Coming into the 2023 season, many thought that the Oakland A’s had the potential to be not just the worst team in baseball this year, but the worst of all time.
They’ve spent the past few years trading away established Major League players to cut their payroll which is now the lowest in MLB by a wide margin. Sean Murphy, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Jonah Heim, and Frankie Montas have been shown the door while Marcus Semien, Mark Canha, and Liam Hendriks left in free agency, all in just the past three years. There are seven all-stars on that list.
It’s a tank job unlike anything in American sports. Oakland isn’t just tanking for a draft pick, but for eviction. The A’s tried to put a product on the field that’s so bad that the disaffected fan base will stop coming to games, so they can show the league that Oakland can’t support a team, so they can move to Las Vegas. And they succeeded.
So how on Earth could there be a team just as bad?
Enter the Kansas City Royals. They sit at 29-75, just one game ahead of the A’s for the worst record in the American League.
We as baseball fans collectively acknowledge that the Royals are a bad team, but is anyone talking about how they’re in the same tier as the A’s? KC is so bad that its single-handedly responsible for the Twins winning record. The AL Central-leading Twins are 9-1 against the Royals, and 45-49 against everyone else.
The Oakland A’s, which many thought could have the worst record of all time, might not even finish last in the American League this year. What makes the Royals season so much more disappointing, is that they aren’t trying to be bad, at least not to the extent that the A’s are. Having finished under .500 every year since 2017, the Royals are hitting rock bottom in a lengthy rebuild that they might’ve thought would be on the upswing.
The Royals have recognizable names on their roster. There’s Salvador Perez who just made his eighth all-star team and is two years removed from leading the AL in home runs. Bobby Witt Jr. is one of the league’s best young stars (or at least that’s what everyone keeps saying). Zack Greinke is 39 years old — WELL over the hill — but he’s still a Cy Young winner.
Their payroll is 25th in MLB, certainly low, but still higher than the Reds, Rays, and Orioles.
So what’s gone so wrong? In short, everything. Basically every position group has underperformed no matter how low their expectations were. Vinny Pasquantino is KC’s only position player with at least 200 plate appearances who has an above-average OPS, and he’s on the 60-day IL.
KC’s rotation is terrible. After having one of the best seasons of his career last year with the Orioles (thank you for your service), Jordan Lyles might very well be the worst-qualified starter in baseball with a 6.19 ERA and a 1-12 record. Brady Singer, a young starter who I always thought had really good stuff, has regressed significantly from last year. Pretty much every percentile slider on his Baseball Savant page matches the blue of Kansas City’s uniforms.
Bobby Witt Jr.’s 1.8 WAR leads the team. To Witt’s credit, he went from being the worst defensive shortstop in baseball by outs above average last year (-11) to being one of the best at any position this year (11), behind only Wander Franco. In terms of hitting, his exit velocity and expected numbers are off the charts, but he’s still a below-average hitter whether you prefer OPS+ or WRC+. He has all the tools, and is the centerpiece of this rebuild, but hasn’t put it together at the plate yet.
The Royals are on pace for 45 wins with the A’s on pace for 44. As things stand, they won’t beat the 40-win low set by the 1962 Mets, but they’re within striking distance. If either one of these teams makes some deadline moves, grits their teeth, and makes one final push down the stretch, then they could lose like no one’s lost before. The race to the bottom is going to be even more exciting to watch than any division race.
It’s tough to say where the light at the end of the tunnel is for the Royals. It’s obviously not a big free-agent destination, and they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. As a fan of a team that just went through a seemingly endless rebuild, all I’ll say is you can only go up from here.