Pittsburgh Pirates and KC Royals: Models of success

ethanobstarczyk
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In recent years the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals have been compared a lot, and with good reason: both franchises spent the 1990s losing more games than they won. From 1993-2013, the Pirates (as well all know too well) had twenty losing seasons. In that same time period, the Royals only had two winning seasons, 1993 and 2003. The fanbases of both clubs eagerly have waited for things to turn around, and both have seen that happen with Kansas City making consecutive appearances in the World Series and the Pirates hosting three straight NL Wild Card games.

Even more so than the New York Mets, the Pirates and Royals have a lot in common. Currently the Royals have a payroll of over $125 million while the Pirates have just over $99 million committed to their players. Neither team spends big on free agents, so both rely on the amateur draft, international market and trading players at the right time to acquire new talent.

The Royals have received great production from many players that they drafted and groomed. Alex Gordon was drafted second overall in 2005, the same year the Pirates took Andrew McCutchen with the eleventh pick. Another key member of the Royals success in the last few years has been Eric Hosmer, who was drafted in 2008 immediately after the Pirates selected Pedro Alvarez. Third baseman Mike Moustakas was taken second overall in 2007, two picks before the Pirates drafted Daniel Moskos, a player that only appeared in 31 games for Pittsburgh. Those three players have played a major role in Kansas City’s turnaround.

Both the Pirates and the Royals have found success with international signings in the last few years. The Royals signed Salvador Perez when he was 16 in 2007 and he made his debut in 2011. In 2012 the Royals signed him to an absurdly low five year, $7 million extension. His extension also includes three team options that could keep him in Kansas City until 2019. Yordano Ventura is another standout international acquisition for the Royals. He made his debut in 2013 and has been a very good rotation option for the Royals since then, but has shown instances where his temper gets the better of him on the field.

The two signings from the Latin American market that are making an impact right now for the Pirates are Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte. Since joining the big league club in 2012, Marte has improved each year and is truly one of the five tool players in the game today. 2015 was just Polanco’s first full year in the majors and while he did experience some growing pains he has shown flashes of brilliance in the field and at the plate.

The Pirates made the first notable signing of a Korean position player when they picked up Jung Ho Kang in the offseason. He was putting together a great first year in the United States until he was injured in September. Because of the success Kang, other teams will start to turn their attention to that market and it won’t be surprising if the Royals begin scouting over there as well.

One area that the Royals have really excelled is trading players away and getting good players in return. In 2010 they sent Zack Greinke, Yuniesky Betancourt and cash to the Brewers for Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. Two years later Odorizzi was sent in a trade with Mike Montgomery, Patrick Leonard and Wil Myers to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis.

Escobar and Cain are mainstays in the everyday Kansas City lineup and Davis has become one of the most dominant relievers in the game. He worked as a bridge to closer Greg Holland and then took over the role when Holland was injured in September. Now the closer for the Royals, the Mets will a tough time scoring runs in the World Series late in games.

The Pirates made the first notable signing of a Korean position player when they picked up Kang in the offseason. He was putting together a great first year in the United States until he was injured in September. Because of the success Kang, other teams will start to turn their attention to that market and it won’t be surprising if the Royals begin scouting over there as well.

Going into the offseason, the Pirates could consider trading Mark Melancon. If he and the team go to arbitration, which they almost assuredly will do, he will definitely get a significant raise after a season in which he set the team record for saves. He probably would not bring back a package like what the Royals received for Greinke, but he could net the Pirates a decent return.

Both clubs added talent at the deadline in 2015 to address weaknesses as they pushed towards the playoffs. The Royals brought in Johnny Cueto, one of the top tier rental players available and Ben Zobrist, who can play multiple positions in the field. While the Pirates didn’t acquire a big name like Cueto, they made smart acquisitions for players including J.A. Happ, Joakim Soria and Joe Blanton. Happ and Blanton both found success in Pittsburgh that had eluded them in recent years and Soria added another strong arm to an already tough back end of the bullpen.

The Pirates and the Royals have taken similar approaches to building successful teams in recent years. Both clubs have seen players drafted in recent years help make them appear in the postseason in consecutive seasons. Unfortunately for the Pirates, the Royals reached the World Series before them, now for two seasons in a row. The Royals should be commended for their success as a team with a payroll in the middle of the pack. Their success shows that the approach the Pirates are taking can work in the game today.

Next: a Comparison of the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets

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