It’s been said Kansas City was the model for the early Blue Jays franchise to model themselves after. No wonder, the Royals had jumped into competitiveness quickly after their 1969 birth. By the time the Jays came about, KC was an increasingly respectible team with the likes of Steve Busby, Paul Splittorff, Al Hrabrosky and a young buck called George Brett. The early Jays tried to emulate the KC formula of smart draft picks, quality starting pitchers supplemented with a few “character” player free agents to add a bit of bop and leadership in the clubhouse- and of course, powder blue jerseys!
A lot has changed in the 35+ seasons that have passed and both teams have a couple of World Series banners to fly proudly. But the Royals can still be a bit of a role model for the Blue Jays, which is why we Toronto fans can join KC in celebrating this year’s World Series.
Not only did the Royals quick disposal of the Mets in the World Series allow for us to make a reasonable claim to be the second-best club in all of baseball this season (after all , we put up more of a fight against the best team than the NL Champs did) but it also showed a clear path for Toronto to follow for 2016. With a little guidance from that roadmap and a bit of luck it can be the Jays enjoying the champagne and a parade downtown this time next year.
Significantly, Toronto is in good shape to follow the Royals’ lead by adhering to the old Dear Abby-ism “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” KC realized they came within a few pitches of winning it all last year and did their best to return largely the same team to the field this year. Manager Ned Yost and most of the coaching staff were renewed. While they did lose their top starting pitcher (James Shields) to free agency and aging de-facto captain Billy Butler, the primary core of the team returned en masse- Guthrie, Ventura as starters, Moustakas, Cain, Hosmer, all-star catcher Perez, as well as the bullpen trio of Davis, Holland and Herrera. While they perhaps had to sacrifice a little leadership with the departure of Shields and Butler, they made up for it with Edison Volquez (who’d been close to Shields in ’14 numbers: 13-7, 3.04 with Pittsburgh in 192 innings compared to 14-8, 3.21 in 227 innings) and upgraded at DH by bringing in Kendrys Morales who seemed to have a chip on his shoulder because of nay-sayers who wrote him off after a lack-lustre season (.218, 8 HR in 98 games). Morales responded with the second-best season of his career, hitting .290 with 106 RBI.
Like last year’s Kansas City, Toronto is poised to bring back most of this year’s squad, from manager John Gibbons through the coaches to all the significant position players (Bautista and Encarnacion had their contract options picked up today and Martin, Pillar, Donaldson are already signed or arbitration-eligible) and a good chunk of the pitching. Granted, right now the Jays may lose more than one of their starting rotation but will still have the likes of Dickey, Stroman, Hutchison, Cecil, Osuna and Loup returning. If Estrada re-signs, Toronto could be just a decent free agent starter and reliever or two away from another division title with or without David Price.
Kansas City also showed that playoff experience matters. Although last year’s team were solid and gave San Fran a good battle, there’s no mistaking the added confidence and swagger of the 2015 edition. Jose Bautista showed he can step up to the plate in pressure games, one can only hope that this fall’s run will likewise boost the Jays confidence in close games next year.
The Royals have built a club well-suited to their spacious ballpark, with an emphasis on speed and outfield. Toronto is totally different but have also built a club designed to maximize performance at Rogers Centre and other East division parks, with the home run power and solid infield defense to work on the artificial turf.
2016 will be a long grind as all seasons are, but this October suggests Toronto could be having a lot more to celebrate next fall than this. But “interim” General Manager Tony LaCava had better get to work, add the piece or two of the puzzle needed because not only the Royals give an example to pay attention to. So too do the last-place Phillies who show all too well what happens when a club stagnates and fails to take advantage of success when the window for it opens!