The Myth of Rebuilding

Every Royals fan over the age of 30 is used to hearing the dreaded term, “rebuilding.” It’s a rite of passage in Kansas City, a foregone conclusion that your favorite baseball team just can’t conceivably be expected to field a competitive baseball team every year, given the market limitations and whatever other excuses that are provided.

But when is losing – significant, drastic, historic, glorious losing – no longer allowed to be accompanied by the small market excuses that have been provided for decades? When is it not a yearly acceptance, a fait accompli, that the Royals must go through years of 90 and 100-loss seasons to make the playoffs again?

Yesterday, I posted this chart outlining the Royals statistical rankings in the most important offensive categories. It’s bad. Really bad. And despite having finished in the top-10 in runs scored only once in 15 seasons, after the first and second rounds of the MLB Draft we kept hearing from the organization and from folks in the media that this was a “rebuild”, that time was needed to build the organization back up after losing the players they lost from that World Series team. Why is that acceptable?

When Dayton Moore took over in mid-2006 he was coming into the worst organization in baseball. The previous general manager had his hands tied when it came to player acquisition – decades of bus ticket signing bonuses to college seniors, forced trades for near-ready, need-specific fillers instead of upside, and the best thing about the team was Friday home games you could get a salmonella hot dog for a dollar.

At the time, it could have been justified that it would take several years to build a playoff contending roster. I don’t think it should have taken seven years to build even a .500 roster but given where the organization was to where it got in 2013, 2014, and 2015, fine, we’ll deal with it and move on with our flag raised high.

At this current stage, there should be no such thing as a rebuild.

Most of the front office has been in place for the entirety of Dayton Moore’s turn leading the franchise. With that kind of stability the standard, the development, the…Process…should be tried and tested enough there’s a constant flow of talent being brought to the major league roster to fill gaps. Even if that flow doesn’t create stars, the system should be well oiled enough that the bottom 5-10 spots on the 25/26-man are always filled from within by players that know exactly how the organization likes to play and can be counted on to at least do what’s expected every single year.

But that’s not what’s happened with the Royals. Losing Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas and the attrition to the bullpen should not have been enough to decimate the franchise. The trading of prospects when only one, Sean Manaea, amounted to anything, should not have been enough to empty the farm system.

The real culprit to this new band of losing the Royals are experiencing isn’t the losses of talent that come from winning in a small market. It is themselves.

Since the Drafting of Eric Hosmer in 2008, here are the Royals first round draft picks:

2009Aaron Crow12
2010Christian Colon4
2011Bubba Starling5
2012Kyle Zimmer5
2013Hunter Dozier8
2013Sean Manaea34
2014Brandon Finnegan17
2014Foster Griffin28
2014Chase Vallot40
2015Ashe Russell21
2015Nolan Watson33

Eight years’ worth of first round picks and the Royals have just over 7 fWAR accumulated from them. Using Manaea and Finnegan as center-pieces of trades to chase a title subtracted from future depth yes, but when only one of those players has been useful in the major leagues beyond 2015 the loss isn’t all that significant.

The biggest contributing factors to the current stretch has been three things: 1. Continually targeting position players that create suboptimal offense, 2. inability to development players of even above-average impact, 3. dreadful drafting. All of these things are self-inflicted wounds, not a byproduct of winning. (Six years later)

As I wrote yesterday maybe things are starting to change. Maybe Brady Singer (my favorite red ass on the staff), Witt, Pratto, Melendez, etc are the beginning of the change this organization needs to turn this around. But the concerns are still there as long as the franchise continues to rank in the bottom five in walks and targets players in free agency that are entirely redundant with what is already available in the minors.

Stability in an organization is only a virtue if it is accompanied by winning. Winning does not necessarily mean playoff appearances year-in, year-out, but rather a consistency that prevents bottoming out. The stability of the Royals executive staff is to be applauded, I suppose, because the character of persons running the franchise is unmatched. They went nearly 15 years before seeing major changes to the front office leadership before Kevin Uhlich (SVP), Toby Cook (VP) and Mike Swanson (VP) all bowed out before or during this season.

Stability is only as good as the record it accompanies. Stability is only as good as The Process in place that churns out competitive play every year. Stability should never have to rebuild.