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It's not Festivus yet, but I've got a lot of problems to yell about.
Normally the Weekend in Review is in this spot, but there’s nothing worth reviewing. Even moreso, this will be a different version of Inside the Crown. I’m sorry if this bothers anyone, but there aren’t going to be comments on this post. I love the back-and-forth the comments section provides, but for what I want to write about today, it’s just going to be my opinion and my opinion only. I don’t want to sit here and defend this or that or discuss this or that. Call it therapy.
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I promise you that the comments section will be open and (hopefully) thriving for the next newsletter either tomorrow or Wednesday, but for now, today is just me. Because I’ve got some things to say about what is potentially the lowest point in Royals history, and no, that’s not hyperbole.
The Royals were swept over the weekend after they were swept during the week. They lost two of three last weekend too. They split two games in St. Louis, but before that, they lost two of three to the Nationals, two of three to the Tigers and were swept by the White Sox. So since winning their last series, they are now 4-16. They started the season 4-16 too. That’s 8-32 if math isn’t your thing. It’s not what you want to see. And it’s frustrating.
This weekend was especially FRUSTRATING. Why? Well on Friday, they lost 3-2 in a competitive game. Daniel Lynch, I thought, actually looked quite good in giving three runs over six innings. He had 15 whiffs and held down a generally very good offense with just a couple of mistakes. But they lost by one and gave up a run with one of the slowest developing pickoffs I’ve ever seen. Lynch had Gunnar Henderson picked off, but it took about four minutes to get a throw to second and Henderson was safe at second. He scored on a base hit. And that was that.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Royals were beaten by Brady Singer looking absolutely horrendous again. But maybe more frustratingly, they were beaten and beaten badly by Ryan O’Hearn. He went 5 for 5 with two walks, a double, a home run, two RBIs and four runs scored. Make no mistake, the Royals were not wrong to DFA O’Hearn, but it doesn’t look great when he now is hitting .328/.380/.609 with Baltimore. To be fair, his numbers were .271/.313/.508 before seven plate appearances this weekend, so the sample is small, but even so, that’s a very bad look for an organization that has given us very few good ones.
But here’s where I struggle so much. I find myself weirdly not that upset, and I think that actually bothers people. I mean, I’m upset and I am incredibly annoyed during games because this team has done some things that Little League teams don’t do. But I find myself putting the losses behind me pretty quickly. Is that complacency? No, I don’t think so. If I was complacent, I wouldn’t be writing this much or continuing to watch, attend and follow games. If I was complacent, I’d just let this whole newsletter sit dormant until people forgot it existed.
I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing, but I think it’s just that I don’t think they’re necessarily doing anything wrong. Okay, that’s not the right way to put it. They’re doing plenty wrong. But I also don’t know what they’re doing on the field in terms of decisions that they’re not supposed to be doing.
The lineup is young. Weighted by playing time, the Royals offense is the youngest in baseball. Salvador Perez plays every day and we see the occasional Matt Duffy or Jackie Bradley Jr., but with Hunter Dozier DFAed, most nights, the lineup includes six players 25 or younger. That’s what you want to see. The issue is that a lot of those players haven’t progressed. Let me rephrase that. The issue is that almost all of those players haven’t progressed.
But I also think it’s fair to say that we see good signs. Maikel Garcia seems to be settling in as at least a guy who can get on base a little bit. Nick Pratto has been very good. Vinnie Pasquantino is hurt and was slumping before, but I think we feel good about him. There are questions about the guys who were supposed to be the stars and that’s a bigger issue for the long-term, but they’re doing what they’re supposed to do with the bats.
The pitching staff, though, is decidedly not young, but also, I’m not sure what the alternative is. They could have a rotation that features Singer, Kris Bubic, Lynch and Brad Keller, all of whom are in their age-27 season or younger. They could have depth with Jonathan Heasley and Jackson Kowar and Angel Zerpa. But injuries have intervened as well as simple attrition of skill.
I’m not sure who else they have who should be pitching the innings that could be held down by younger players. I also imagine that come August 1, the pitching staff will look very different. Important late innings will likely be manned by Kowar and Carlos Hernandez and maybe Dylan Coleman again rather than Scott Barlow, Aroldis Chapman and Taylor Clarke. Maybe that leads to even fewer wins, but that would actually be difficult to accomplish. Not impossible, but difficult.
So what are they going to do differently short of inventing a time machine and slapping someone to stop them from doing whatever they did to get to this point? I’ve said this before, but the Royals got to this point largely on the back of Dayton Moore, who has been fired, along with Mike Matheny and Cal Eldred, who have been fired. The more I hear from people as time passes, the more I believe that Eldred’s archaic approach to pitching permeated the organization so aggressively that it impacted every level. These things take time to fix. And they sort of told us that in the offseason.
I’m certainly not fine with their record. It’s abysmal and pacing for one of the five or 10 worst teams in the history of baseball. Not only are they doing this after the draft lottery has been implemented, so the number one pick isn’t guaranteed, but they’re doing it in a year with a team worse! Thought the A’s did just sweep the Brewers and are now close to passing the Royals in the standings.
The words “evaluation year” have been brought up about a million times, and people are already tired of hearing about it. Remember, though, we’re just 65 games into a season that has 97 more, so you’re going to hear it a lot. Should they have had this year last year and the year before and the year before that?
Okay, maybe not 2020, that’s not fair, but yes, absolutely. Did they? No. There’s that time machine conundrum again. So here we are. They fired many of the people who at least bear some responsibility for the mess the team is in and now the people who were brought in to replace them have a chance to do the right thing.
So my question, and the question of many others, becomes what the people in charge have done to earn any trust. The Royals made a decision last year to not clean house in the front office. Instead of firing everyone involved with getting the team to where they did, John Sherman made the decision to fire Moore and only Moore. Not only did he only fire Moore, but he turned to JJ Picollo, Moore’s right-hand man, as the man to tab to lead the baseball operations team.
If it had been me, I’d have cleaned house. Breaking Bad taught us about half measures. But they didn’t, and I think some people were surprised that I wasn’t totally against that. Similar to how some of the on-field leadership issues permeated into the whole organization, I think the head of the fish for the Royals stank so bad that it made it nearly impossible to know what the rest looked like. So a lot of the big names that were theoretically part of the decision-making process were retained.
The question has been asked about 7,341,219 (and counting) times why Picollo is different than Moore. I still believe he is and I believe that working under someone as controlling as Moore means we don’t actually know as much about the person as we thought we did. I also believe that Picollo probably wasn’t very different from Moore until a few years ago when he realized the way the game had changed. Had the Royals made this move in 2018, it probably would have been a lot closer to what the yelling from the fanbase thinks it was than it actually is now.
But Picollo, in a way Matheny said he did but didn’t, has changed and understands the modern game better than his predecessor. He was the point person for the hitting development changes we saw a few years ago that have turned around that part of the system and many of the players in it. He fired the manager Moore hired and the pitching coach Moore wouldn’t. And he went out to the organizations everyone wanted him to go out to and hired people from them (and I’ll get there, I swear). He DFAed Dozier with more time on his list deal than most people get DFAed with. He has made much quicker decisions with struggling players. There is plenty of evidence that he is doing things differently.
And, see, this is where I struggle so much. This team is terrible. They are maddeningly terrible. Maybe it’s the manager. Matt Quatraro has come under a lot of fire for a lot of reasons this season. He uses a lot of different lineups, he substitutes differently than we’ve ever seen in Kansas City. He’s pretty quiet. None of that is inherently a bad thing. In fact, if the Royals were 15 games better and in first place at 33-32, we’d look at all of those as features and not as bugs. They obviously aren’t, so he gets a lot of blame, but I think it’s important to remember that a lot of what we’re seeing from Quatraro, fans in Tampa see from Kevin Cash.
Matheny was not quiet. Matheny had a pretty set lineup. Matheny didn’t substitute much at all. Everyone wanted him gone. The Royals found someone from a successful organization that does things pretty much the opposite of everything the Royals do. And Quatraro is doing things that way and people don’t like that either. But what people really don’t like is the record. No matter what the manager does, it’s brilliant when they win and idiotic when they lose.
I have seen so many tweets since the first week of the season about how he’s bumbling and doesn’t care and other things that I can promise you are blatantly incorrect. People don’t like that he gets to press conferences and doesn’t know where a pitch was or hasn’t gone back to watch something.
You know what the difference between Quatraro and other managers is? They didn’t know either and they hadn’t gone back to watch something yet either. They just lied about it. Ultimately, this is a results business and if the Royals don’t win, Quatraro is going to lose his job for it and maybe never manage again. But they’re not losing because of the things people are so adamantly against about it that they’ll love so much if the Royals do every get things on track.
Now, that’s not to say that Quatraro is spotless or blameless in this debacle. The Royals play sloppy, often stupid, baseball. I don’t think that’s entirely on the coaching staff, but they do deserve some of the blame. Maybe he’s been too much of a player’s manager and needs to skew a little more toward Matheny. Maybe he simply doesn’t have enough talent. Maybe it’s some combination. I think the calls to fire him after 65 games, no matter how horrible they have been, is just incredibly shortsighted.
Ultimately, though, the problem with this team isn’t ownership. It isn’t the front office. It isn’t the bench. It’s the players. They aren’t good enough. Now I know that they all tie together in some ways. They could have had better players if Sherman had authorized more spending and Picollo had spent the money he did have better and if the on-field leadership could squeeze a little more out of them. And the lack of fundamentals on this team that does reflect poorly on the staff. My guess is that they’ve turned too far the other way from last year and maybe need to find a happy medium. But the talent is ultimately the number one problem.
The problem is that Bobby Witt Jr. has not only not taken a step forward, he’s taken one back. The problem is that MJ Melendez has done the same. The problem is that Singer has gone from looking like a legitimate two starter to pitching like a number two (yes, a poop joke) more often than not. The problem is Brad Keller scrapped his new pitches and then got hurt. The problem is Kris Bubic looked great and then got hurt. The problem is that Jordan Lyles is Jordan Lyles.
The good news with the young players is that development isn’t linear. I wrote about the sophomore slump a few weeks ago. It’s very real. Julio Rodriguez was the next big star last season (and still is). Outside of a 10-game stretch where he’s shown it, he’s been pedestrian. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t in his second year, but he’s still just 24. He had a 1.002 OPS in 2021 and has hit .277/.343/.470 since. The Royals would kill for that production, but it’s more very good than great. I’m not saying that the Royals group is going to suddenly figure things out and we’ll look back on this as a troubling footnote in an otherwise long run of success. I’m saying that we don’t know the future.
The Royals very likely need to change the way they do business to get out of this hole. I know that very few will agree at this moment, but they could be a good team next year without major changes. Maybe Witt and Melendez figure things out and Pasquantino continues to be a legitimate middle of the order threat and Garcia is good and so on and so forth. Maybe a back of the bullpen featuring Carlos Hernandez and Jackson Kowar and Dylan Coleman turns into the second coming of HDH and Singer and Daniel Lynch are joined by Bubic midseason and form a good rotation. But that’s not the way the Royals need to be handling this situation.
They need to be willing to trade players in a different way they’d been willing in the past. That’s how we’re going to truly know that Picollo is different than Moore. The Royals have four players they see as building blocks - Witt, Pasquantino, Salvador Perez and Pratto - and four more - Garcia, Melendez, Drew Waters and Michael Massey - they see as potential parts of a championship roster. They’re going to have to trade some of them. They can send Aroldis Chapman to the Rangers for the Rangers number eight prospect, but that won’t move the needle too much. But Chapman and Witt to the Dodgers for Michael Busch, Gavin Stone, Emmet Sheehan and Jose Ramos would move it a lot. I’m just throwing out names, but they have to be willing to be creative.
I spoke about this last week with Soren Petro on his show and he mentioned that maybe they’re willing to move some of the lower level prospects in a deal to get a big league arm. Does Frank Mozzicato paired with a big leaguer help you get back Braxton Garrett from the Marlins? I don’t know, but maybe. They can’t just be willing to trade the guys who are hitting free agency next year or the year after. They can’t just trade relievers. They need to make a trade that may seem confusing to some and may anger some.
This may seem like a copout, but we won’t know if this season is a success for years. We’ll be able to evaluate much more after the next winter, though. This year is undoubtedly one for evaluating. And that’s the easy part. The hard part is then making the difficult decisions of how to utilize those evaluations. Have you decided that Melendez is not the right fielder of the future? Okay then, what is he? Is he a part of the team at all? I still maintain he’s one of the guys to go in a big trade.
How the Royals attack the deadline 2023/2024 offseason will be very telling in determining if they made the most out of a season that has alienated a lot of fans. Sam McDowell was on with Petro last week and made an interesting comment wondering if an evaluation year becomes evaluation years. I think it’s possible, but a season is a long time to make some judgments. I don’t think one year is enough to definitively say this or that, but I do think it’s enough time, combined with at least 2022 before it for the team to make some choices.
By all accounts, there will be a measure on the ballot in April for a downtown (or north KC, I guess) stadium. I’m sure people will disagree, but I don’t think they put something on the ballot for right around Opening Day without making moves to improve the team on the field. So I think something or somethings is going to happen. Does that mean they’re going to go out and sign Lucas Giolito and/or Aaron Nola (or whoever really)? I don’t know. Maybe they make a massive trade that shakes things up and brings in one of the plethora of Reds young pitchers in exchange for Melendez and others. Maybe it’s the Dodgers deal I mentioned above.
Whatever they do, I do think they’ll do something. They can’t afford not to. I’ve written before that I’m encouraged by some of the direction in the minors with this club. I don’t need to hear the “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That’s been said and I get it. You’re well within your rights, but all I can report is what people are telling me and people are telling me that things are being done differently from top to bottom. The results aren’t there and that’s all that matters, but people watching the games continue to tell me it’s not business as usual. That’s encouraging to me anyway.
But right now, things are an absolute disaster, and it’s very difficult to see any positives. I think there is a way out. In fact, there are multiple ways out. I think the Royals generally have the correct people in place to get them out. Many people disagree with that. We’ll know who’s right soon enough, I guess. Thanks for indulging me in this long and therapeutic newsletter today. We’ll be back to normal on ItC with the next edition.