08 September 2008

It's Do or Die for the Kansas City Royals

Joe Posnaski's got his usual, interesting and eloquent (if not terribly focused) reflections on the major league return (and brief success) of Tony Pena Jr.

Looking back, sure, you might have suspected that Berroa’s staunch anti-walk
platform could cost him in future years. Looking back, sure, you could have
suspected that since he was two years older than originally thought (25 instead
of 23) that the good would not last. Looking back, yeah, maybe we should have
seen imminent disaster approaching. But, honestly, no one in Kansas City was
looking for signs of the apocalypse in 2003. Those were heady days. Angel Berroa
could have worn a T-shirt on the field that read, “Enjoy me now because man oh
man am I going to suck starting next year,” and we would not have noticed it.

This reminded me of an email I received from a Royals fan calling himself "tad pole" in late July of 2003. Here it is, word-for-word:

Subject: boys of summer are the boys in blue!

The boys of this summer come in a shade of royal blue! You guessed
it! The Kansas City Royals are going to take their small payroll and shock
the world! It seems everybody has completely discounted the "miracles" and
continue to be skeptical! When the Royals sweep the Yankess in August over
six games, everybody will be forced to jump in the KC bandwagon! Keep
doubting the Royals and keep watching them win!

We will all "believe"!

Let the record reflect that I "believe" the the "Royals" went 2-4 against the "Yankess" in August! They went 26-30 overall after that email was sent! They finished "3rd" in the AL Central!

I guess he wasn't wrong about shocking the world, though, since we were all pretty surprised that they were able to finish with a winning record. Heck, a few years later the Cardinals would win the same 83 games and then go on to win the World Series, so maybe that was a pretty big deal.

In retrospect, though, the little bit of hope afforded by the team's first winning season in nine years led to a whole bunch of really poor choices by Royals management, which led directly to the absolute worst record in baseball for the next three and a half years. Seriously. the Royals are 306-484 since the start of the 2004 season, so far behind the Pirates (at 334-455) that even if they won all of their remaining games and the Bucs lost all of theirs, they'd still be 7.5 games out of 29th place.

The really astonishing thing about the Royals, to me at least, is that every time you think they've hit rock-bottom, they somehow manage to do even worse.

  • They lose an appalling 104 games in 2004, and then charge to a 56-106 record in 2005.

  • Not happy with Tony Muser? Here's Tony Pena. How about Buddy Bell?

  • Think we wasted a lot of money on 1st round high school pitcher Mike Stodolka? Let me introduce you to Colt Griffin!

  • You think Neifi Perez stinks? How about Angel Berroa? Not lousy enough? Meet Tony Pena Jr!

  • Does signing Mike Sweeney to a long-term deal seem like a poor investment? Here's Jose Guillen!

  • Not happy with the return from the Johnny Damon trade? Well, look how little we got back for Carlos Beltran!

  • Not sure Scott Elarton was a good idea? Here's Brett Tomko!

  • You think Hideo Nomo is washed up? Umm...OK, well, you got me there.

It's like playing Let's Make a Deal except Monty Hall's got crappy stuff behind all of the doors.

Door #1: Goat.
Door #2: Broken blender.
Door #3: Jeff Fulchino.

In any case, you get my point. It seems like things only get worse. It's got to suck to be a Royals fan these days, especially if you're old enough to remember when they were actually good, like Posnaski and Rob Neyer.

On the other hand, there are a few reasons for Royals fans to hope this year. Zach Greinke has bounced back to form after struggling for a couple of seasons. Gil Meche has surprised everyone by LAIMing it up for almost two whole years. Mark Grudzielanek's contract is almost up! Billy Butler can crush left-handed pitching. Mike Aviles has hit well for half a season, and while he won't likely do that again, he might prove a useful cog in the Royals engine for a few years.

They have a good, young closer and a couple of other decent arms in the bullpen. Minor league firstbaseman Kila Ka'aihue might be a pretty decent hitter. He's got to be better than Ross Gload. Kyle Davies might make something of himself.

Alex Gordon and and/or Luke Hochevar are still young enough that they might grow up to be useful major leaguers, if not the stars you'd expect from first-round draft picks. David DeJesus is steady and useful, if unspectacular.

The real problem is that there's almost nobody on the team, or even in the minors, who could conceivably become a star, and without that, there's almost no way the Royals have any hope of competing in the near future, or any other future, for that matter.

I wrote a column for All-Baseball.com almost three years ago (since lost to posterity when their servers all took a dump), arguing that the Royals should not be signing players like Scott Elarton and Mark Grudzielanek, not in their position. I was told by optimistic Royals fans that they need seasoned veterans to help steady the ship for all the so-called young talent coming up. That they needed solid defense to inspire confidence in the young pitchers. That these were just stop-gaps, placeholders intended to keep roster spots warm until the Royals' youngsters were ready.

Well, here we are, almost three years later, and they don't look a whole lot more ready than they did in the winter of 2005-06. Without a wholesale change in the approach the Royals' front office takes in how they run their organization, there's no hope of ever winning.

Just ask the Rays.

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Ron Rollins said...

The real problem is that Trey Hillman is a terrible manager. He has cost the Royals at least 10 games this year with his decisions.

And Moore is at fault also, for not dumping the high-priced contracts like Grudz and signing Guillen in the first place.

His diedisions are almost as bad as Hillmans.

Don't you think it was funny that after Moore was hired, that Scheurholz then decieded to retire. I think he stayed to make sure Moore was around when he left. Seeems like too much of a coincidence to me.

The Royals will never be competetive until Glass sells the team.

Liz said...

For whatever reason the whole "hope" thing spoke to me. Must be the years of being a Cubs fan...

I just wanted to take a break from baseball (am listening to the Cubs right now, though!) to recommend a great baseball book, Pinch Hitter, which I recently read. This guy (David Robbins) could be the guy you were just hanging out with at your local sports bar, wanting to play in the big leagues. He's an unlikely hero -- any baseball fan is going to love this.