For the last three months, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a complete shutdown of Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, we still don’t know when — or if — the season will resume.
No games have been played since March 12, when spring training was nearing its final stretch. Training camps are closed. Rosters have been frozen. There’s essentially no way for a franchise to improve itself during these unique times.
Yet, through it all, one surprising MLB team has undeniably done exactly that.
We'll give you five guesses as to which team has achieved this feat starting ... now.
It's the Kansas City Royals.
Yes, those Kansas City Royals.
Even after securing a World Series championship in 2015, the Royals never fully ascended to the upper echelon of MLB franchises. They’re still a franchise known for operating at a small-market level. They’re rarely in the mix for notable free agents. Their payroll is routinely among the lowest in MLB. Basically, they have needed everything to go right to sustain any level of success, which is exactly what happened five years ago.
Now though, things might be changing. In November, John Sherman became the franchise’s new controlling owner after closing a deal with David Glass. Since then, we’ve seen evidence the “cheapness” that too often defined the Royals in the past, will become a thing of the past. And just those small glimpses into a better future are making Kansas City a preferred destination.
Here’s how it has all unfolded.
Royals make commitment to minor leaguers, employees
At a time when several MLB franchises were releasing dozens of minor league players and cutting off stipends to those that remained under contract, the Royals elected to release no one. Beyond that, they committed to paying each and every minor leaguer for the entire 2020 season even though it’s unlikely there will be a minor league season.
In addition to that, the Royals will not lay off or furlough any team employees during the 2020 season. Only "higher-level" employees have taken pay cuts, and the team is committed to paying that back when baseball returns.
Those good faith gestures boosted morale within the organization and helped set the stage for what has been a remarkably successful week.
Royals reel in best post-draft prospects
The MLB draft and post-draft signing period were the first and only opportunities teams have had to add players this season.
One week later, it’s clear the Royals were the biggest benefactors of that process.
Typically, the MLB draft lasts 40 rounds and involves thousands of prospects. That gives every team’s scouts a chance to shine and allows all 30 to reload the prospect pipeline.
This year, the draft was shortened to five rounds as a "cost-cutting" measure necessitated by the shutdown. Overall, only 160 players were selected when the draft ended on June 11. That includes Asa Lacy, the elite college pitching prospect selected No. 4 overall by the Royals. On June 13, the undrafted players were then free to sign with any team for a maximum of $20,000 each.
In this scenario, it’s less about scouting, preparation or even money. It’s more about opportunity and trust. The rebuilding Royals can certainly provide an opportunity. They’ve also earned the required trust.
According to Sports Illustrated's Emma Baccellieri, within the first 24 hours, Kansas City had already signed a dozen of the top 340 players remaining on Baseball America’s Top 500. Of those dozen, four were ranked among the top five.
The reason why the best of the remaining prospects were flocking to Kansas City was simple, according to new signee Kale Emshoff.
“You want to go to a club that’s going to take care of not only their very top valued players, but also their lower ones,” Emshoff told Sports Illustrated. “You want to know that when you’re in the organization you’re going to be taken care of... That plays a huge role in the decision-making process.”
Other new signees, including Chase Wallace and Saul Garza, said the Royals didn’t have to make promises or even sell opportunities during the signing process. They simply sold the organization, and that was enough to tip the scales in their favor.
For some, this powerful quote from general manager Dayton Moore said it all.
In a conference call with local media members today, Royals GM Dayton Moore said this about the club's decision to stand by their minor league players: pic.twitter.com/8ZfWWx95Jh— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) May 29, 2020
Whether or not the Royals become a big-spending team or bigger attraction to major free agents is still to be determined. But in terms of creating an environment that young players believe they can thrive in as athletes and as individuals, the Royals might be setting the standard.
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