On Sunday, the Royals lost to the Mariners and enter the All-Star break with a record of 45-43. After the game, manager Ned Yost said despite all their injuries the Royals had managed to tread water and hadn’t buried themselves; a mixed metaphor, but you get the idea — the Royals haven’t played great, but still have a chance.
After the break the Royals have 16 games before the non-waiver trade deadline on Aug. 1. I’d explain how that works, but Leo Tolstoy already wrote War and Peace and this blog post will be long enough without explaining stuff you can look up on the Internet.
Let’s just say that by Aug. 1 the Royals have to decide if they’re buyers or sellers or standing pat. If the Royals think they have a chance, they might become buyers. If they think they’re not going to the playoffs, the Royals might become sellers this year to strengthen the team for future years.
So those 16 games between the end of the All-Star break and the trade deadline might decide the Royals 2016 season. Now here’s who the Royals play in those 16 games:
Detroit Tigers (46-43)
Cleveland Indians (52-36)
Texas Rangers (54-36)
Los Angeles Angels (37-52)
Texas Rangers (again)
As you can see, only one of the teams they’ll play has a losing record. The first and last series will be played on the road where the Royals have scuffled; the middle three series are at home where the Royals have played well.
A window of opportunity
On Sunday, I got to spend time with Jerry Dipoto, general manager of the Mariners. We talked about all kinds of stuff including the fact that he thought I looked bigger than the last time he’d seen me and wanted to know if I’d been lifting weights. I confessed that the only thing I’d been lifting was pie. (The press box food is killing me.)
Anyway … Jerry showed me the standings and asked what stood out about the last-place teams in each division. If Jerry told me what stood out it didn’t register because I was thinking about the next piece of pie I planned on eating.
Later — after eating that piece of pie — I looked at the standings and tried to figure out what Jerry was getting at. Now here are the last-place teams in each division:
Tampa Bay Rays (34-54)
Minnesota Twins (32-56)
Los Angeles Angels (37-52)
Atlanta Braves (31-58)
Cincinnati Reds (32-57)
Arizona Diamondbacks (38-52)
What stood out to me (and remember I was on a sugar high) is that not so very long ago all those teams were good enough to go to the playoffs; but the game cycles — you only get so much time on the top of the heap and when you fall, the fall might be dramatic.
How winning leads to losing
On Sunday, Royals fans had to watch a former Royals prospect — Mike Montgomery — beat his former team.
But when you have a window of opportunity, you crawl through it and you can help prop that window open by using prospects from your minor-league system to get what you need to win right now.
So to win right now you might have to empty the minor-league pipeline and that’s one way winning can lead to losing. (I’d like to think most Royals fans believe winning a World Series was worth it.)
Then there’s the draft; being in the World Series the last two years means the Royals go to the back of the line when it comes to draft picks.
You also play an extra month of baseball; making it to the World Series means playing a lot of extra baseball and that changes everyone’s off-season. Players get less time off before it’s time to get ready for spring training and the entire organization is a month behind where they normally would be had they not made the postseason.
Winners also have more responsibilities. Players have more requests for public appearances; everyone wants them for their banquet or charity event and they get more offers to do ads and commercials.
And how about the All-Star Game?
Ned Yost has said he spends hours every day preparing for the All-Star Game and big-league managers don’t have all that many empty hours. So whatever time Ned and his coaching staff spends on the All-Star Game takes away from time spent on the Kansas City Royals.
And Ned, his coaching staff and the players who go to the All-Star Game don’t get four days off; they go into the break tired and come out tireder. (My computer doesn’t think “tireder” is a word, but I believe anyone who plays in 88 games and then has to go play in an All-Star Game would disagree.)
The Royals are aware that they are in their window of opportunity so that might tilt the scales in favor of going for it and becoming buyers at the trade deadline. But if the 16 games after the All-Star break go badly, that might change.
So if you’re a Royals fan you should definitely pay attention to what happens before the trading deadline.
And I should definitely eat less pie.