Before the season started, the Kansas City Royals were a dark horse for the AL Central. More than that, though, they were something of a trendy dark horse, the kind that people paid special attention to. They were dripping with young talent in the majors and minors, and all they needed was a little luck with their starting pitching.
The Houston Astros, meanwhile, were supposed to be a disaster. They were a horse behind the wheel of a cigarette boat idling in a mall fountain. There were a lot of ways things could end. None of them were good.
The Royals ended up royalsing their way on the Royals express to Royalstown. Pitchers got hurt. Pitchers were awful. And Eric Hosmer, franchise cornerstone, just passed Ozzie Smith falling through the limitless void of the Mystery Spot. It was supposed to be an encouraging season for the Royals-- a stepping stone that hinted at better things to come. It has not been.
The Astros were as bad as expected, and then they got worse.
I'm going somewhere with these parallels, gimme a minute. The Royals still get to keep the talent that had people relatively excited about them before the season. They don't have to forfeit the players to the league office as a made-us-watch-the-Royals penalty. Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino will need a little extra time to come back from Tommy John surgeries, but the core is intact. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are still fantastic; Mike Moustakas built upon a shaky rookie season; the intriguing long-term extensions to Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar look prescient; Mitch Maier hasn't been scored upon at all this season.
The reasons that made people optimistic about the Royals? They're still around, for the most part. The injuries were brutal, and Hosmer is more than a minor concern, but the organization is still filled with young, promising players.
The Astros have Jose Altuve. They have interesting prospects in the lower minors, Jonathan Singleton is one of the best prospects in baseball, and there are players on the major-league roster with a future, like Jason Castro and Jordan Lyles. But when I look at the Astros' active roster, Altuve is the only player that I think, "Oh, yeah, that guy will be around the team for a while."
This is the tale of two bad teams, then. But the Royals have young, majors-ready players on the cusp of something, even if that something is still vague and transient. The Astros are salting the earth and moving to a new farm. You'd think the Royals would make you more optimistic.
But then you think about the Astros' new management. The people in charge of the franchise now weren't the ones who assembled this team. On the contrary, they're pretty inspiring. From Tyler Kepner's feature on the Astros in the New York Times:
(Astros general manager Jeff) Luhnow believes in traditional scouting but also has deep faith in analytics, as does the front office of the N.B.A.’s Houston Rockets, where Postolos was the team president. Luhnow works closely with several so-called decision scientists, including a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and a former author for Baseball Prospectus. On Saturday, he named Mike Elias, a 29-year-old Yale graduate who worked for him in St. Louis, as amateur scouting director.
An interest in statistics doesn't guarantee success. But Luhnow had a nice hybrid model to study under in St. Louis, and he has the confidence of most hardcore Astros fans.
Dayton Moore is … well, Dayton Moore is … see, the thing about Dayton Moore …. Look, all that Royals talent that we gushed over up there? Moore had something to do with that. Wil Myers, Alex Gordon, and the extensions to Escobar and Perez didn't just happen. The farm system is healthy, too. For a small-market team, that might be the most important quality for a GM to have.
But it's 2012, and Yuniesky Betancourt somehow racked up 215 at-bats for the Royals before he was released. He was paid $2 million to do it. I don't understand how that happens. I don't understand the risk/reward, cost/benefit analyses that went into the Royals paying Betancourt to do the things that Betancourt has been doing for years, and then being shocked that he did them again. Betancourt isn't proof that Moore is a bad GM; he's just a symptom of whatever it is that infects the Royals' decision-making with the major-league roster. The only people -- I mean, the only people -- who thought the Betancourt deal would turn out differently have an office at Kaufmann Stadium.
That's the setup for the question I'm about to pose. It was a long setup. But the question will be brief.
You have two bad teams.
One is mostly bereft of talent, at least the kind that's close to the majors, but they're rebuilding with a totally new front office that's saying all the right things.
The other has talent in the low minors, the high minors, and in the majors. But the front office is the same crew that's been around for the last few years, making a mess of the major-league roster in various ways.
Which one do you take? Which one do you think will be successful first? I'll take my question off the air, but when it comes to a pair of bad teams, the Royals and Astros are in two different, fascinating spots.