Sometimes, the race for the best record in the MLB is matched in excitement by the race for the worst. Just kidding. The Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals (who, mind you, are only three years off of back-to-back World Series appearances) have played some of the worst baseball in this league’s history. The Orioles are on pace to lose 114 games, more than their division-rival and MLB-best Boston Red Sox are on pace to win. The Royals are only slightly better; they are on pace to lose 113. I would say these two teams aren’t trying, but that’s not true. This isn’t the NBA; guys in the MLB play extremely hard every out of every game. So why are they losing then? Because, as of now, they are the two-worst franchises in the game. Let’s explore why.
Why not start with the Royals, who have a winning percentage two-thousandths of a point higher than the Orioles and therefore the brighter future. Last year, the plan seemed obvious; they had won their World Series, but were now a mediocre team with numerous key impending free agents. That, combined with the fact that they had one of the worst farm systems in baseball, made it clear that GM Dayton Moore should sell off the core of that magical 2015 team and look to the future. Alas, Moore is a stubborn old man and refused to trade anyone at the Deadline. Eric Hosmer, who signed with the Padres for $1 million more a year, brought on such a bidding battle that no qualifying offers were thrown out, and therefore Kansas City received no compensation when The Hos bolted to San Diego (out-of-date reference to the former San Diego Chargers). Lorenzo Cain, who the entire baseball business declared too old to garner a big contract, gladly accepted a five year, $80 million paycheck from the Milwaukee Brewers. Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez all resigned, but they have been a mixed bag. Escobar, currently hitting .204 over 114 games played this year, has posted an OPS nearly 200 points below league average. In addition, he has been forced to start playing some third base and center field due to the budding young Adalberto Mondesi. Moustakas was having a fine offensive year, though he only got on base at a .309 clip with Kansas City before being dealt to the aforementioned Brewers for two players with Major League experience, outfielder Brett Phillips and RHP Jorge Lopez. Perez, after being injured for parts of the first half of the season, has posted his lowest batting average of his career (.237) while also posting a career-low OBP (.277). So while they did add two Major League players in Phillips and Lopez, the Royals’ farm system is still ranked 24th in the Majors by Bleacher Report, and was near or at the bottom of many Minor League rankings earlier in the year. With just a few promising position players and a crapshoot of a farm system, the Royals are heading for many more losing seasons unless they can find a way to dramatically upgrade their Minor League affiliates or add ONE, JUST ONE actual Major League-level pitcher to their roster.
That was fun, eh? Now onto the Orioles. For the sake of saving time and words, I am going to tell you that the Orioles face the exact same problems as the Royals (and they also traded away their star third baseman; that’s right, Manny’s not a shortstop. Just look at his -18 Defensive Runs Saved at short.). But I also tell you these things because they are true. The Orioles have had arguably the most wretched, untalented pitching staff in the Majors for years now and they have done nothing to improve it. In fact, they have actually made it worse by adding Alex Cobb (15 losses, 5.31 ERA) and subtracting Kevin Gausman, the one bright spot in their rotation. Their farm system is right down there with the Royals (slotted 20th in the same Bleacher Report rankings), and they failed to trade guys at the right time (still have Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo, held onto Manny and took a year off his contract).
So in the end, a good farm system and some freakin’ pitching are all it takes to make a team good. Just look at the contenders; they either have homegrown talent or they used their high-profile prospects to acquire stars, and you won’t find a team in the Postseason this year that can’t pitch. As for who will get the number one pick, I say let the Marlins have it. After all the scrutiny under the public eye that Derek Jeter has undergone for choices that he and his organization feel are for the best, they deserve a reward that brings none of those circumstances with it…