I think pretty much everyone here would like to be in the position the Kansas City Royals are in right now, right? Heading to the World Series, the Royals are the darlings of just about everyone in baseball.
And this is a team whose own fans, many of them, have disliked their general manager and manager for years and wanted them fired, even up to recent times as they were making their amazing late-season and postseason run, which now has them as the first team to ever win its first eight games in a single playoff season. They're on a 15-2 run overall.
These Royals have been built in much the same way that Theo Epstein says he wants to build a Cubs winner: through drafting of good homegrown players. Three of those players have had key roles in the Kansas City run: Alex Gordon (first round, second overall pick in 2005), Mike Moustakas (first round, second overall pick in 2007) and Eric Hosmer (first round, third overall pick in 2008).
All of those players had rough times when first promoted to the major leagues. After being a Royals starter in 2007 and 2008, Gordon spent much of the next two years in the minor leagues and had to change positions (from third base to left field) before getting his game to All-Star level. Hosmer, who is just about the same age as Anthony Rizzo, had a just-okay year in 2014 (98 OPS+, 0.8 WAR) before his fantastic postseason. And Moustakas (.152/.223/.320 in late May) was hitting like Mike Olt when he was asked to spend some time in Triple-A to fix his hitting issues, but even after that he didn't hit much -- until the postseason.
The Royals supplemented these "core three" with Salvador Perez, who was an international signing in 2006, and a few trades that most everyone laughed at, at the time they were made. Zack Greinke was dealt to the Brewers; everyone knew the Royals had to do that since they were otherwise going to lose him to free agency, but no one thought much of the acquisitions, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, at the time. Both played key roles, particularly defensively, in this year's playoffs and Cain was named ALCS MVP. And Jake Odorizzi, also acquired in that deal, was sent along with top prospect Wil Myers to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis.
That trade was blasted by most Royals fans, and even though Odorizzi is already a solid big-league pitcher and Myers is likely to come back from injury to become a very good major-league outfielder, I'm thinking most KC fans are enjoying having Shields and Davis around this October. With the extra money that the Royals are making from this deep playoff run (estimated at as much as $12 million), they just might re-sign Shields instead of letting him walk. He'll almost certainly get a qualifying offer, which means if he does leave, KC gets a draft pick to help re-stock their deep system.
It's also true that many teams set their all-time attendance record the year after they win the World Series. The Royals did that, in fact, in 1986 after their Series win in 1985, and then drew a bit more each year for the next three. Their 1989 all-time attendance mark of 2,477,700 is likely to fall in 2015 if KC can go on to become World Series champions this year. That will bring even more dollars to the Royals, presumably money they can use for player payroll, and they're going to have to pay big dollars to keep Hosmer and Moustakas, both of whom are arb-eligible for the first time in 2015.
Are Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and others the Cubs' version of Hosmer, Moustakas, Gordon, et al? They just might be. The cautionary tale, of course, is the struggles of the Royals' core players for a few years until they blossomed into the October warriors of 2014. The Cubs do have a perceived advantage: they can, presumably, now go out and spend some money to supplement the young players beginning to make a big-league mark for themselves as well as some of the decent role players currently on the Cubs' roster (Luis Valbuena, Chris Coghlan, among others), and perhaps begin to make a Royals-type run at the 2015 postseason.
If you're reading this as optimism from me, you're reading it right. The Cubs could be on the cusp of a Royals-type run, even with the caveat that their young players, drafted or signed in much the same way that Kansas City signed theirs, could struggle at times.
I'm very much looking forward to this offseason to see what Theo & Co. can add to this core to put them in position to start winning. This doesn't mean they have to have a spending spree of hundreds of millions of dollars as the Yankees did last year -- look where that got them, home watching the playoffs with the rest of us. It does mean some spending, spending wisely, and I believe this front office is ready to do so.
Go for it, Theo. And go Royals. What a great story they are.