When the Kansas City Royals celebrated winning the World Series on Sunday, the story line was that it was a culmination of a yearlong journey of redemption after coming up 90 feet short of tying Game 7 of the World Series in 2014 against the San Francisco Giants.
But that journey was a bit longer.
Experts took notice of the Royals a couple years ago as a team that was on the precipice of contending, having a young core of position players the franchise developed augmented with homegrown and acquired pitchers.
But it wasn’t an overnight success.
Left fielder Alex Gordon was the second overall pick in the 2005 draft. Catcher Salvador Perez, the spirit of this Royals team and the Series MVP, was an international free agent who signed in 2006. Third baseman Mike Moustakas was the second overall pick in the 2007. First baseman Eric Hosmer was the third overall pick in 2008. Shortstop Alcides Escobar, the AL Championship Series MVP, and center fielder Lorenzo Cain, last year’s ALCS MVP, were among the players acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Zack Greinke before the 2011 season. Another player from the Greinke deal, pitcher Jake Odorizzi, was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays along with outfielder Wil Myers for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis before the 2013 season. Shields was the anchor of last season’s rotation, while Davis has become the best reliever in the majors.
So when new Brewers general manager David Stearns preached to a gathering of season ticket-holders last week that his goal is to acquire young, controllable talent in order to make the Crew a consistent contender, he could use the Royals or the Houston Astros — a team he was assistant GM for until being hired last month and a team that had back-to-back 100-loss seasons just a few seasons ago — as primary examples.
There has been some heavy lifting already done. The Brewers’ farm system isn’t the barren wasteland it was a couple seasons ago. The development of players including shortstop Orlando Arcia and pitcher Jorge Lopez, as well as the acquisition of a handful of players not that far away from being ready for the majors has the Brewers not having to take a major step back.
But there will be growing pains. 2016 figures to be focused on development rather than contending. After that? Arcia, Lopez, center fielder Brett Phillips and pitchers Adrian Houser and Josh Hader figure to be in a group of prospects ready to break through no later than Opening Day 2017. They will join outfielder Domingo Santana, who established himself as an everyday option after his call-up, and right-hander Zach Davies, who pitched well in his September audition and figures to be a rotation candidate going into spring training.
Stearns, still officially formalizing his front-office staff, will begin in earnest the process of molding the roster in the vision he promised owner Mark Attanasio when hired, with first baseman Adam Lind‘s $8 million option his first significant player decision.
Brewers fans will have to be patient. One more thing to keep in mind: The Royals were successful because, for the most part, they kept their core players together at the same level as they migrated through the minors. Everyone points to the talent at Double-A Biloxi — and rightfully so — but with an exception or two, most of that team should be at hitter-friendly Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2016 before becoming ready for prime time.