The Kansas City Royals finished the 2012 season with a 72-90 record. They finished 23rd in all of baseball with a 4.30 ERA. They finished 20th in all of baseball in runs scored, at 676. They saw major regression in their most talented player, major (and very predictable) regression in their right fielder, and exactly the type of performance you would expect from a starting rotation featuring names like Hochevar, Chen, and Mendoza. They finished third in a weak division, 16 games behind the Tigers.
But 2013 is the year the Royals think they’re ready to compete for a division title, or at least a year they’re making an all-out effort to compete, if they can just find enough pitching and the right mix of veteran defensive back-ups to provide the necessary leadership for a young(ish) roster in need of guidance. If they can just find enough pitching and defense.
Pitching and defense win championships and the reason we know this is because there is no shortage of sound bites and articles of people surrounding the industry telling us every chance they get. Pitching and defense: it’s the “currency of baseball”, or something, and without it, presumably, you can’t contend for a divisional title. Contend for a divisional title.
You see, there is a difference between “competing” and “contending”. Long have fans just wished the Royals would finish somewhere near .500, just to have the hope that each night there was at least a 50/50 chance of seeing a winner. That’s from a fan perspective. That’s competing.
From an organizational perspective, however, finishing .500 probably does more harm than good because it gives the appearance that progress is being made, steps are being taken, when in reality, finishing .500 in a weak division is something that should be the norm, not the outlier.
Finishing .500 is really no different than finishing with just 70 wins, because you’re not contending. There’s an argument to be made that if your team isn’t close enough to contend for a playoff spot with a major push for a championship, then the focus should be on acquiring and hoarding as much future talent as possible. There’s an argument.
For 2013, that’s not the approach the Royals chose to take.
In addition to the futility of 2012, in 2011 the Royals finished 27th in baseball with a 4.45 ERA. In 2010, 29th. The last time the Royals finished in the top 20 in baseball in ERA was 2007. Five full seasons ago.
So because pitching and defense win championships, and the Royals have been so bad at developing their own starting pitching while Dayton Moore has been general manager, it is understandable how the organization would come to the conclusion that their only hope of competing in 2013 is to acquire starting pitching and lots of it (or at the very least, acquire some kind of an upgrade over what is currently in the rotation), and sign some kind of insurance for a defense that has two very glaring weaknesses to supplement the pitching as much as possible.
When the going get tough, though, the tough don’t trade 25 years worth of controlled contracts for a 31 year old pitcher with two years remaining, and a swing man who has never stuck in the rotation for two contract years and three option years. That’s what the Royals did, however, and out the door went their only legitimate replacement to one of the worst everyday players in baseball.
Then that move has since been compounded by adding some defensive bodies to the mix after the signing of Endy Chavez, which is mostly of little consequence unless Jarrod Dyson falls on his face in centerfield, and Miguel Tejada, which is so over-the-top astonishing, yet at the same time predictable, it makes perfect sense.
When first announced, the Tejada deal was a minor league contract with an invitation to the big league camp in spring training. Basically, a flyer on a guy as insurance. Which in itself is reasonable until you remember that Tejada didn’t play in the major leagues a season ago, is going to be 39 years old, and hasn’t been any good for at least three seasons. Then, as if the shear notion of Tejada wasn’t enough, reports are out now that the deal will come with a guarantee of a spot on the 40-man roster once the Royals clear space for the former MVP to be added. That’s $1.1MM given to a player that serves little purpose other than to fulfill the “veteran leadership” quota.
So in an effort to assemble a competing roster for the first time in his tenure as general manger of the Royals, Dayton Moore has traded for Wade Davis (who will make $32.6MM over the next five years if all his club options are picked up), James Shields ($21MM over the next two years if his 2014 club option is picked up), and Ervin Santana ($12MM), and signed Endy Chavez (minor league contract) and Miguel Tejada ($1.1MM).
In all, Moore has acquired upwards of $74.7MM worth of players this offseason in exchange for the reigning Minor League Player of the Year and the organization’s closest and most polished starting pitcher candidate, for a chance to compete in a division where they’re still probably the third best team on paper.
Going all in is a reasonable organizational directive if the team is coming off an 85-win season and there are clear signs of contending for a division title and a push for a championship. But when the team is coming off a 72-win season and the 70+ million dollars worth of players acquired merely guarantee a shot at .500, then you’re relying more on the dealer than your own cards.