The Royals have fans, and the fans have (existential?) problems

by david

I’m a Kansas City Royals fan. It’s a big day in this tiny world of Royals fans.

Last night, the Kansas City Royals traded Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields, Wade Davis, and the always-celebrated Player To Be Named Later. Across the internet, Royals fans howled in wounded disappointment. Rays fans howled with laughter. Teams in the AL East looked at the location of their outfield walls.

I did a little of the pained howling. There are a lot of names in that trade, but the one that matters most is Wil Myers. The Royals fans were primarily howling about the departure of Myers, who, yes, is a prospect, but he’s as close to a sure thing as there is out there. Minor League Player of the Year. Major-league ready. Would be under Royals control for 6 or even 7 years. If he is what people think he is, this is a player to build a team around. A Longoria/Mauer/Pedroia/Braun kind of player, brought up from the team’s farm system ready to start leading. The Royals farm has been praised endlessly for several years now, and Myers is indisputably our 4H grand prize winner. The only people talking him down were the folks trying to lower his trade value. He’s just a prospect, they say.

On the other side, you have James Shields, “Big Game James,” a workhorse pitcher in his prime who any team would be excited to add to their rotation, and Wade Davis, a truly very good high-upside pitcher who I actually like more than I like Shields. These two guys plug into the formerly woeful Royals rotation and immediately make the team a contender, especially paired with the earlier acquisitions of Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie. Shields was not going to play in St. Pete this year. Every team was looking at him, knowing the Rays were trading him somewhere. So now the Royals have him for a year with an option for a second, and they have Davis for 4. No lie, these are very good pitchers. I have concerns about Shields based on his road numbers and the sheer number of innings he’s thrown (and Kansas City’s eery arm-shredding statistics), but nobody can deny these guys are real additions that make the team viable right now.

So why are Royals fans largely apoplectic or at least glum?

For starters, we all suspect that Royals owner David Glass is less-than-forthcoming about the true profitability level of his team, something JJ Cooper of Baseball America documented very well (check November 27th for @jjcoop36‘s running analysis), leading many to wonder what we could have achieved on the free agent market. Anibal Sanchez couldn’t have cost much more than the combined salary obligations to Shields and Davis, and wouldn’t have cost the team a prospect who is likely to be one of the most exciting players of the next decade.

Then, there’s the fact that our GM is on the ropes. He’s in his last viable year before he’s fired. If the Royals weren’t in “win now” mode, Dayton Moore had to be. So that’s worrisome.

Then, there’s the fact that this looks, to almost every single analyst, like a robbery. The Rays dumped salary, got rid of a player everybody knew they wanted rid of (for his contract), got an extremely inexpensive potential superstar, got THREE more legitimate (OK, one legit, two interesting) prospects, and really only gave up Wade Davis. Even if the trade benefits the Royals mightily, it’s hard to look at the other side of the trade and not feel like you got mugged.

But I think the main thing is a little less obvious, and only partly rational. For at least six years now, Royals fans have been conditioned to look to the future. The farm will provide. We’ve been able, year after year, to believe that we were a year away, or two years away. We’ve told our friends, and been convincing, at least to ourselves. We’ve invested an enormous personal stake in these players we see coming up. We’ve learned strategies for saying, “Winning season this year, playoffs next year, World Series the next year.” We know it doesn’t always work out. Part of our makeup now is to say, “we’re getting better, but this wasn’t the year.” So now, after years of this, we get a double shock: We’re told that waiting is over. We’re not allowed to be cautious, to be hesitant. And we’re told that the player we’ve invested the most hope in, the one we built our future Royals, our dream Royals, our contender Royals around, is gone. That is deeply weird, and I’m not sure we’re up to it. It’s easy and comfortable for your primary plan to be a backup plan.

Our new backup plan is lousy. But Plan A looks, well, if you can forget everything that came before, Plan A looks… it’s too early for a Royals fan to say this, but… Plan A looks like a Plan A.

I wish I was happy about it.