Another baseball season on the way, another rebuild year for the Royals.
Kansas City’s two miracle runs to the World Series in 2014 and ’15 are almost distant memories now. Two teams that got the perfect amount of hot at an even more perfect time and earned their respective spots in baseball history.
Now, it’s the same old Royals way. Develop a handful of fun prospects over the years but otherwise struggle to build winning teams. Ownership made some changes in the front office and now seems ready to take a serious step forward. How that goes is anybody’s guess.
It’s a shame because the prime George Brett Royals of the 1970s and ’80s had some fun rivalries, especially with the Yankees. They had four ALCS meetings in five years, with New York winning three of them. Brett’s infamous Pine Tar Game in 1983 was also against the Yankees.
And yet, between the Royals visiting the Bronx for a weekend in July and the regular season finale in KC, nobody will recall this. The Royals even have a mini-rivalry with the Mets just by virtue of beating them in the 2015 Series, and nobody will blink when they host the Mets in August.
At this rate, all the Royals can really hope for is this latest fresh start proves a fruitful one.
Greatest Addition: Matt Quatraro. He’s set up for success too, what with Mike Matheny falling flat at 165-219 in three years. Quatraro has nearly a decade of coaching experience and most recently served as Kevin Cash’s bench coach in Tampa Bay. He also worked with future Hall of Famer Terry Francona in Cleveland.
Hiring Quatraro suggests the Royals are ready to move into the 21st century. The Rays are known for their analytical prowess and building winners on the cheap and Kansas City have never been big spenders. Hiring Quatraro away from a similar organization was the right move as the Royals figure out their next step.
Greatest Loss: Dayton Moore. He spent 16 years with the organization before new owner John Sherman fired him at the end of last season. His longtime lieutenant J.J. Picollo took over and Moore now works as a special advisor for the Texas Rangers.
In a way, Moore’s departure was almost inevitable. Sherman bought the team from David Glass in late 2019 and three full seasons was enough for him to want a change. He still built the Royals’ first championship team since 1985 and gave baseball an excellent underdog. All thanks to Moore developing some household names like Eric Hosmer, Greg Holland, and former World Series MVP Salvador Perez.
Greatest Strength: Player development, of course. Even at their worst, the Royals have been known to turn out the occasional exciting rookie. They even had three Rookies of the Year in a 10-year period. Future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke came up as a Royals prospect and won a Cy Young Award in Kansas City in 2009, and is now back to finish his career with them at age 39.
Don’t let the standings fool you. The Royals have some exciting youth coming together. Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez, and Bobby Witt Jr. should form a solid lineup core while Brady Singer keeps developing as an ace.
Greatest Weakness: Hunter Dozier. For context, he’s like the Royals’ version of Aaron Hicks. He had a breakout year in 2019, took a slight step back in 2020, but still got a cheaper team-friendly extension, albeit not as rich as Hicks’. Dozier’s deal was for only four years and $25 million, plus an option.
Since the deal kicked in, Dozier has hit .226 with a meager .680 OPS and just 28 home runs in two years. For context, he hit .279 with a .870 OPS and 26 home runs in 2019, plus an MLB-best ten triples. To add insult to injury, Dozier’s proven an awful fielder at multiple positions, including his current slot at third base. His career defensive runs saved (DRS) is an awful -36 at the position.
Now 31, Dozier has two years and a shade over $16 million left on his deal, plus a $10 million option. Batting .333 in spring training is a nice start, but he has to sustain it through the season. His deal isn’t so unmovable that the Royals can’t trade him and promote No. 4 prospect Nick Loftin.
What should fans expect from the Royals in 2023? Not much at all, but that isn’t a bad thing. Matt Quatraro’s first year on the job will be more about how he develops Kansas City’s latest crop of young players. If he can get the wheels rolling on a pitching staff that posted a 4.70 ERA last year, all the better.
It won’t be one-year fix, maybe not even two. But these Royals have some potential franchise cornerstones in their lineup and we’ll see how sturdy they are this season.
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