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« Hope and Despair | Main | Frank McCourt on Talk of the City!!! »

August 21, 2005

Royalty In Name, Not Deed

It’s easy to find baseball wise men who’ll tell you that Kansas City’s market size, coupled with a 32-year-old stadium that’s now the second-oldest in the American League, doom the Royals to the sort of failure they've endured all this season.

Don’t believe it. Money is an obstacle for the Kansas City Royals, but it’s not an insurmountable one.

The Minnesota Twins play in a cramped, domed ballpark just a little newer and certainly not nicer than the Royals’ cozy, outdoor Kauffman Stadium. But the Twins have found a way to pay for a much better team. Kansas City’s payroll this season is about $36.9 million, while the Twins have a payroll of $56.1 million … a number that hasn’t changed much for three seasons. If the Twins win the wild card (and they’re in the race), it’ll be their fourth straight playoff year.

According to Nielsen, Kansas City is the nation’s 31st media market with just under 900,000 TV homes. But that’s only about 100,000 fewer TV homes than San Diego, and the Padres have a payroll of $63.3 million … about 70% more than the Royals pay. The Padres find ways to draw in revenue even though they’re boxed in by the Dodgers and Angels to the north, Mexico to the south, the desert to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

But the Royals don’t need to increase their payroll by 50% or more to be competitive. Just a little more would help. The Cleveland Indians are carrying a payroll of $41.5 million, while the Toronto Blue Jays are laying out about $45.7 million. Both teams are in the thick of the wild-card race.

The Indians and the Blue Jays - and the Twins and Padres, for that matter – have been adept at scouting and signing young talent, and at trading veterans for younger players whose skills are high while their salaries are low. That’s the best way to win on a budget.

The Royals’ ability to do the same is unclear.

Trading Carlos Beltran before he became a free agent last year eventually yielded three players on the Royals roster. But only one player remains from the trades of Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon several seasons earlier. And the Damon trade also cost the Royals second baseman Mark Ellis, who now starts for Oakland.

And there's more to worry about. Kansas City's #1 draft pick – Nebraska slugger Alex Gordon, college’s top player last season – wants a big signing bonus and bigger major league contract. The Royals are hesitating. If Gordon returns to Nebraska Monday for his senior year, the Royals lose his draft rights … and their losing streak will continue.

Posted by Nick Roman at 7:16 AM

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