The KC Royals went to the World Series in 2014 and won it in 2015. The club thought it could contend in 2017 but made serious mistakes that season it shouldn’t forget. This two-part series examines what happened.
At 4:05 p.m. on a mild autumn afternoon in 2013, in the 10th inning of the KC Royals’ final home game of the season, in a moment that made the end of Dayton Moore’s long, slow “process” feel near, the re-transformation of the team became more than just a dream. You could almost reach out and touch it, a thing you could hold near through baseball’s coming winter hiatus. With one magical swing of his bat, a bit player gave KC fans more than hope. He gave them promise and a preview of things to come.
The Royals, once a terrifically successful franchise with division titles, American League pennants and a World Series title, had fallen on such hard times that they’d enjoyed only one winning season since 2003, and only six since they won the ’85 Series. But just past 4 o’clock on September 22, with the Royals and White Sox locked in a scoreless tie with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Justin Maxwell faced former KC closer Joakim Soria with the bases loaded. Maxwell worked the count to 3-2, then walked the Sox and Soria off with a grand slam.
It was the kind of moment most players dream of but few experience, and gave the Royals the 82nd victory required to secure their first winning campaign in 10. The club won four more times that final week and Kansas City baseball felt good again.
The 2014 KC Royals would bring the American League pennant back to Kansas City for the first time in 30 seasons; they pushed the Giants to seven games before losing the World Series, but made up for it in 2015 by beating the Mets in five games for their second Fall Classic title. Because key components of the team’s championship core were scheduled to remain intact for at least two more seasons, the words “Royals” and “dynasty” began to be spoken together.
But a true dynasty simply wasn’t to be–the Royals would never spend the cash necessary to extend all the contracts of core players Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, and Alcides Escobar beyond the two seasons remaining on each of their deals; a dynasty without those key players was improbable, if not impossible. Realists urged the club to trade its core players before they became free agents–better to reap a return haul of prospects, or big league-ready players, than to get less if those players rejected qualifying offers and left for free agency.
Ultimately, torn between trying to slip through their rapidly narrowing window of contention or bracing for a dreaded and difficult rebuild, the Royals made the wrong choice.