The Royals as a Warning

Dave · September 25, 2013 at 8:22 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Since apparently the Mariners have no interest in The Pirates as a Blueprint, let’s try another franchise, and conveniently, the one who happens to be in town playing at Safeco right now. The Royals are currently the most similar franchise to the Mariners; long time losers pitching hope to their fans based on the prospects coming up through their farm system, but with a GM in place who hasn’t yet shown he can put quality Major Leaguers around said prospects. Like with Jack Z, Dayton Moore had a strong background in player development, coming over from the Braves after running their farm system, but like Jack Z, he’s spent his entire tenure as GM presiding over lousy teams because the things he values in a big league player aren’t the things that win you baseball games.

Last winter, Dayton Moore decided it was time for his team to stop losing. He was ready for a winning season, anxious to prove to everyone that his plan could work, and needed some kind of proof that the organization was on the right path. To that end, he identified the team’s pitching staff as the primary problem, and then went all-in on the off-season in an effort to fix their pitching problems. And that decision led them to trade Wil Myers — yes, that guy who is going to win the AL Rookie of the Year award after posting a 131 wRC+ as a 22 year old in Tampa Bay — and a couple of other prospects for James Shields and Wade Davis. Shields is an excellent pitcher, but only under team control for two seasons, so the Royals essentially swapped a quality young big leaguer for a short term rental in an effort to prove that Dayton Moore’s plan could actually work.

Shields has been very good, as usual, but the Royals weren’t actually ready to win, as they just had too many holes on their roster to keep up with a very good Detroit team and overcome the better AL Wild Card contenders. They’re going to finish the year with 85 or 86 wins and will watch the postseason at home, only now, they don’t have a terrific young right fielder to build around, and Shields is entering the last year of his contract. The Royals gave up a significant asset to try and win with a roster that wasn’t ready to win, and the end result was a mediocre team that now has fewer young talents to build around.

But you’ll hear people still defending the trade, noting that the Royals have had a winning season and reminded the team’s fan base what it was like to see a good product again. They’ll point out that the fan base has been reinvigorated, and that’s good for business, since an active fan base means more money for the team to spend in the future, and that money can be spent to raise the team’s payroll and improve the product again.

Here’s where facts get in the way, however. Here are the Royals attendance numbers from 2012 and 2013, and these are final, since KC has played all 81 of their home games this year.

2012: 1.74 million, 21,480 per game
2013: 1.75 million, 21,614 per game

The exciting new Royals, the one that has put a spark back in the fan base, managed to draw an extra 135 fans per game to the ballpark this year. The team’s attendance to watch James Shields and Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie pitch was almost identical to what it was to watch Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, and Luke Hochevar. The big bold moves by the front office didn’t result in any gain in attendance.

Oh, but maybe it stemmed a big loss, right? It’s not just about adding fans, but keeping the ones you already have, which has certainly been a problem for the Mariners. What was their attendance in 2011, and did the trade stop a huge downwards trend that could have been disastrous for the franchise’s revenue base? Nope, they drew 1.72 million in 2011 too, and 1.62 million in 2010, and 1.80 million in 2009. This is the Royals established “watch the team lose” fan base, and the Royals didn’t see any kind of spike after punting a key part of their future to try and win in the present.

By the way, the Mariners attendance for this terrible product is actually up 382 fans per game, or about 20,000 total fans over the first 77 home games. They only need to draw 40,000 fans total to their final four home games to match 2012’s attendance, and with Fan Appreciation Night coming up on Friday, they’ll almost certainly blow by that total over the weekend. This team is about as painful to watch as any the Mariners have put together in recent history, but they’ve seen a larger boost in attendance than the Royals have after “going for it”.

With Jack back for one final “prove you can win” year, the potential for a Wil Myers trade type of scenario is absolutely there. Remember, last year, Jack tried to give Josh Hamilton $100 million with several vesting options, and then he tried to trade Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and stuff for Justin Upton. We’ve already seen that this front office is willing to make the franchise’s long term future worse for a chance at making the short term slightly better. And now, Jack absolutely knows that this is his last shot. Win or he’s gone. The incentive to steward the franchise is gone, and now, the mandate is very clearly to win in 2014.

The amount of damage that could be done this off-season is staggering. The Mariners are basically in the same position that the Royals were in a year ago. This roster isn’t particularly close to being a winner, but they have money to spend and young players to trade. Cover your eyes. This could get ugly.


64 Responses to “The Royals as a Warning”

  1. Steve Nelson on September 25th, 2013 5:11 pm

    1. What a terrible GM Kansas City has! He only got within a couple games of the playoffs and had a winning season!! Why would the Mariners want to emulate anything that guy did??
    Not bad. He’s been the GM for eight years and has finished above .500, barely, once. As I mentioned above, that’s a worse record than Bill Bavasi.

    What I don’t understand is why so many people seem to think that is the model the Mariners should follow. Spend seven years wallowing in the mud, then have one year where they are close enough so that you’re close enough to a playoff team to smell their butts???

    It seems to me that if we want to emulate a GM somewhere we should be looking at someone who has a better track record than that. Even the Florida Marlins have a better track record than the Royals.

  2. djw on September 25th, 2013 5:31 pm

    Just because Jack isn’t building the team the way we want. Are we at all sure he isn’t building the team the way his bosses want?

    I don’t understand. Is your position that Zduriencik’s bosses told him to go out and construct an awful, 90 loss roster? As you observe, this is a corporation, and presumably a rational actor. Why wouldn’t they say “your payroll is X. Do the best you can with it to build a team that wins, because all else being equal, winning is more likely to create revenue than losing”?

    A good conspiracy theory needs a plausible account of motivation (this is the great failing of the Obama fake birth certificate thing). Perhaps a story about key decision-makers being A’s fans? Otherwise these dark musings about losing intentionally just make you look even crazier than the average conspiracy theorist.

  3. dantheman on September 25th, 2013 6:18 pm

    “Not bad. He’s been the GM for eight years and has finished above .500, barely, once. As I mentioned above, that’s a worse record than Bill Bavasi.
    What I don’t understand is why so many people seem to think that is the model the Mariners should follow.”

    Nobody is saying that’s the “model” the Mariners should follow. The point is, as bad as KC’s GM has been, KC was in the hunt. When was the last time that was true for the Mariners? And, by the way, Jack Z’s record is also worse than Bavasi’s.

  4. Bremerton guy on September 25th, 2013 6:27 pm

    Can’t we just agree that Jack Z has been a disaster and move on? (And by “disaster”, I mean in the aggregate, not cherry-picked items like he got Felix to commit to a long-term deal).

  5. stevemotivateir on September 25th, 2013 6:37 pm

    Really amazes me how many people are missing the general point.

    The Royals are not positioned to dominate the future, despite their moderate improvement this season–which still left them short. This isn’t just about the Myers trade, it’s about planning for the future, rather than just focusing on the short term.

    The M’s are in a similar position as the Royals were last offseason. Would anyone really be comfortable with a couple of FA signings and shipping off significant talent for a couple of veterans in an attempt to win in 2014 and preserve jobs? And what if it doesn’t work? The M’s are more than just a few pieces away, which some of you seem to be spacing.

    The warning should be heard loud and clear. Giving a GM–who has already proven himself incapable of constructing a decent roster–the resources to jeopardize the future with more acts of desperation, really isn’t wise. It’s alarming!

    Nobody should be surprised if Jack ends up with a worse record than Bavasi and leaves the organization in a similar state.

  6. stevemotivateir on September 25th, 2013 6:54 pm

    Nobody is saying that’s the “model” the Mariners should follow. The point is, as bad as KC’s GM has been, KC was in the hunt.

    No, the point was what you read in the headline: The Royals As A Warning.

    And Jack does have a worse record already, but some still seem to think he’ll rebound and end up decent. My money’s on him leaving with a significantly worse winning percentage.

  7. BLYKMYK44 on September 25th, 2013 9:39 pm


    Attendance doesn’t always lag behind one year. Just check out the 2010 mariners

    And…how is this royals team more of a contender than the 2009 mariners?

  8. matthew on September 25th, 2013 10:36 pm

    a1, I tell you. a1!

  9. Slats on September 25th, 2013 10:52 pm

    Has Dave changed his tone since 2012?

    Quote: But, this wasn’t some kind of absurd offer to try and save Jack’s job of desperation. Throw those comments in the trash where they belong. Upton is a very good player, and the Mariners offered up some very good prospects in order to get him. It’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t change his mind and accept the trade, since they’ll still have Walker, Franklin, Furbush, and Pryor in that case, but it’s also a trade I’d have been willing to make. It’s a high price, but it’s not too high of a price.

  10. djw on September 26th, 2013 8:09 am

    I’m fairly astonished by the low bar so many people seem OK with for such a major future-mortgaging. “Meaningful games in Mid-September” or “in the hunt” is certainly not nothing, but can the contribution of Shields/Davis to this outcome(-Myers) really justify the value given up from 2014-2018?

    One thing I think we should really value in a GM is a steady, consistent discount rate. Those special moments when it makes sense to jack up the discount rate are rare indeed, and getting them right (and not manufacturing them to try to save one’s job) are very important, and the outcome of 2013 suggests Moore did not get it right.

  11. Hunter S. Thompson on September 26th, 2013 9:39 pm


    I can’t agree more. The difference between the Pirates and Royals is the key. People say well the Royals traded away 6 years of a likely team controled superstar and likely mid rotation starter an more for Shields and Davis.
    Yeah things broke right for the Royals and they almost made the playoffs.
    They gave up 6 years of team control for Shields on a two year contract with out much savings and they didn’t make it.
    The Pirates made smart under the radar moves, and then added decent players at the deadline for little cost and they made the playoffs.

    That is Dave’s point, don’t give away superstars that have 6 years of team contol for an outside shot. Ad value players to complement you core and buildfor the future.If the Mariners add one or two good youngish players, keep the core they maybe with in realistic striking distance a year from now.

  12. Adam S on September 27th, 2013 12:59 am

    Saying the Royals came within a couple games of the playoffs (I’ve seen this a few times) is disingenuous if not outright dishonest.

    There were a couple days in September where they were 3 games out of the wild card and they’re going to finish about 5 games out with the 7th or 8th best record in the AL. However they were at best a fringe contender. (switch to AL Wild Card) shows them with basically a 2-3% chance at the playoffs since June 1st. They were always a 9-1 run from being a true contender and that’s an unlikely scenario.

  13. bermanator on September 27th, 2013 5:43 am

    The Royals were within, I believe, 2 or 2.5 games out of the playoffs in September.

    A couple, by most definitions, is two.

    Facts are your friends.

    I think we are seeing, in this thread and in Dave’s backtracking on things like the Upton trade, an increasing trend here where sample sizes, evaluation periods and definitions are being deliberately twisted or changed in order to secure the desired conclusion. It is, frankly, sad to see. There are plenty of arguments against this trade without the “Royals were never contenders!” argument that is, frankly, very easy to disprove.

    Going back to old topics and reading comments on the Fister trade, the potential Upton trade, even the Jack Z. hiring shows that the best subject for many here is Revisionist History 101.

  14. Adam S on September 27th, 2013 9:46 am

    the “Royals were never contenders!” argument that is, frankly, very easy to disprove.
    OK, disprove it.

    My data is above that shows they never had more than 5% chance of making the playoffs over the last two months. Being 2.5 games out with four teams ahead of you might make the home town fans think you’re a contender — and maybe that’s the Royals goal — but it doesn’t mean you’re truly in contention. The last day the Royals had a 10% chance of the post season was May 22nd. (And 10% would be a long shot, not a contender except in the most literal of terms in which case the Mariners were playoff contenders too.)

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