Why '89 club's approach could help the KC Royals succeed

Players working outside the spotlight could make a big difference.
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Kurt Stillwell was vital to the 1989 Royals

The '89 Royals had five players post an OPS+ over 100 in significant playing time: first baseman George Brett (123), outfielders Danny Tartabull (128), Bo Jackson (124), and Jim Eisenreich (122), and third baseman Kevin Seitzer (106). In contrast, only two 2023 Royals, Witt and recently-traded Edward Olivares, exceeded the 100 OPS+ mark while playing more than 50 games. (Pasquantino, Freddy Fermin, Nelson Velázquez, Nick Loftin and Dairon Blanco all managed it in much smaller sample sizes).

Yet, these are exactly the kind of players the Royals need to take a big leap forward. They don't need to make an unlikely jump to star status (Pasquantino excluded), but there is room for many of them to realistically become far more valuable contributors. Maikel García at third base and one or both of Michael Massey and Nick Loftin at second are prime candidates.

Kurt Stillwell, an important part of the '89 team, is a perfect template for what the Royals should like to see from them.

Stillwell, acquired by the Royals with Ted Power in the post-1987 season trade that sent Danny Jackson and Ángel Salazar to Cincinnati, immediately improved the shortstop spot, which had previously been manned by light-hitting Salazer, Buddy Biancalana, and Onix Concepción. Stillwell was no slouch with the glove in his first two KC seasons, but his biggest impact was with the bat.

Stillwell was an All-Star in 1988 and his '89 season was nearly identical. He slashed .261/.325/.380 with seven home runs, 54 RBI, 20 doubles, seven triples, and a .705 OPS. Maikel García was not far off this pace in 2023, and it's not unrealistic to think he can match Stillwell's overall level of production, and perhaps surpass it. If Garcia and at least one of the second base frontrunners can put up Stillwell's numbers over the course of a full season, the Royals would be thrilled.

Much like Stillwell shored up a weak spot in an infield already manned by Seitzer, Brett, and Frank White, Garcia, Massey and Loftin have the opportunity to do the same for an infield already featuring Witt and Pasquantino. And they don't have to match their teammates' ceilings to drastically improve the club.

The outfield, however, is a different story...