Judging the Royals

If the Royals don’t make the playoffs, does being competitive matter?

Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore
Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore rsugg@kcstar.com

On Sunday the White Sox beat the Royals 8-1 and on Monday the Yankees beat the Royals 11-3. Unless you really liked baseball, really liked the Royals or bet an unreasonable amount of money on those games, you really didn’t have to watch.

But some people don’t have that choice.

Some people have to watch the games whether or not the games are competitive and two of those people are TV announcers Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler. And when games aren’t particularly compelling, announcers sometimes find other things to discuss.

On Sunday, Ryan and Rex talked about the Royals chances of making the playoffs and, failing that, at least being competitive.

If a team doesn’t make the postseason, does finishing over .500 and being competitive matter?

Tanking for prospects

This season, when the Royals reached the trade deadline, they had a couple of choices. They could add to the talent they had and try for another trip to the playoffs, or they could trade some of their impending free agents for prospects and build for the future.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know the Royals decided to go for it and it looks highly doubtful that move is going to pay off.

But tanking — losing now in hopes of winning in the future — isn’t a sure bet either.

The Philadelphia 76ers have been tanking for years and last season finished 28-54. The Houston Astros tanked and are 96-60 and have clinched the AL West.

In some cases tanking can work, but it’s always good to remember that those prospects you tanked to get are just that — prospects.

Look back at the top 20 players taken in the 2010 draft and you see names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Chris Sale.

But you also see names like Michael Choice, Deck McGuire, Jake Skole, Kaleb Cowart, Josh Sale, Hayden Simpson and Kolbrin Vitek.

Some very good teams bet on those players and lost.

Tanking and creating a winning culture

Talent certainly helps, but professional athletes and the people who coach them believe even the most talented player has to learn to win at the highest levels. It takes a few years to figure out what daily routine works best for an athlete, what scouting reports help, what scouting reports are best ignored and how to think during a ballgame.

Veterans who have been on winning teams — been-there-done-that-guys — can speed up a rookie’s learning process.

If a rookie screws up on a winning team, some veteran is supposed to sit him down and explain what the rookie did wrong and how important it is that he not do it again.

But if you’re constantly losing — and losing big — mistakes seem less important, what difference does it make if you lose a game by six runs instead of five?

So players who aren’t playing winning baseball might lose track of outs, the count and whether or not the guy at the plate likes to go to the opposite field once he has two strikes. If you’re 30 games under .500, what difference does it make?

It’s an argument some coaches make against tanking; if guys are constantly losing and playing sloppy baseball, it’s hard to change that culture overnight.

Players compartmentalize and so can fans

Ask Ned Yost about games in the future or in the past and, most of the time, he’ll redirect the conversation to that day’s game.

Players do the same thing.

Ask about their playoff chances and a player is likely to say all his team can do is try to win the game their playing that day. Thinking about past games doesn’t change the outcome and it’s hard to win a game you have yet to play, so just focus on today’s game.

Fans can do the same thing.

Only one team gets to win it all so odds are your team will end its season by missing the postseason entirely or with a postseason loss. Does that mean watching your team wasn’t worth the time? Or do you compartmentalize and just try to take pleasure in today’s game?

If you like watching baseball, even in a season where your team won’t make the postseason, you still want to see competitive games. Your team might not play deep into October, but you still want to see your team win that night.

Assuming the weather cooperates, the Royals start the last home stand of the season Tuesday night. There are six games left in the season.

Try to enjoy them.

Kansas City Royals players and manager Ned Yost reflect on the final week of the season as several players near free agency.