’t say that for the Royals lately. How did the Braves do it?
Well they had a bit more success with the draft than the Royals have had. The team that started the run in 1991 had three homegrown stars, Ron Gant, David Justice and Tom Glavine, As well as Steve Avery, who gave then three very good years before flaming out. They also had prospects they traded for (John Smoltz) who panned out. They also had Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez the system. Klesko and Lopez debuted in 1992, while Jones showed up in 1993. Drafting success continued as they drafted Andruw Jones in 1993. I’m sure I’m missing some players, but the point is they had success in the draft, both with position players and pitchers.
They also made trades and signed big free agents. For example, they traded for Fred McGriff and re-signed him when he entered free agency. Greg Maddux signed as a free agent.
A key here is they always had a plan and were willing to do what it takes to acheive that plan, including spending money in free agency. Take power hitters, in every year of their run except 1995 and 1997 they had a 30 home run hitter, and in those two years they made up for that lack of a 30 home run hitter by having four 20 home run hitters. How did they acquire that power? By all three methods, drafting, trading, and signing.
Well since the Royals are last in home runs, let’s see if the Royals have any power on the horizon. Of the Royals top 10 prospects for 2014, six of the ten were pitchers. Of the other four only one was listed as a power prospect: Bubba Starling, and he hit .218 with 9 home runs in 482 AB’s at High A Wilmington. So there’s no power on the horizon. How about trades? Well seeing as how they tend to favor pitching and defense, I don’t see them trading any of their top pitching prospects, especially since with power decreasing overall in baseball, good power hitters are hard to find and won’t come cheap. Quite a few teams would ask for Yordano Ventura and wonder why the Royals are laughing so hard. Trading is out. What about free agents? I don’t remember the last time the Royals signed a high impact bat, but it’s been a while. They tend to focus on complementary pieces as ownership is hesitant to spend money on big name players. So chances are, unless several prospects suddenly become power hitters, the Royals are going to stay near or at the bottom of the league in power for a long time.
Basically, the Royals cashed in their one plus bat they had in the minors for a short term playoff hope, when keeping Myers may have been better for their long term goals, especially since ownership isn’t willing to spend any big bucks to bring some high impact players to Kansas City.
Basically the Royals only have one method to bring power to KC: Drafting, and they’re not doing a very good job of drafting high impact bats right now. Whether they need a new scouting director, a new GM or just better luck, something has to change or they stand a good chance of returning to their cellar dweller ways. The first step will be, in the future, to hold onto any impact bats they develop and keep the long term in mind. Yes, I realize the Royals have gone 28 years without a pennant, but a one and done approach isn’t the answer. They need to model themselves after the Braves and realize that drafting alone isn’t getting the job done. The big trades will only work if you re-sign the player(s) you acquire.
Thanks to C70 for editing this post.
As always, thanks for reading.