The Royals were never going to win at this trade deadline. Never. If you thought there was a big trade coming, something to bolster this talented and flawed team in a critical season, you may have been sniffing toxic gas. You should probably stop doing that.
The Royals were never going to make a big move. They were always going to nibble at the corners by adding middle relievers, picking up a backup catcher and roster flexibility, and digging in their heels with the guys on the roster. Because that was always going to be the only realistic option — especially for an organization that is often too loyal to its own players.
So Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline was always going to be a no-win situation for the Royals.
They still ended up as big losers.
The team they’re theoretically chasing in the division added David Price, and the two teams they’re bunched with in the wild-card race also improved.
General manager Dayton Moore’s Royals are the same today as they were yesterday for a lot of reasons. Some of those reasons are fairly boring, such as sellers wanting big-leaguers (which the Royals are hesitant to give up) instead of prospects (which the Royals have a fair number of) and all of the inherent complications that lead to roughly a thousand trades talked about for each one that’s actually executed.
But some of them are very interesting, like the fact that owner David Glass was hesitant to add payroll. Take the Price trade, for instance. The Royals had the talent to win the trade. But the cost in talent for Price — something like Danny Duffy, Lorenzo Cain and Raul Mondesi — is coupled with a payroll increase of roughly $4.7 million this year and $18 million to $20 million next year.
The other interesting part of this is in the endless tentacles with which Billy Butler’s nosedive as a good big-league hitter continues to be a drag on the franchise.
Because, man. Can we step back and take inventory of what’s happening?
The Royals need a big-time hitter in large part because Butler is not hitting — despite being the guy paid to hit. They lack lineup flexibility because the only position he can play is taken by a Gold Glover. And they can’t trade him to free up salary because nobody wants a full-time DH who can’t hit.
In a way, Butler is keeping the Royals from being able to solve the problem he is creating.
What’s left is a desperate kind of hope, and hope is never a good plan.
Because the Royals are stuck in what is now their new normal — not good enough to expect to be in the playoffs, and not bad enough to blow up and start over.
In the clubhouse, the players talk about having confidence in the current group despite four months of underwhelming results. In a news conference, Moore mentions for the millionth time that improvements will have to come from within even as a lot of the guys within have a growing track record of not living up to the hype. Out in the world, a fan base that’s been patient for at least two decades longer than should be allowed by law screams for a deal, any deal, something.
From the Royals’ side, each deal they considered had a fatal flaw. Most often, it was the major-league talent that sellers wanted instead of prospects. The negotiations for Price and other high-priced talent never picked up much steam because Glass already feels stretched by a franchise-record $92 million payroll.
The problems are on every level, too.
Glass legitimately may lose money this season, but has always said (including over the All-Star break to The Star) that he would add payroll if it meant making the playoffs. Moore and the front office are hamstrung by certain financial and roster structures, but this is entirely of their own creation. And they’ve already been given more resources than other teams have needed to make the playoffs.
And underperformances by Butler, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Nori Aoki, and Alcides Escobar (look at his numbers over the last two months or so) are why the Royals are looking up at where they think they should be.
Look, the Royals’ new normal is better than their old normal.
But if the Royals continue to talk about the solutions needing to come from within, they should also acknowledge their problems come from within. More than eight years into this latest rebuilding project, that reality is getting tired.