The KC Royals made the wrong decision when they chose the present over the future in 2017.
Were the KC Royals wrong to keep the core intact and acquire help to improve their postseason chances? With or without the benefit of hindsight, the answer is Yes. Some of the championship core was still intact, but vital pieces were missing even before the season started. The bullpen didn’t have a Greg Holland or a Wade Davis; Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria had decent seasons, but the club sorely missed a combo like the old “H-D-H.” Jason Vargas finished 18-11 (the 18 wins led the league), but his was the only winning record among the regular starters.
No one replaced Kendrys Morales‘ production; Cabrera was never expected to and couldn’t. Adding Terrance Gore really didn’t matter one way or the other–he would have been called up in September anyway.
Inexplicable, of course, was manager Ned Yost‘s mystifying faith in Cahill and Mauer (especially Maurer), a perplexing managerial defiance of their continuing inability to pitch effectively. And Maurer’s pre-trade performance signaled trouble–he had a 5.72 ERA and a negative WAR with San Diego, both bad for a reliever (especially for one expected to bolster a bullpen) and danger signs the Royals should have heeded. KC made the deal anyway, one that remains among the worst the club ever made.
Fortunately, what the Royals sacrificed to get Cabrera and the trio of Padres’ pitchers hasn’t come back to hurt them. The real harm came not from what the club did, but from what it didn’t do–the Royals should have at least tried to capitalize on the value of assets soon to be lost to free agency. Although trading Vargas and Escobar probably wouldn’t have realized a significant return, there was a potential bounty to be reaped by moving Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain.
Hindsight isn’t required to determine the Royals made mistakes. The 2017 club simply wasn’t good enough from the start, and the June-July hot streaks, unlikely to be sustained down the stretch, offered illusions of contention and ignored the fact that Cleveland was simply too good a team to let the Royals stay close.
Convincing themselves that they were truly good enough to contend was the first mistake the Royals made; sacrificing the future for an improbable run at the playoffs was the second and most damaging. Moore dislikes the term rebuild, but that’s what the club has been in since the 2017 season ended and the core departed. It is a rebuild the length of which the right moves in ’17 could have shortened and rendered less painful.
The championship core of the 2014-2015 KC Royals will never be forgotten. But the club’s 2017 failure to maximize the value of key core players value was a mistake, one from which they’ll hopefully learn and never repeat.
Time will tell what lessons the Royals have learned, or will learn, from 2017.