One thing is for sure now that the Kansas City Royals have traded away their ace starting pitcher, Zack Greinke — the team is building quite the stack of chips to play with for the future.
The only problem is, the team isn't quite ready to go all-in just yet.
In fact, you could argue the Royals have already folded for 2011, and the calendar-year won't even officially begin for another two weeks.
These are some tough days to be a Royals fan. General Manager Dayton Moore is done sugar coating and has made it brutally honest the team has no desire to compete next season — and that was obvious before the Greinke trade. The team has been in rebuilding mode since the day George Brett retired (and Joe Montana was the Chiefs' quarterback). As it always seems to be, patience is key in Kansas City.
We're sick of it.
Sure, there are plenty of reasons to hope. The Royals have Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer and a ton of pitching waiting to break through to the major leagues and be the exceptions we've been waiting for. They also have four more young players acquired in the Greinke trade (albeit with generally underwhelming scouting reports given the value the Brewers got in return) who'll help improve the team's farm system which was already likely to receive Baseball America's number-one ranking for 2010.
But there was also reason to hope in 1994 and 1999 and 2003 and so on. The current state of baseball economics and the Royals' ownership are just as much of a reality now as they were then. Who's to say this latest and possibly most promising effort won't be squashed by the same culprits as before? It's frustrating.
The worst part may be what Moore is saying to the Kansas City fans in 2011. Whether it makes good baseball sense or not, along with the David DeJesus trade, the Royals have now parted ways with its two most popular (and, arguably, most valuable) players from the last handful of years — both of whom were extremely affordable — and replaced them with... Who exactly?
Well, the team signed Moore's man-crush, outfielder Jeff Francoeur, .310 career on-base and all, to a one-year deal. Francoeur, who'll be 27 in January, has been tagged as an underachiever after a successful first couple of years in the big leagues, and will be an obvious stop-gap in Kansas City until better and younger talent arrives (see: Rick Ankiel, 2010).
The team also snagged another former Brave outfielder, Melky Cabrera, for a year. Cabrera may have a better upside, having been a promising prospect for the Yankees at one time, but his impact on the 2011 Royals will be virtually the same as Francoeur's — little to none.
What may be most telling about the state of the Royals today is how the Greinke trade was received by the fans in Kansas City. It came as a foregone conclusion, really, and let's not kid ourselves — as Royals fans we knew this day would come since the moment the Cy Young talk started in 2009.
Instead of the highlight of the trade being the addition of a young and exciting shortstop named Alcides Escobar, fans can't get over what a relief it will be to not be subjected to the Yuniesky Betancourt show for another summer.
As Royals fans, we no longer have the ability to think any other way. We're jaded, and that's an embarrassing understatement.
The underlying theme in all this is a profitable professional sports team cutting payroll (again) less than a year removed from its overly-faithful fans delivering its absent owner a renovated stadium (which has, thus-far, served no better purpose than as an excuse for the aforementioned owner to hike-up ticket prices).
Some may argue the Royals should save money now and use it in a few years after the "surge" of young talent arrives and is settled in, in order to make a real run at a pennant. But does anybody really believe the team will make good on that promise? At this point, there's no real reason to believe, when the time comes, that David Glass will make the financial commitment needed to retain any of the prospects that emerge as stars, let alone pursue an impact-free agent for a pennant run.
The harsh truth of the matter is for every Johnny Damon or Carlos Beltran or Jermaine Dye — and now Zack Greinke — we're becoming more and more disconnected from our baseball team in Kansas City. Soon Billy Butler will be gone. It's likely the same will be true for Moustakas in a few years. Maybe Hosmer. And the next prospect. And the next.
We know this cycle.
And in the meantime, as the cycle continues, will the Royals win a World Series? Probably not. Will they make the postseason? It's doubtful.
So what's the point?
This April, in all likelihood, Luke Hochevar and his career plus-5.00 ERA will be the Royals' opening day starter. The prospects will start to trickle into the big leagues, and with any luck, the team will avoid losing 100 games. The fans' patience (what's left of it) will run thin, and I'll scream and yell, we'll accept it like binge-drinking on St. Patrick's Day and the beauty of the Plaza lights because it's what we've come to know in this city.
I've grown tired of it. Wake me up when the cycle ends.