When you go to a Kansas City Royals game at Kauffman Stadium, it very much feels like a collegiate, friendly-neighborhood atmosphere. Families donned in jerseys and hats all walk to the stadium together, talking to strangers also going to the game as if they’re amongst friends. The entire street and ballpark is like a tailgate, with the scent of Kansas City barbecue engulfing the city for miles. There isn’t a bad seat at the park, and with the clear celebration of their tradition as a sports-loving city and fan service, it makes for a great sense of pride in attending the games.

Ever since their World Series title in 2015, the Royals have not been a winning baseball team. They haven’t made the postseason since then, they’ve never had a winning season, they lost the majority of their roster that

was critical to their success, long-time manager Ned Yost retired, and the team was sold for $1 billion in 2019 to John Sherman. With the AL Central division consisting of teams that have been competitive, the former champs have had to enter a rebuilding period.

 

Other teams have approached a rebuild with an absolute tear-down, trading any sort of prime talent or veterans who are producing for prospects to invest in the future down the line and sink their ship to position themselves for a better spot in the MLB Draft. We’re seeing that now in Pittsburgh, who have traded away Andrew McCutchen (former MVP), Gerrit Cole (2nd highest-paid pitcher in baseball), Tyler Glasnow, Starling Marte, Charlie Morton, and Josh Bell, to throw out a few names, and they’re putting all their eggs in one basket: the one that’s younger than 25 and h

as an upside, in hopes they pan out and they can be competent in several years after they lose A LOT. And for some, that has worked out! The Astros went through multiple seasons of losing over 100 games and they netted George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Dallas Keuchel, won a World Series in 2017, and haven’t looked back. Shamelessly tanking your prospects of winning can be effective in the long-term, but those years of losing are absolutely brutal for the organization and the fans.

Photo: Nick Whyman / overtimeheroics.net

 

 

The Kansas City Royals are choosing to not bend the knee to this traditionalist method of tanking. They still want to field an entertaining product with quality baseball players and try to win as much as they can despite not being on the level of the top-tier teams just yet. They had one of the most interesting offseasons that separated them from the majority of the league: they actually spent money! They signed Carlos Santana, Mike Minor, Michael A. Taylor, Wade Davis, and traded for Andrew Benintendi. None of these guys are necessarily “star” signings, but they’ve got pretty much every spot in their lineup fielded by a competent player now! This in no way tells the league that they’re trying to lose games intentionally. They might not be on the level of the White Sox or the Twins within their division, but they’ll be a tough out now and never be a free game on their schedule. 

Originally, fielding a product this solid was viewed as a service to the fan base and the current players- the loyal following gets to see some wins here and there and the competitive-natured professional athletes aren’t put into an environment that embraces losing; they all believe they’re incredible by making it to the biggest stage and therefore don’t think tanking is a plan. But what really changed the tone of the Royals’ offseason for many years to come was a deal that they reached that wasn’t a new addition: they extended Salvador Perez. Perez, the 30-year-old catcher, won the World Series MVP when they won the title in 2015, and is one of the last players remaining from that team; he’s spent his entire 10-year career with the organization, and the 4-year, $82 million guaranteed extension makes him the highest-paid Royal in history.

It could have been so easy to deal the veteran all-star catcher with an expiring contract for an absolute haul of young talent to push the rebuild with more depth in youth. That’s what the Pirates and the Astros and Cubs of old would have done. Instead, they sent a message: they are an organization that will do right by their guys. They rewarded him for all he’s done for the team. Not to say that the contract given to Perez wasn’t deserved, but the world of professional sports is ultimately a business, and we’ve seen time and time again fan-favorites and faces of the franchise kicked to the curb. It was so refreshing to see, especially in the MLB, with tensions between the players and ownership at a high in the midst of upcoming CBA negotiations and following their stand-off on the decision for the 2020 shortened season. The sport with no salary cap for some reason has many billionaire owners reluctant to spend.

The Perez extension and the loyalty shown by Kansas City sticks with people. Free agents and upcoming younger players on the team might see the way that he’s treated and put faith in that front office. Maybe it makes them a free agency destination down the line as well for players to come to a winning culture with a great fan base that they can put their faith in. They might not be built for the postseason just yet, but the Royals are establishing themselves as one of the highest-quality run organizations in sports and are changing the landscape for rebuilding.

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