It’s a grim math that awaits the Royals when they return Friday night from the All-Star break with the first of three key weekend games against first-place Detroit at Kauffman Stadium.
A disastrous five-game skid just prior to the break positions the Royals at 43-49 and a season-high eight games behind the Tigers with the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline fast approaching.
Even so, general manager Dayton Moore sure doesn’t sound like a man in “sell” mode intent on recalibrating his sights for 2014.
“I look at the talent level on our team,” he said, “and I feel like we’re going to continue to get better. We’re going to do everything we can to win games every single night from this day until September 30.
“We’re not going to back off that. We’re going to keep pushing. We’re going to keep expecting our players to get better. There’s a lot of upside to these players individually and collectively as a team.”
That doesn’t mean Moore won’t consider a deal that offers long-term benefits, but he insisted he’s not interested in taking a “step back” into the short term to do so.
“If it’s a player who is going to help us now and for the future,” he said, “we’ll do it. But we’re not going to abandon the process of what we’re trying to do. Our team has been very streaky. I understand that.
“But even our tough spells, we’ve been right in those games. We’ve played very competitive baseball from the first day of the season. There’s no reason for us to believe we won’t continue to get better.”
Even so, other clubs are watching to see when/if the Royals signal a willingness to take offers on veteran right-hander Ervin Santana, who is scheduled to start Friday’s opener agains the Tigers.
Santana is the Royals’ most likely major trade chip because he is a pending free agent who, if he maintains his current effectiveness, is positioned for a lucrative long-term deal — one the Royals are unlikely to be able to afford.
The Royals can try to retain Santana for next season by making a one-year qualifying offer, which is likely to be around $14 million. If he then signs elsewhere, they would get a draft pick next June as compensation.
But Moore and other club officials say the decision on Santana isn’t merely a choice between what they can get now vs. a draft pick. They continue to see themselves as a club capable of making a second-half push.
“Yeah, Santana is a free agent,” Moore said, “but there’s no reason this team can’t go on a run where you win 15 of 20. So I’m not going (to put myself in a position) to look back and say, `I wish we hadn’t done that.’
“We’ve won 18 games before in September with lesser talent. So I’m going to stick with the plan.”
Moore contends the Royals are just now entering a window in which their current group of core players have a chance to be successful for a sustained period.
“When I came here (in 2006),” he said, “I told everybody this: ‘You ask anybody in baseball, whether (fans) want to believe it or not, unless we’re going to be a big-market club and go out and spend on multiple free agents a year, it’s an eight-to-10-year process to get this thing in a position where you’re competing to go to playoffs.’
“It’s three-to-four years of playing at the minor-league level. It’s another two-to-four (years) at the major-league level. There’s seven-to-eight (years), and that’s just with one player.
“You need multiple players to do that. You need new guys breaking in every year. We’re in the early stages (of being able to compete). I’m not going to change directions and, all of a sudden, go down another path.
“We’re pushing forward. We’re pushing up the hill. We’re not going to stop.”
Further, the Royals do not see this season in postseason-or-bust terms.
Finishing with a winning record is viewed as an important and viable secondary goal. That’s not surprising, perhaps, for a franchise with just one winning season since 1994 — and none in Moore’s seven-plus years.
“We’re trying to create a winning mind-set with our young players,” Moore said, “and you can’t do that unless you’re winning games. It’s a pretty simple formula. It’s really not creative thinking.”
Club officials also believe the Royals have more upside potential than either of the two teams ahead of them — Detroit and Cleveland — in the American League Central Division.
They mean more short-term upside potential.
That view — which seems an undeniably optimistic slant — contends that, barring a major trade, the Tigers and Indians are as good as they’re likely to be.
The Royals see their own club, in contrast, as a young collection still in the process of jelling.
“We’ve got three guys who are proven All-Stars on this team,” Moore said, “and there are more players who can play better and jump into the mix and help carry us in the second half.
“When are these young players going to come together? I don’t know, but we’re going to continue to believe in them.”