Hope landed in Kansas City on Monday night. At least what passes for hope in the lower class. The place where the Red Sox have not resided for a very long time.
“He’s going to be to the Royals what Patrick Mahomes is to the Chiefs,” crowed MLB.com’s Jim Callis, the longtime guru of baseball prospects about Bobby Witt Jr. “I got that comp from a scout. … It’s a special player. Special talent. Special makeup. And he can do for the Royals what Patrick Mahomes has done for the Chiefs.”
Choosing No. 2 on the first night of this year’s MLB Draft, the Royals got their man — the nation’s top high school player and “a player rated the top shortstop prospect in decades,” relayed the Kansas City Star on Tuesday morning. Longtime Royals GM Dayton Moore told reporters the team had been following the son of 16-season MLB pitcher Bobby Witt since Junior was 14 years old, and that it was a “joy” to scout him.
Gatorade’s National Player of the Year. High School Home Run Derby champ at last summer’s All-Star Game. Capable of playing anywhere on the field. Better than Hall of Famer Chipper Jones when the latter was a prospect. A worthy successor to Kansas City’s two other No. 2 picks in their history — Alex Gordon, a three-time All-Star and Platinum Glove guy in his 13th year with the Royals, and Mike Moustakas, whose career year came when the Royals won the 2015 World Series.
A dream fulfilled. You’ll always have this moment, @BwittJr.
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) June 4, 2019
Meanwhile, you can be forgiven should the start of the three-day MLB Draft escaped you, both because of the Stanley Cup Final and the Red Sox not picking until 41 spots after the Royals, Boston’s top pick dropped 10 places for spending $239,500,000 on payroll last year, that excess of the salary cap by more than $40 million triggering the harshest possible penalty. They’ll be in danger of it happening again next year, though the books clear a little bit for 2020.
That’s not a concern in Kansas City, who were long in baseball’s payroll bottom third until the 2015 title year, then in the top-10 for 2016-17. They shed some $50 million for 2018, dropping back to 21st with a scant $132 million payroll, and are in the midst of another slash from that.
The Cubs have 13 players on their roster, per Baseball Reference, who’ve made at least one All-Star team in their careers. The Red Sox have 10. The Royals have two: The aforementioned Gordon, a 3/4 hitter on a speed squad that leads the AL in steals and triples, but is 10th in runs, and middle reliever Brad Boxberger, who had 32 saves last season for Arizona but has been K.C.’s second least-helpful pitcher. (The Diamondbacks did nontender him.)
As I alluded to the other day, it’s not entirely fair to demand anything other than a sweep on the road is a failure, especially when the Red Sox might give Mike Shawaryn his MLB debut as Thursday’s starter, but … the Royals are 19-40 and coming off a 1-6 road trip. No starter has an ERA better than 4.00. Their leading hitter, third baseman Hunter Dozier, just went on the injured list. In being swept by Texas, they struck out 47 times and walked four in four games. (Chris Sale, please note, gets to face them on Wednesday night.)
They’re bad. Frankly, I can’t believe you read this far. Kansas City was a 104-loss team last season and the Sox beat them five out of six, outscoring the Royals by 23 runs. Mookie Betts went 10 for 21 with four homers. Xander Bogaerts drove in 11.
So I hope this space reminds, for whatever value this has, just how the other half lives. When we gripe about roster construction here, we can at least gripe about it understanding said roster was built to win now. That when the Red Sox have their inevitable payroll draw down, so long as John Henry (Henry is the owner of Boston Globe Media Partners, of which Boston.com is a part) is still writing the checks, we can be reasonably certain it will be done with some degree of respect for our intelligence.
In 1990, the Kansas City Royals had the highest payroll in baseball, 18 All-Stars on their roster, and were just five years removed from glory. They finished sixth, then sixth again in 1991, then 72-90. After the strike, they took up residence in baseball’s bottom 10 spenders. Between their 1985 and 2015 championships, they won 90 games just once and went through 11 regular managers.
We know all about 86 years of waiting, but the Red Sox post-1967 were never that. They’ve finished second more times than they’ve finished under .500. They’ve been watchable. You want to know how many times Boston’s picked in the top six of the draft since the Impossible Dream? Zero. (The No. 7 slot’s gotten them Trot Nixon, Andrew Benintendi, and Trey Ball, who’s still trying, but who has a 6.06 career Double A ERA in Year Six as a pro.)
Hope for the Red Sox was getting over the hump to the ultimate prize. Hope in Kansas City is hoping that shortstop you picked can be like the man on TV said and lead you to …
Wait, what has Kansas City won with Patrick Mahomes again? They understand the world is Super Bowl title or bust, right?