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Royals are exactly what they can’t be

Royals are exactly what they can’t be

By Joshua Brisco

My expectation was always that the 2019 Royals would be a bad baseball team. Not exactly this apocalyptically hard to watch, but the kind of bad that pushes them to the margins of the city’s consciousness as soon as Chiefs minicamps begin. And, in retrospect, that would have been okay. Baseball teams can be bad while being interesting, hopeful, and pointing towards a brighter future. But as of right now, the Royals are none of those positive things.

The Royals’ biggest problem isn’t their record. The worst truth about this team is that there is such a small handful of players currently on the major league roster who can be a part of a successful version of the Royals several years down the line.

There’s no need to talk about “tanking” — the Royals certainly aren’t, and I’m not even advocating for it. The Royals are at this low point without tanking. This is accidental misery, not calculated bottoming-out. Even that is fine enough. There’s no point in belaboring bad drafts of years past. But what now? How do you inject meaning into a season that feels completely lost by mid-April?

Please stop starting Chris Owings.

The Royals are a middle-aged baseball team. Pro Baseball Reference has a very simple metric that calculates the average age of a team’s batters, weighted by at-bats and games played. The Royals have an average batter age of 28.2. The league-average is 28.4. (They have a younger-than-average pitching staff, weighted by a number of factors.) Adalberto Mondesi (23) and Ryan O’Hearn (25) are the only consistent starters who are under the age of 27.

The good news is that the team will get younger as the year goes on. As minor-leaguers get big-league playing time, the number will drop by decimals. But the problem runs deeper than ages.

Brian Goodwin, at 28, wasn’t the youthful ideal for the Royals’ outfield — but releasing him (and his four years of club control) for one year of 33-year-old (and severely limited) Lucas Duda is a baffling trade for a team that should be looking to the future. Starting Chris Owings at second base and moving Whit Merrifield to right field is asinine for a team who could be giving major-league at-bats to a number of unknown quantities floating through the farm system. Jorge Bonifacio (25) and Brett Phillips (24) have had brutal starts to their seasons in the minors, no question. But Chris Owings has two more hits (and three more total bases) than Terrance Gore this year in 36 more plate appearances.

What are we doing here?

Maybe the Royals will amend these problems by July, as farm system hopefuls make their way to the majors. Maybe Chris Owings and Lucas Duda and Billy Hamilton will fade to the bench to make way for Nicky Lopez and Jorge Bonifacio and Bubba Starling. Maybe the team will be interesting again as they truly look to the future. And maybe, by that point, it will be too late for anyone to notice.