Baseball, for all its supposed problems, must still be a pretty good business to be in. Prior to the Marlins’ sale two years ago, an MLB franchise hadn’t gone on the market since 2012. But the Kansas City Royals are now on the block, with owner David Glass reportedly in advanced negotiations to sell the team for more than $1 billion to a group led by Indians minority owner John Sherman.
Glass, 84, purchased the team for $96 million in 2000, and his ownership is a tale of two franchises, neither of which completely blots out the other. The larger-picture story is that of a team that either couldn’t (Glass claimed) or wouldn’t spend money, and showed it: The Royals finished with a losing record in 14 of 19 seasons, and are currently on pace to lose at least 100 games for the sixth time under him. A former CEO of Walmart, Glass insisted that he ran the team to break even.
The other side of the Royals is their 2015 championship, and they were in that respect the envy of and the blueprint for MLB’s other small-budget clubs; they won how those other cash-strapped front offices hope to win, because it’s really their only option. After hiring GM Dayton Moore in 2006, the Royals invested in their farm system and international scouting department—modest investments compared to spending in free agency, but they bore fruit. The Royals, young, fast, and still pretty cheap, made it to the seventh game of the 2014 World Series, and then won it all the following year.
Even that dream run didn’t come without limitations from Glass. At the 2015 trade deadline, Glass dictated that any deals couldn’t add salary, so the Royals were forced to package even more prospects to acquire Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist than it would have taken if their former teams hadn’t sent along cash as well. After 2016, when the Royals were still potential contenders, Glass demanded to Moore that payroll be cut, and the Royals’ window to contend closed a little earlier than it otherwise would’ve, starting with the trade of star closer Wade Davis to save $7 million.
So while Royals fans this morning are and will forever be thankful for that championship, no matter how much Glass did or didn’t do to bring it, they’re also guardedly excited about the sale of the team, and the possibility that the new owner will actually spend.
John Sherman, 64, made his money in the energy industry, and he’s a local and a former Royals season-ticket holder. Those are potentially good things, both for his emotional investment in the team winning, and the likelihood of them staying in Kansas City past the 2030 expiration of their stadium lease. Also a positive is that the Royals’ unfavorable local TV contract is up after this season: They’re expected to sign a new deal worth more than $50 million a year, more than double what they’re getting now.
So there’s reason to think that better days are ahead for the Royals and their fans. It would be tough, anyway, for the days to be any worse than they were most of the time under Glass. Most of the time—2015 will live forever.