Three years ago today, September 30, 2014, began just like any other day. It ended anything but. This is when it all began.
I went to my classes at Brookdale counting down the hours until the American League Wild Card Game later that night. This would be the first time ever I saw the Royals play in the postseason as the team had not made the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985. The 29 year postseason drought was the longest in professional sports at the time. I really did not know what to expect. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what happened that night.
The Royals and A’s went back and forth. Down 2-0 after the top of the first. Up 3-2 after three. Down 7-3 after six. Down 7-6 after eight. Tied after nine. Down again 8-7 into the bottom of the 12th inning.
The way the Royals came back to tie the game and force extra innings was miraculous enough, surely they did not have another one in them.
Then this happened.
From there, it seemed like anything was possible. The Royals played the Angels in the ALDS and the Orioles in the ALCS and swept both series. They split the first six games of the World Series against the Giants – including a gem by a 23-year-old rookie in Game 6 – to force a decisive Game 7.
A 3-2 loss to the Giants in Game 7 with the tying run 90 feet away sparked a 95 win season in 2015 and the Royals’ first division title in 30 years. They grinded out series wins against the Astros and Blue Jays, and beat the Mets in the World Series to win their second world championship and first since 1985.
This is what this group brought to Kansas City. But now, it is all over.
An 81-81 season followed the world championship in 2016. With many key free agents set to depart after the 2017 season, many felt this was the Royals last chance to win for quite some time. With the Twins win against the Indians on Tuesday night, the Royals were officially eliminated from postseason contention.
The Royals developed a core group of players that were vital to this run. A few of them were locked up (Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon). But most of the heart and soul of this ball club will become free agents once the season officially ends after the World Series. These guys have likely played their last game in Royal Blue, and we have a lot to look back on.
Eric Hosmer: Third overall selection in the 2008 Draft out of high school in Miami. Played in the 2010 All-Star Futures Game. Finished third in the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year voting. 2016 All-Star and All-Star Game MVP. Three-time gold glover. Most career postseason hits in Royals history. 2015 World Champion.
Without his triple in the Wild Card Game, nothing else after that happens. But most fans will remember the mad dash from third base in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series against the Mets as Hosmer’s defying moment. A team that prided itself on base running and taking chances was summed up in that one play. And it paid off.
Mike Moustakas: Second overall selection in the 2007 Draft out of high school in Southern California. Played in the 2010 All-Star Futures Game. Two-time All-Star. Single-season Royals all-time home run leader with 38. 2015 World Champion.
Moose had so many big moments, breaking the home run record this season being the most recent. He hit five home runs in the 2014 Postseason, including the go-ahead homer in extra innings against the Angels in Game 1 of the ALDS. But his signature moment was the catch he made against the Orioles in Game 3 of the ALCS that year, where he dove head-first into the stands and made the catch of his life. A team that praised itself on defense was summed up in that one play.
Lorenzo Cain: Acquired in a trade with the Brewers on December 19, 2010 for 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. 2014 ALCS MVP. 2015 All-Star. Finished third in the 2015 AL MVP voting. 2015 World Champion.
LoCain has made many ridiculous catches over the years. But his signature moment is the sprint from first base in Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS, scoring the go-ahead and eventual pennant-clinching run on a single. Again, a team that prided itself on base running and taking chances was summed up in that one play.
Alcides Escobar: Acquired with Cain in the Greinke deal. 2015 All-Star, Gold glover, ALCS MVP and World Champion.
Esky must be the worst lead-off hitter ever on ball club that won a World Series. But for whatever reason, the Royals won when he led off. He always swung at the first pitch and often found success, just like in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series with an inside-the-park home run (or E8, whatever you want to call it) on the game’s first pitch. A team that prided itself on its aggressiveness was summed up in that one play.
Jason Vargas, an unheralded free agent signing prior to 2014 who won 29 games in 2014 and 2017 (he missed most of 2015 and 2016 with Tommy John surgery) and was a 2017 All-Star, is also a free agent. But this is mostly about the core group of players that was developed under Dayton Moore. After Hosmer was drafted in 2008, the Royals’ ability to draft and develop their first round picks plummeted.
If you look at the end of my Royals prospect list for 2018, you can see the lack of track record for developing homegrown players since this group came up. Because of this, the farm system is, in my opinion, the worst in all of baseball, and the organization essentially will have to start “The Process” all over again.
When Dayton Moore was hired as General Manager in 2006, he inherited arguably the worst job in professional sports. No talent at the big league level and not a glimmer of hope in the pipeline. It took nine years for them to hoist the commissioner’s trophy, and for a team in a small market like Kansas City, drafting and developing your own players is really the only way to go.
The chances of any of these guys coming back is probably not great. But even if they did re-sign one of them, it would not be the same. It also would not make sense, because the team is not going to be good if you just bring back, say, Hosmer. The Royals are going to have too many question marks going into 2018. Bringing one of these guys back to a franchise crippling $150+ million contract is only going to make things worse. The smart way to go about it now is to offer qualifying offers and recoup first round picks in the 2018 MLB Draft for Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain as they take their talents elsewhere.
I suggested trading them at the trade deadline. I said all along the Royals would not do so and miss the playoffs. Here we are. But the only reason I can defend this decision now is because the market for rental offensive bats was nonexistent. The Tigers got virtually nothing for J.D. Martinez, who has been everything the Diamondbacks could have hoped for. This was not the year to be a seller with rentals looking to replenish a farm system.
The 2018 MLB Draft will be a very important day for the Royals as they try to do this the way they initially did. Good teams that sustain success develop a core group of players and have another group ready to contribute when they move on. These Royals are about to move on, and there isn’t much, if anything, that’s close to being ready.
And if they somehow find the money to bring them all back (not happening), it would be the worst thing possible. A good example would be the Phillies bringing back Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, etc. And look where they’ve been at. You can’t keep a group of players for too long. Alex Gordon stayed for a franchise-record $72 million as a free agent after 2015 and he’s been atrocious since. Once players hit free agency, they have to go. Let another team give them the big contract and deal with the consequences down the line.
High school for me was, admittedly, a tough time. Classes ended at 2:13 and I was out of that building by 2:14 just about every day with a false sense of hope the Royals would win a ball game that night. They would get outscored by a wide margin more often than not. This run was fun while it lasted, beyond my wildest dreams, but it looks like that’s where we’re headed again.
A team that rallied around and interacted with their city and fan base like these guys did, and their style of play – their aggressiveness on the bases, unbelievable defense, shutdown bullpen, and ability to “keep the line moving” – will probably never be seen again. It is probably going to be several years until the Royals are relevant again.
But thank you Royals, because these were the best three years of my life, and nothing else comes close.