Baseball’s postseason has arrived this week, which for the eighth straight year in Kansas City equates to a post-season news conference in the more literal sense.
The Royals are done, though they’ve been done since mid-April. Their coined season of evaluation did not become a season of transformation but instead matched the worst 162-game run in franchise history. They were 56-106, and even if there were some positive developments, the big-picture evaluation is quite easy:
It must provide a bit of relief, in that case, to have the opportunity to turn the page to 2024. And, hey, we’ll oblige for the moment — not out of sympathy, but rather because the takeaways from a season wrap were pretty telling.
The Royals are publicly admitting that this core group isn’t enough to compete on its own — and that’s a key difference from saying they are simply not ready to compete. Age is no longer the excuse.
It is the first week of October, so we’ll see which actions follow the words, because that’s certainly what matters. But the sentiment of the words from management is different than the sentiment of the words we’ve heard in the past.
It adds up to one thing: They are disconnecting from a bewildering — and at times crippling — attachment to their own players.
The Royals appear prepared to move on from the underachievers, no longer waiting for a breakout year despite building evidence that, you know what, it just might not come. The evaluation season is only honest if it’s followed with honest assessment, and it should have informed the Royals that they need help.
That’s not exactly the way general manager J.J. Picollo phrased everything, but consider these snippets:
• “We’re not going to settle. We don’t like talking about it in these terms, but when guys have options (to be sent to the minor leagues), we have opportunity to find players that can beat them out for positions. So if that’s the case, that’s the case.”
• On the pitching: “We’re not going to wait any longer. ... It’s unfortunate that we had the injuries, but there will be healthy competition in that starting rotation and maybe some other faces in the organization.”
• “I think the level of patience that we’ve shown (and) the opportunities that we’ve given guys is adequate. We need to start thinking more about what we need to do to enhance this roster — and not be as cognizant of who’s on the roster right now.”
The Royals did not turn a corner in their win-loss record, but they appear — and I’ll keep using that word until we have evidence of action — to have turned a corner in their offseason blueprint.
Being drafted by this organization will no longer come with the guarantee of the last word. Those quotes all point in the same direction, and that direction is toward players residing on the other 29 rosters.
The Royals will look for new faces in the organization. They’re willing to send their own guys to the minors to make room for them. And they’re tired of waiting on some of their current players to take the next step.
As refreshing as it is obvious, come to think of it.
That the Royals need help is apparent. That they are willing to see it elsewhere, with less weight given to the makeup of their current roster, has long been less so. And there’s perhaps a new avenue toward acquisition of talent, which we’ll get to here.
Picollo hammered three spots that the Royals will hunt this offseason — starting pitching, relief pitching and outfield bats.
“When I say starting pitching, outfield, bullpen, that’s a lot,” he said. “But that’s the goal. That’s the objective. That’s where we want to go.”
It sure sounds like the Royals are lining up a busy offseason, but that’s not strictly a reference to scouring the free-agent market for veterans on one-year deals. Every team in baseball will probably say they are trying to get better this winter. What’s important is that the Royals supplement some new approaches to do it.
Picollo said he knows only a general ballpark of majority owner John Sherman’s guidelines for the 2024 payroll and beyond, though he did note that about $30 million is coming off the books. But it’s not as though the Royals are going to free-agent their way back into contention..
As I’ve mentioned in the past, if the Royals are going to stick to Sherman’s stated preference to be transactional, that happens now, not only at the trade deadline, when expiring contracts prompt moves. It happens with cost-controlled players. It happens when you part with talent — in order to acquire a different type of talent.
And, well, it does appear more likely than not to happen.
“There’s a chance we do that,” Picollo said. “An objective we should have as a front office is to take pressure off the scouting, player development, international operations. One of the ways to do that is to be more aggressive, whether it be prospects or off of our major league roster.”
By the conclusion of a 40-minute conversation, Picollo essentially offered a commitment to less than 25% of his major-league roster. He likes the infield, he said, comprised of Bobby Witt Jr., Maikel Garcia, Michael Massey and Vinnie Pasquantino. The rotation will include Cole Ragans, Brady Singer, Jordan Lyles and then a couple of shoulder shrugs.
And well, the rest will compete for spots.
The Royals have a young, homegrown roster, but what wasn’t said Tuesday is that internal improvement will drive the bus toward improving on 56-106. All of the signs pointed toward that coming from outside the organization.
There will ideally come a time in which none of this is noteworthy — and when we’re not having this conversation after a 100-loss season. But for now it’s a departure from this organization’s trend of waiting for its draft picks to become something they are not.
More noteworthy, though, is whether there’s follow-through on the other side of it.