Kansas City Royals: How John Sherman can change small market narrative
By Jordan Foote
The Kansas City Royals are notorious for holding one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball. John Sherman can change how that is perceived.
For years, the Kansas City Royals have been known for having a low payroll and simply not spending a lot of money. Small-market teams are looked down upon in pity due to the “fact” that they can’t build winning teams with the same ease as large-market squads. That isn’t always the case, though. Heck, the Tampa Bay Rays are playing playoff games despite holding the MLB’s lowest 2019 Opening Day payroll.
If you asked the casual baseball fan whether or not a team with a low payroll could win a championship, you’d probably hear “no” quite a bit. While they haven’t always won, those teams have been able to remain competitive recently. Take the participants in the last five World Series, for example. Let’s take a look at the representatives for both the AL and NL, as well as their rank in Opening Day payroll for the given season:
- 2018 World Series: Boston Red Sox (1)* vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (3)
- 2017 World Series: Houston Astros (18)* vs. Dodgers (1)
- 2016 World Series: Cleveland Indians (24) vs. Chicago Cubs (14)*
- 2015 World Series: Royals (16)* vs. New York Mets (21).
- 2014 World Series: Royals (19) vs. San Fransico Giants (7)*
Of the last 10 World Series participants, five of them ranked in the bottom half of the MLB in payroll when the season began. Two of them ended up becoming champions. Are all of these teams considered small-market franchises? Of course not, only Kansas City and Cleveland are legitimately small-market teams. Houston has grown into a mid-market one. With that being said, it’s possible for the smaller opponent to win the fight.
Kansas City native John Sherman is set to take over as the new owner of the Royals. The organization’s mid-decade success was a direct product of the talent from its once-exemplary farm system’s all peaking at the same time in the MLB. In addition to that, a couple of savvy in-season trade acquisitions by general manager Dayton Moore sealed the deal. After losing in the Fall Classic in 2014, Kansas City was on a mission the following season.
Since then, the challenges presented by being a small-market club have driven that success to a screeching halt. Ranking near the bottom of the MLB in operating income, local revenue, television market and average attendance, money simply isn’t a huge part of what makes the Royals the team we’ve grown to love. It’s never been a staple of Kansas City, and it probably never will be.
What Sherman can do is hire a staff that will improve on what the last regime was able to accomplish. The Houston Astros’ market size is significantly larger than Kansas City’s, but they’re the closest thing the MLB has to copying the 2014-2015 Royals model.
Lose, lose again, and then lose some more. Acquire a ton of young talent. Develop it and bring it up to the MLB level around the same time. Sign/trade for elite, yet complementary, pieces to round out the roster and put the team over the top.
The challenge that presents itself is what to do after that. In 2015, the Royals let trade pickups Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto walk. This was mainly because they couldn’t afford them. Moore elected to keep the original core together for a couple more years until the rest of the roster proved to be too weak to contend. Next time around, something’s got to be done differently.
Maybe once the current core of Kansas City Royals develops — or at least shows signs of doing so — Sherman will be willing to invest in forming a complete contender. What will separate him from David Glass, though, is if he’ll be capable of sustaining that success and showing the rest of the MLB that small-market franchises can win consistently.