Kansas City Royals: Good vibes surrounding team’s current rebuild

The state of the Kansas City Royals rebuild should have its fans feeling good.

Through the 2021 season’s first 17 games, the Kansas City Royals find themselves at 10-7. Win No. 10 came in pretty dramatic fashion as the Royals fell behind early to the defending American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays only to roar back and take the lead.

And then lose the lead.

And then tie it on a safety-squeeze in the bottom of the ninth.

And then win it three batters later on a very familiar-looking base hit down the left-field line.

So, yeah: 2021 is off to a bang for the Royals, especially considering this team hasn’t finished a season above .500 since 2015. In that time, the Royals have won at least 80 games twice but then suffered through some incredibly lean years in 2018 and 2019 in which they finished 58-104 and 59-103, respectively.

In last year’s odd season, they still finished below .500 at 26-34, but that’s a winning percentage of .433, or 69 percentage points higher than the previous season.

In six series so far in 2021, the Royals have won three, lost one, and tied two. Not bad. A solid start to a 162-game season that will be a grind like none other these guys have before faced.

What’s more than all of this, though, is that, as a fan, you can’t help but feel good about the Royals’ overall rebuild. Not only is it going well on the field, but the way the front office and the coaching staff have handled it is something to behold.

Unlike rebuilds of recent memory, particularly those of the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros, the Royals didn’t burn it to the ground.

The Kansas City Royals didn’t actively try to lose.

The Royals could have–and, as some have argued, should have–started the rebuild a year earlier by dealing off veterans who were approaching free agency with no prospect of re-signing in Kansas City.

Instead, general manager Dayton Moore and former manager Ned Yost with previous owner David Glass, doubled down to try to make the postseason once more.

Did it work out? No.

Did it show the fans that this small-market team was willing to extend its window of opportunity? You’re damn right it did.

The payoff, of course, happened to be two very ugly seasons. But this wasn’t tanking. Tanking is the lazy team’s course of action to get to the top. The tanking team forgets about its fans, takes them for granted, while purposefully losing to get access to the best, cheapest talent in the MLB amateur draft. That lasts not only for one season but several.

Consider the Chicago Cubs, a large-market organization:

  • 2010: 75-87
  • 2011: 71-91
  • 2012: 61-101
  • 2013: 66-96
  • 2014: 73-89

Consider the Houston Astros, another team with large coffers:

  • 2010: 76-86
  • 2011: 56-106
  • 2012: 55-107
  • 2013: 51-111
  • 2014: 70-92

In those five-season periods, the Cubs and Astros weren’t trying to win. At all. They were actively losing. Tanking. Tanking to get the best young players, and only then would the owners commit to free agents.

The Royals didn’t do that. Sure, they suffered back-to-back seasons of 100+ losses, but that had more to do with the team emptying its farm system to make playoff runs and then not taking the opportunity to re-stock it before guys like Eric Hosmer hit the open market–both actions in an effort to win.

Additionally, the Royals, who haven’t held the No. 1 draft pick since 2006, have drafted pretty well, and not only in the first round. This is a solidly homegrown ballclub that’s currently atop the American League Central with a couple of top five picks in Bobby Witt Jr. and Asa Lacy right around the corner.

But that’s not all.

The Royals ended 2020 with the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Cleveland Indians all expected to finish ahead of them in 2021. Had the Royals taken a tanking mindset, they would’ve laid low in the offseason, avoiding signing much of any veteran help.

Instead, the Royals opened up the pocketbook. New owner John Sherman authorized the signings of multiple veteran free agents, including first baseman Carlos Santana, pitcher Mike Minor, outfielder Michael A. Taylor, and infielder Hanser Alberto.

Then the team extended third baseman Hunter Dozier and catcher Salvador Perez. Other additions include remnants of past playoff Royals squads, including bringing back Greg Holland, nabbing the middle of H-D-H in Wade Davis, and bringing back outfielder Jarrod Dyson.

Perhaps the biggest move–or, at least, the most surprising move–was moving the young outfielder Khalil Lee in a three-team trade that netted the Royals veteran left fielder Andrew Benintendi from the Boston Red Sox.

Moves like these? Unheard of for tanking teams. It’s honestly a fresh of breath air to see a team several steps away from contending actively making moves to improve its on-the-field product.

Obviously, I’m not sure how it’s all going to end. The rest of this year may be a bust. This core group of players may not end up winning a World Series. It could still be a number of years before the Royals play meaningful baseball in October.

Then again, I have reason to believe in Dayton Moore’s vision. He built this team from the ground up once up a time. So who am I to say he won’t pull it off again?

Regardless, let’s give credit to the Kansas City Royals: Unlike a good number of MLB teams, including several with a lot more money at their disposal, the Royals are trying to win. They’re trying to put a good product on the field for their fans. They’re not waiting around for the perfect moment to strike.

Instead, the Royals are seizing the moment.

And as fans in today’s day and age, what more can you ask for?