A Royal success story: Kansas City’s World Series triumph a victory for the small-market team
Two years ago, the Kansas City Royals had just finished a third-place finish in the American League Central, their 28th consecutive season outside the play-offs.
No one pictured them blossoming into two-time American League champions or the World Series winner in 2015.
The young core of the team, the high draft picks “earned” by being a perennial lousy team, were not setting the world on fire.
Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon were just three guys on a mediocre team who were not living up to their first-round potential.
Today the franchise and their roster architect, general manager Dayton Moore, are being hailed as baseball’s cutting edge organisation. A model for small-market teams. Staying patient with their prospects. Adding smart, but inexpensive pieces. Building a team that suited their ballpark.
All well and good, but numerous other small-market teams have tried that formula for years and not attained the Royals’ success.
As do all baseball teams that win championships, Kansas City benefited from some smart decisions as well as a healthy share of good fortune to have things turn out so well.
When they traded away their most valuable asset, pitcher Zack Greinke in 2011, two of the key pieces they got in return were current starters in shortstop Alcides Escobar and centre fielder Lorenzo Cain. By 2014, that looked pretty good.
By this year, great.
When they traded away top prospect Wil Myers two years ago, they got pitcher James Shields, who helped them reach the World Series in 2014, and pitcher Wade Davis, who was an invaluable part of their signature bullpen the past two seasons.
In short, those and other things came together, including the maturation of a catcher they signed in 2006 at age 16. Salvador Perez, 25, was the World Series Most Valuable Player.
But is there anything to be learnt from the Royals, who play a distinct brand of baseball?
The three things that defined the “KC Way” are defence, contact hitting and an overpowering bullpen.
The baseball universe has already embraced the notion that you can make up for a deficient starting rotation by loading up with a handful of relievers who can dominate for an inning each. The Royals’ legacy will be that they fully exploited the strategy the past two years, reinforcing the trend.
Analysts also are bending the game toward stronger defensive play, recognising that run prevention can make up for a lack of run production.
As for the Royals’ knack for putting their bats on the ball and not striking out, that will be a tougher sell to other teams going forward.
Stat geeks love walks and home runs, and the Royals do not do either one very well. Those famous rallies built on singles during the post-season will be viewed as an aberration.
In the meantime, Kansas City faces one problem it will never solve with a strategy — money. They cannot hold teams together very long and are already going to leak away multiple key players to free agency, including Gordon, Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist, Chris Young and Alex Rios.
Whatever happens at least the Royals were able to create that window to the play-offs that all small-market teams crave, and stepped through it just in time.
For the once-hapless franchise, and for the rest of the limited-budget club, it was an inspiring October.
Titles are rarely won over winter moves
While Kansas City was having its parade for the Royals, 29 other teams were deep into their scouting reports, advanced metrics and payroll configurations.
Who can blame the organisations that did not win it all for wanting to quickly turn the page? There is a free agent marketplace to shop.
Attractive starting pitchers Zack Greinke, David Price and Johnny Cueto are sitting there, available for the right price. There are the intriguing position players, headlined by Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Davis and Alex Gordon.
Any of those players might be the perfect piece that turns an also-ran into a play-off team, or a contender into a champion. Or maybe not. It is nice to dream big and envision success as soon as Price, Greinke or Davis puts on that new uniform.
No doubt that is what the Washington Nationals thought when they signed Max Scherzer last year to that whopping seven-year, US$210 million (Dh771.2m) deal. Scherzer was great. The Nats were not. They were the year’s big flop.
The Boston Red Sox made a big off-season splash, too, signing the two most expensive position players available, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.
How did that work out? A second consecutive last-place finish for the Sox.
The Seattle Mariners grabbed home run champion Nelson Cruz off the market after landing the top free agent prize, Robinson Cruz, the year before. Seattle fans are still waiting for a pay-off.
The free agent chase is often viewed through a “winners” and “losers” lens.
More often, winter success is an illusion.
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Published: November 6, 2015 04:00 AM