In a Kansas City fan’s perfect world, the Royals would have the longevity of The Rolling Stones.
But in reality, the legacy of the team’s impending free agents and this entire era of Royals baseball will be remembered closer to that of The Beatles.
Brilliant for a brief moment in time, with an ending sooner than any fan wanted. Leaving many to long for what could have been for all the years that followed.
Unfortunately, that’s the sad truth for all small market teams, no matter how great, as the system is just not set up for sustained, consistent dominance. Every now and then there’s a streak from the likes of Oakland, Tampa Bay or KC, sparking a local fandom not unlike the British invasion.
And for a brief time, the big markets take a back seat. But time and time again, Paul McCartney and the small market teams break up, while Mick Jagger and the New York’s, Chicago’s and Los Angeles’ of the world play new songs long into the October nights.
While all the factors and reasoning behind The Beatles breakup has been debated for 40 years, the eventual breakup of the Kansas City Royals is just as cruel, but far simpler.
While 1980’s icons George Brett and Frank White never left Kansas City, the game has evolved exponentially over the last 30 years, in more ways than just baggier uniforms and extra options at the concession stands.
The most jarring example can be found in Kansas City, with the value of the Royals organization soaring from 96 million dollars when David Glass bought the team in 2000, to now just under one billion dollars, according to Forbes.
Still, that ranks 24th in all of baseball. As far as actual market size goes, Kansas City ranks 29th overall. While the Royals have more money to spend on players now than ever before, the rest of league has even more.
Using Brett and White as a comparison, signing with another team in their era may have paid more, but not so much to the point where it’s worth losing all the built up equity.
But now, the Royals are likely asking Eric Hosmer to say no to potentially an additional 50 million dollars to stay in Kansas City. This isn’t one million dollars, or an extra year on a contract like in the past, it could be a difference of 50 million dollars. Expecting a 28-year-old to turn down that kind of payday is a stretch, no matter the circumstances.
Nothing is set in stone yet, and predicting the market this early on is fool’s gold. Hosmer will be one of the game’s hottest commodities, but if the gap land be closer to 10 million dollars between Boston and Kansas City, the Royals have more of a shot.
However, that’s still just one player. Kansas City has five members of the band testing waters.
If all offers were equal, it’s not wrong to assume all of the free agents would come back to Kansas City. But with no salary cap, and more successful big market teams than ever before, the offers will be far from equal. Winning a bidding war against Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or any other top 15 market, is tough business for one player, let alone five.
Money is the biggest factor in free agency and the business side of baseball is cruel, but the timing and state of the team does Kansas City no favors.
The Royals did not come all that close to making the playoffs in 2017 with all five main free agents healthy, turning in career years. All five won’t be back in 2018, so what’s the pitch for Moore to sell that says Kansas City will contend in the very near future?
If this were 2016 and Hosmer was entering free agency, not only could there have been more of an obligation following a World Series, but there’d be a tangible selling point that this team can win immediately.
Even fans looking through the brightest Royal blue glasses can see that 2018 is not a year that’s World Series or bust.
The Royals did break the bank for outfielder Alex Gordon between 2015 and 2016, because the timing and state of the franchise was right. Gordon was viewed as a necessary piece to continue a World Series push, while there were younger, cheaper options still on the team to help.
That timing is gone now, and instead of asking Glass to break the bank for one player, there’s now five on the market. With a payroll already close to 105 million dollars in 2018, which by itself would rank 16th in the league, adding another 40 million on top for even two of the players would put Kansas City way out over its skis.
It’s a hard pill to swallow for Royals fans, but Kansas City simply will never have a top 10 payroll in this day and age. The market size, annual income and organizational value will not allow that, barring a new owner with New York like resources. That shouldn’t be viewed as a death wish though, as Moore has proven the ability to overcome the underdog status and win with a lower payroll.
If the Royals want to reach that level of success again, they’ll have to do it with that same formula. That’s not signing aging players with contracts of 10 years guaranteed, that’s drafting well, developing unheralded assets and finding an untapped advantage to exploit at the major league level.
Now comes the tough part, where the downfalls of a small-market shine brightest. It’s not one person’s fault if all the free agents leave, just the nature of the business.
But that very sadness that would sweep over Kansas City, is also what makes the feeling of success even greater when the mountain top is reached, when the underdog rises. It aluminates the brilliance from such a short period of time.
Now it’s time to accept, just like The Beatles, that Kansas City had its ever so brief window of opportunity, its moment to shine. And just as the band’s music lives on many years later, long after the breakup, so will the championship flags flying above the Royals Hall of Fame. Something that will never change, no matter what free agency brings.
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