By In Stuff

Empty Yesterday

Before we began talk about why Thursday felt like SUCH a disastrous day for the Kansas City Royals – and, possibly, your hometown team too — we should probably offer two qualifications. One, Major League trades are hard things to pull off. They sound so easy on talk radio and fantasy leagues. But in real life, a thousand things have to come together, enthusiasm has to be spread all over the teams, momentum has to drive forward. Any tiny blip can nix the whole thing. A thousand trades are talked about for every one pulled off … and that ratio goes up exponentially when talking about major trades. Teams may really, really try to pull off a trade and for any number of reasons it just doesn’t happen. So that’s one.

Two, the Royals might not have been able to change their fate no matter what they did. The Royals, it seems to me, are the very essence of an eh-not-bad team. The lineup is average-conscious and cannot score runs. The pitching staff is pretty good but bullpen heavy and it relies heavily on a No. 1 starter who, best anyone can tell, will not be around after this season. A move, even a bold one, might not alter that at all.

With those two caveats: The Royals just had an infuriating trade deadline day. Infuriating. Because – and here’s where the opinion begins – this was the time for the Royals to make a choice. They needed to be buyers. They needed to be sellers. They needed to be SOMETHING. And instead, like it has been for most of the last quarter century, they were nothing. And that is hard to take.

See, for those 25 or so years the Royals have been … so … impossibly … irrelevant. They have had one player voted All-Star Game starter – ONE BLEEPIN’ PLAYER VOTED ALL-STAR GAME STARTER – since 1991 (and Jermaine Dye was traded two years later). They have not hired an interesting manager in forever. They are never in on the biggest free agents. They are never talked about in the biggest trades. They are just one of those teams that don’t matter much. The Royals are an opponent. They are a placeholder.

The last couple of years it seemed that finally, finally, finally the Royals were not going to be background music any longer. I did not like their bold trade of big prospect Wil Myers for temporary ace James Shields – still don’t like it – but it WAS bold. It was a statement. “Win now!” general manager Dayton Moore was saying. The minor league system was being touted as one of the best ever. The Royals won 86 games last year. They jumped their payroll significantly to make this year even better.

These Royals were wallflowers no more! Act! Do! Win!

Except … well, they could not quite break a few of the bad old habits. They did raise payroll, but mostly to bring in those 30-something veterans like Nori Aoki and Omar Infante that almost never actually help the team (and neither has helped much). They fired another hitting coach but did nothing to really alter the way the team is run. Billy Butler fell off the age cliff. Eric Hosmer lost his mojo. Mike Moustakas reveals himself more and more to not be an everyday big league player. A few good things have happened too – the solid pitching of young Yordano Ventura and emergence of Danny Duffy has helped and the late innings have been clamped down by a dominant bullpen. Because of this, the Royals have hovered around .500 despite a dreadful record in one-run games. They’ve shown just enough to make the optimistic believe they are a better team.

Dayton Moore is one of those optimists. All year long he has talked about the Royals having the talent to be a much better team. Even though he seems to believe this, he also believes that manager Ned Yost and one of the 384 batting coaches he has hired the last three years are doing a great job. Those two thoughts don’t seem to correspond, but we move on.

This week, the Royals are on the brink of SOMETHING. They are just on the good side of .500, and they are not in playoff position. Their ace, James Shields, probably has two months left as a Royal. Their offense is lousy and out of tune with the modern game. Their bullpen is probably their strength and everyone in baseball knows that bullpens are fickle beasts. The Royals had to decide: Go for it now with a few pieces in place? Back off and recharge for next year’s fight? What?

The Royals boldly decided to do … nothing.

Nothing. According to the Kansas City Star’s Andy McCullough, the Royals did have discussions for David Price but decided they couldn’t afford the contract. They kicked the tires on a couple of more 30-something veterans and decided they too were too expensive. And … that’s it. They did nothing.

Shortly after doing nothing, they lost first baseman Eric Hosmer to an injury that could keep him out for six weeks – or, essentially, the rest of the season. That’s bad luck. But in my experience bad luck, for some reason, does tend to follow inactivity.

Nothing. Of course the American League teams that are pretty unanimously viewed as smarter than Kansas City – Detroit, Boston, Tampa Bay, Oakland – did something. They divided as buyers or sellers and made bold moves to either (A) Win a World Championship this year or (B) Build their talent base for next year. You might or might not like the moves, but there is no doubt that there’s an active plan in place. The Royals, meanwhile, just drifted in the ocean.

It’s hard to say exactly what is happening behind the scenes in Kansas City. I don’t know what the Glass family’s commitment level is – I suspect the Royals management would have liked to do more, a lot more, but ownership’s commitment level is probably at Defcon 4 already. I also believe that Royals management skews conservative; the Myers for Shields deal was about as wild and crazy as they get.

That said, I think often of the line from The Music Man: “Pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’re collected a lot of empty yesterdays.” The Royals are world-renowned collectors of empty yesterdays.

And this empty yesterday leaves its mark. The Royals might get hot against a relatively weak schedule and win enough games to slip into October. But they probably won’t. The Tigers have David Price now, Oakland has Jon Lester, the Angels have finally gotten out of their own way, the Blue Jays and Orioles are probably better, the Yankees added a few pieces, even the Mariners did something. The Royals keep the faith that the meek will inherit the earth. Maybe that will happen. But the meek ain’t winning the American League.

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46 Responses to Empty Yesterday

  1. Blake says:

    Joe: You mention it briefly, but ultimately ownership is to blame. (Spoken as a longtime Baltimore Orioles follower).

    Are the Royals profitable doing what they’re doing? That’s probably where the heart of the story beats.

    • Jake Bucsko says:

      Exactly, Blake. As a Pirates fan, we know exactly what’s happening here. We lucked into McCutchen and some other young guys, but had we not, ownership would be perfectly happy losing 90 games a year and turning a profit on revenue sharing for another 20 seasons.

      • Mark says:

        The Bucs didn’t “luck into” a better team. They finally hired a FO that had a plan and a reasonable level of competence. They still struggle with the inherent financial limitations of their market. They still are a bit afraid to make bold moves (and tend to want to hold onto their own assets). But their current success should not be attributed to luck. The Royals, on the other hand, still have their own Littlefield at the helm…

    • Michael Geimaldi says:

      Yup. 100% spot-on correct comment right there. When David Glass starts running the Royals less like “Low Pirces. Always!” Wal-Mart and more like the mindset of the entrepreneurial Ewing Kauffman, the club will reflect the culture of its market and be competitive again. In an interview with Andy MccCullough after the trade deadline, Dayton Moore said he would not apologize for his market. However, he should apologize TO his market for treating it like it’s Bentonville, Arkansas.

    • Jimmy says:

      After 19 victories in 23 games, maybe it is possible that the GM that knows a bit more about his team than a columnist operating half a country away who is rarely in the clubhouse. Maybe…

      Or maybe it is just dumb luck

  2. Faye Schlift says:

    If Dayton Moore was alive the Royals would have done something. RIP.

  3. Jim says:

    To paraphrase the Game of Thrones, if you thought Moore would make a good trade, then you haven’t been paying attention. With Moore no trade is preferable to a bad trade, so I’m okay with it.

  4. adoylebu says:

    I saw that the asking price for the trades Moore was looking to make would have cost him Ventura or Duffy or both. Didn’t hear what they would have brought back, but that would have been bold, for sure. Can’t imagine it would have been smart in the short or long term, though. Like Jim, that’s the only thing that makes me feel better about them not making a trade – just like I wish they hadn’t made the trade for Shields.

  5. kcoracle says:

    Jim is probably right that it is better for Moore not to make a trade with a GM who is likely significantly smarter than him. I probably would trade Ventura or Duffy for a young bat, but I would not trust Moore to find the right bat. I hear Moore is a great guy. It must be hard to be in a high profile job where the public considers you not as smart as your competitors.

    I think trading Shields for a bat was the best move, but listening to Moore’s press conference, I don’t think he gave it any consideration. I’m also not sure there was a suitable bat available. The Royals essentially would have had about the same prayer for the playoffs, with Shields or without him and with a RF bat.

    The problem is that Moore has failed to build a decent offense. He upgraded 2b this year and somehow mistakenly believed Aoki could hit. He also mistakenly expected everyone else in the line up to improve. So, at this point, Moore is a failure, but if he manages to finish above 500, he and Yost both are probably back.

  6. "Seen enough" 15 years ago...... says:

    I hate being right…….for six weeks, the baseball die-hards and sports radio lapdogs have been cluttering up conversations and the media airways with speculation on what the (little R) royals were going to do.

    My forecast: NOTHING. Thank you very much.

    It’s simple. No legitimate sticks available that didn’t have warts/too high a price, and trading James Shields makes the Wil Meyers trade look bad.

    And, to paraphrase the fake Fernando Lamas: “It is better to look good than to BE good…”

    Until the Kansas City yokels stop thinking that they somehow own this “team”, and start voting with their billfolds, nothing is going to change. . And, with baseball’s media contracts, even that might not matter. David Glass is perfectly happy with owning the baseball version of the Washington Generals.

    Ask yourself this: Would you go to a restaurant that sold you crappy meals, or to a car dealership that sold you crappy cars, for 20 years straight? So why pay good money to watch the product of a mediocre baseball organization. Who runs scouting? Who runs player development? Who is screwing up? What have they done with ten years worth of high first round picks? The proof that they are a bunch of morons is plain for everyone to see. Why are they still with the organization?

    You diehard royals fans need to go READ “Moneyball”, not watch the movie.

    (This assumes of course, that anyone in royalsland actually reads, but i digress……)

    The Royals are still doing things that the A’s figured out was idiotic and counterproductive 15 years ago.

    Take a chance baseball fans, and walk away, like I did. At some point in time, you will figure out that there are more productive and entertaining things to do with your life, than waste your time watching baseball. The world is frustrating and aggravating enough, without adding more of it voluntarily.

    • Rob V says:

      Would those “more productive and entertaining things” involve writing bitter comments on blogs about the team you don’t follow anymore?

    • kcoracle says:

      Nothing wrong with concluding you enjoy other things more than watching baseball, but that does not mean there is anything wrong with other people who enjoy watching baseball and, despite the disappointment, enjoy being Royals fans.

      As to the substance, I think your criticism of Moore’s results is justified. I hesitate in assessing his motives – no way to tell. I think he is in a job above his talent level and has not competed well with smarter general managers.

      As to Glass, I think he has been a good owner since hiring Moore and, more important to me, he saved major league baseball in Kansas City. Sure, his investment has skyrocketed, but nonetheless, he stepped forward when no one else did to buy the team (after sitting back for years allowing others to step up). Few see it, but he has been good for Kansas City.

    • Tampa Mike says:

      Well good for you. I hope you’re happy being right. Why don’t you go crawl back under that rock and ignore baseball again? I’m glad you walked away from baseball, but continue to read blog posts about it. That’s very productive.

  7. TJ says:

    I’m starting to think that being a smart baseball fan and a Royals fan tends to make you stupid. I mean, I read some of the things smart people like Joe write, and I think, what are you talking about?

    Start with some simple things: Joe says the “Royals offense is lousy.” The Royals are 18th out of 30 teams in runs. Theyr’e below average. They’re 22nd in OPS, which is well below average. I don’t think either of those comes to “lousy” though. They aren’t the Cardinals, much less the Padres.

    And what are we to make of the bizarre linking of the Hosmer injury to inactivity. Is Joe next going to write that Dayton has lost the Mandate of Heaven? This isn’t analysis, it’s simply nuts.

    And we get another endorsement of activity, even ill-considered: “you might or might not like the moves, but there is no doubt there is an active plan in place.” If you don’t like the moves, how can you endorse activity as a strategy? How is actively making a bad trade the sign of anything good?

    I’m sure behind this there’s more of the usual conceptual confusion we find in smart Royals analysts: Shields wasn’t ever an ace, and is in decline, so the Royals should have traded him for somone like Cespedes. Relievers are fickle, easily produced, and not particularly valuable, so the Royals should trade theirs and get a tremendous haul in return. Moose and Hos are huge disappointments because we hyped them to no end, so obviously the problem is that the organization doesn’t have other players behind them, or we should have traded them instead of Myers.

    • kcoracle says:

      If you are going to call other people stupid, you probably should not lead with an assessment of the Royals offense that compares them with National League teams where the pitcher hits.

      I think Joe and Royal fans active on the internet are among the smartest of fans.

    • KHAZAD says:

      TJ – bringing National League teams into this would certainly make them look a little better, but it is not that close to mediocre. The National League is different league.

      The Royals are tenth out of 15 in the AL in scoring runs. To get even that high they do a lot of small ball things and use team speed and hit pretty well (compared to their norm) in clutch situations. They do alot of little things well to pump up their run scoring. (1st in AL in % of runners on third with less than two out that score. 3rd in percentage of total baserunners that score, second in percentage advancing runners on second with no one out, second highest percentage of outs that were considered “productive” when there was an opportunity to have a productive out, first in stolen bases, second in stolen base percentage, etc) Those things add to run scoring in small ways and get them to tenth in scoring.

      However they suck completely at the main components for runs, the things that add to your run scoring in larger ways, like getting on base and power. They are 14th out of 15 in OPS, and dead last in OPS+. They are last in walks, actually last in the entire major leagues despite the fact that pitchers hit in the NL. They are last in home runs, again last in the entire major leagues. They are last in isolated power, again last in the entire major leagues.

      There is an old Bill James stat called “secondary average” which is the number of bases added that can’t be expressed in your batting average. (TB-H+BB+SB-CS) and despite stealing alot of bases and getting caught a small percentage of the time, they are dead last in the major leagues in this as well, and the only team under .200.

      The Royals suck at hitting, and it seems to be getting even worse lately. (3.14 runs per game since the all star break)

      The Royal’s offense is indeed lousy.

  8. Pat Cremin says:

    Unfortunately a formerly storied franchise, helmed by John Scheurholz and led by Dick Howser with McRae, Brett, Otis et al, is now a laughingstock. Moore is pompous and foolish and blows hard to cover up his faltering missteps. Yost is B-grade at best. It is sad, and we KC fans are being sent back to the days of the lowly A’s. Charlie O has cursed us.

  9. bake mcbride says:

    peter gammons said it years ago: when the team is at the bottom, the problem is at the top.

  10. Then there is my happier situation. I am a fan of the Dodgers. The biggest news at the trade deadline was the announcement that The Vin plans to return for his 66th season (Great trivia question: who is the second longest-tenured broadcaster with any team? Answer: Jaime Jarrin, in his 56th year as the Dodgers’ Spanish language voice. Think about that combo for a moment).

    In other words, the Dodgers didn’t do anything with their situation involving 4 1/2 outfielders (Scott Van Slyke having joined in the mix) or about Joc Pederson down on the farm. They did pick up an infielder who could be helpful in late-inning situations. Beyond that, they stood pat.

    And I am eternally grateful. Because I have to be the opposite of Joe. The worst thing that can happen is when Ned Colletti decides to do something. The risks outweigh the benefits.

  11. Why so many complaints still about the Will Myers trade? He is hitting .227/.313/.354 this year in over 200 ABs…. So, yeah he is injured, but his season didn’t go well when he was healthy. Maybe he’ll right the ship, but the jury is still out on him. Shields meanwhile is earning himself a fat contract after this year.

    • frightwig says:


      After this season, when the Royals probably have missed the playoffs again, would you rather have one more year of Wade Davis + a draft pick after Shields leaves, or the next 4+ years of Myers and Jake Odorizzi’s careers?

    • KHAZAD says:

      Bellweather – Since the trade, the Royals have gotten 4.8 WAR (BR version) for a cost of $30 million dollars. Next year, all they will have left is Wade Davis as a $7 million dollar setup man, bringing their cost to $37 million in three years.

      The Rays have only gotten 2.9 WAR, but at a cost of $2 million. So far we have traded $28 million for two wins. Next year, the Rays will still have Myers and Odorizzi and will only add another million to their cost. (putting them $34 million ahead) Neither will reach arbitration until 2017, or be a free agent until 2020.

      Oh and they got two minor league players as well. One will probably be a AAAA pitcher who might get some major league time eventually, the other is a first baseman who is progressing quite well in the minor leagues for the Rays, and should become a major league player in a couple of years.

      Meanwhile, the only reason to make a trade like that (post season baseball) has not materialized. People complain about the trade because it was a bad trade, and one which will only get worse with each passing year.

    • Zach says:

      Because, for one, Jake Odorizzi has been better than Shields THIS year. And while Myers is hurt, and underperformed before being hurt, his OPS+ last year was far better than any Royal of the past 5 years save for 2011 Gordon and 2012 Butler. And they’ve both got a lot of affordable years remaining. We’ve got an 8th inning guy, or perhaps a closer, if Dayton would learn from his mistakes and trade Holland while he’s still valuable.

      • All well and good gents, but Poz, and others write like the Royals just traded away Willie Mays. Sure, a young emerging team probably is better off with prospects, but it’s not like anyone KNOWS that the prospects will actually emerge and fulfill their potential.

  12. Khazad has it exactly right. I’m not sure that the Myers trade would have been okay even without the money aspect, but the cost made the trade absurd. I like to look at it as the Royals not just giving up four good prospects, but also whatever players could have been secured with the $30 million.

  13. 85kc says:

    Assuming you believe the Royals should have traded for offense, just who would you have traded for? Marlon Byrd had the Royals on his NO list. Would he have agreed if they agreed to pick up his option? I wouldn’t have picked it up and no one else did. Rios? Butler has hit two home runs since Rios hit his last. Willingham? A slow .220 hitting outfielder? Would you really trade Ventura or Duffy?
    I’m as frustrated with their offense as anyone, but who would you have acquired?

    • Karyn says:

      If I thought Dayton Moore had the ability to judge other teams’ talent, I’d suggest reloading. The Royals are five games back of Detroit and have to claw over three (superior) teams just to make the coin-flip game.

      Alternately, go get Steve Pearce. John Jaso. Chris Carter. Josh Harrison. Casey McGehee. Conor Freakin’ Gillaspie.

      None of those guys are good, mind you. But they’re better than the guys they’d replace, usually for less money.

  14. […] Empty YesterdayThe Giants weren’t the only contending team to do nothing at the trade deadline on Thursday. Here, Joe Posnanski takes a look at what made the inaction of the Royals so dang frustrating. Of course, Giants’ fans frustrations weren’t about indecision about whether the team was good; instead, we complained that this was a team in a pennant race that desperately needed another piece, and they didn’t get it. Was that piece Emilio Bonifacio? Since the Giants didn’t get him, definitely! […]

  15. Steve L says:

    The Royals keep the faith that the meek will inherit the earth. Maybe that will happen. But the meek ain’t winning the American League.


  16. […] Empty YesterdayThe Giants weren’t the only contending team to do nothing at the trade deadline on Thursday. Here, Joe Posnanski takes a look at what made the inaction of the Royals so dang frustrating. Of course, Giants’ fans frustrations weren’t about indecision about whether the team was good; instead, we complained that this was a team in a pennant race that desperately needed another piece, and they didn’t get it. Was that piece Emilio Bonifacio? Since the Giants didn’t get him, definitely! […]

  17. blingslade says:

    As if right on cue, the Royals are now on a tear and are in prime condition to get a wildcard birth. Thanks Joe!

  18. TWolf says:

    As of today, the Royals are nine games over .500, only 1 1/2 games behind the Tigers.
    Joe may have to eat this blog entry and apologize to Dayton at the end of the season.

  19. Carl says:

    The Royals are in first place now. As shown yesterday on FanGraphs, they are winning primarily for a great defense, and in particular a great outfield defense. If their 1B and 3B and DH could produce at least 1/2 as well as they were projected to, the team would be above-average in runs scored and the Royals would be running away with the division.

  20. Bob says:

    How you like us now, Joe?

  21. mbastable66 says:

    Joe, In typical sports writing fashion, as soon as you wrote this tirade the team shot into first place. They are going it with D, and the bullpen. As a former long suffering fan (no longer thanks Red Sox) I know where you are coming from…but sports is about faith. 15 years ago aside from the Celtics, the Boston teams were a laughing stock (the Pats) and Poor me Red Sox. Look at us now. I know your Royals have been down since 85, but where’s the faith man?

  22. Is this blog now defunct?

  23. Casey F. says:

    If I were a Royals fan….I wouldn’t want Joe to write another word until they cool off.

  24. Steve Han says:

    The Royals acquired #SungWootoKC!

  25. Dave says:

    Egads! Joe may just be actually taking a vacation! After how many years, is this allowed? 🙂

  26. Charles Tyler says:

    This shows how strange and fickle baseball can be. A team that has pretty much just played .500 ball all season, who stands pat at the trade deadline, loses their gold glove first baseman all of the sudden finds their mojo and can do no wrong. As a Royals fan, Joe doesn’t owe anyone an apology for this blog but at the end of the year, I’m hoping he’s scratching his head and saying “baseball has a way of making anyone look like an idiot”.

  27. Dr. Baseball says:

    …I think Joe got traded at the deadline.

    I hope, wherever he is, he is having a well-deserved and restful vacation. Joe, we miss you!

  28. Dan W. says:

    Well done Joe! You’ve jinxed the Royals into first place!

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