Monday, April 12, 2010

Royals Haven't Learned Anything

After a full week of baseball, I wanted to throw around some thoughts I have about the 2010 version of the Royals, and what got us here.

The first is obvious. This team is bad. They're not horribly bad. This Royals squad shouldn't approach '62 Mets status, though it might make for better entertainment value if they did lose more.

I think that might be part of the problem. There's enough decent veteran presence on this team to the point where the games aren't laughable on most nights, but at the same time, they're still losing most of the time. They aren't particularly good or bad at any one thing (although blown saves by the bullpen is becoming quite the trend). They just seem to be a below average team that has absolutely no star power on the nights Zack Greinke isn't pitching.

And I'm not jumping to any conclusions on Greinke, but let's face it, expecting Zack to follow-up his Cy Young performance last season with the same results this season is unreasonable and unfair. So if Zack comes back down to earth this year, why would anyone want to watch this team?

It's who we're watching that makes it so frustrating. When Dayton Moore was first hired as general manager of the Royals, he made it clear the goal year for the tide to turn in Kansas City was 2010. Well, as weird as it sounds, it is 2010, and the Royals major league roster is no more talented than it was ten years ago when Allard Baird was calling the shots.

The Royals have spent records amount of money on scouting and in the draft, yet half of their starting lineup on opening day were retreads who couldn't catch on with any other team. They're stop-gaps*. Rick Ankiel signed with Kansas City this offseason strictly because the Royals were the only team to guarantee him a starting position. That means, in theory, that every other major league team decided that their current center fielder was as good as or better than Rick Ankiel. More so, in theory, it means the Royals starting center fielder is considered the worst (or more fairly, one of the worst) starting center fielders in all of baseball, according to the scouts and GMs on the 29 other teams. After putting that altogether, it seems almost unbelievable that the aforementioned player was the Royals' biggest improvement in the offseason following a 97-loss season.

*Of the nine hitters in the batting order on opening day, five of them (Scott Podsednik, Ankiel, Jose Guillen, Willie Bloomquist, and Jason Kendall) are stop-gaps, or guys who will not be here the day, if it ever comes, that the Royals start winning. Where are the prospects? Are we drafting the wrong guys or is the problem in development? I'm reminded of the 2003 Detroit Tigers team. That team lost the most games ever in the American League, but they did it with a very young pitching staff and a few young hitters who would eventually develop into a talented enough group to help the Tigers win the A.L. pennant in 2006. This Royals team is losing mostly with guys who won't be here in two years. There'll be no return on any fan investment this year, next year, and judging by the last two decades, not ten years from now. It's like they're losing for nothing.

I don't want it to sound like I'm picking on Ankiel. Actually, in the small sample we've gotten so far, he seems like a guy who hustles and plays the game hard. His bat certainly has some pop, as he showed in a four-hit performance on Friday in the Royals' only winning effort over the weekend.

He is, though, a microcosm of what's gone wrong with the Royals and why they still aren't winning. After a tough, injury plagued season last year, the Royals gave Ankiel a contract based on the hope that he'd return to form and hit 20 or so home runs. Now, maybe it will pay off. More likely, though, it won't.

The Gil Meche signing before the 2007 season is a prime example. The Royals gave Meche the biggest contract in team history - $55 million over five years - on the hope that he would take the step from average pitcher to good pitcher. It's the equivalent to you going to work Monday morning, and your boss greets you by letting you know you'll be getting a sizeable raise because, though your work hasn't improved recently, he/she has a hunch you're about to turn the corner. And then, of course, three years later, you not only missed the turn, but you took a u-turn and are a worse employee than you were to start with. Of course, you're still getting paid.

This all trails back to Dayton Moore. I was a fan of owner David Glass hiring Moore at the time, and I haven't completely given up on him yet. Something's got to give, though.

The Royals' brass decided the bullpen would improve by default this year after repeated bad performances last season. And that came after a 2008 season that saw the bullpen emerge as a strong point for the Royals. The start of the downturn came in the offseason before the 2009 season when Moore made two very pivotal mistakes. The biggest of the two was when he traded away the young and cheap hard throwing reliever Leo Nunez to the Marlins for overpaid, low on-base percentage strikeout king, Mike Jacobs. The other mistake was trading another young reliever, Ramon Ramirez, to the Red Sox for center fielder Coco Crisp. The Crisp deal made much more sense, adding speed and defense to the team, but an injury took him out of the lineup for good by May, and the Royals never saw a return on him. Both players are now playing for other teams, which tells us both moves were definitely bad decisions in hindsight.

What made it worse was how Moore replaced Nunez and Ramirez. Enter Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz. Some $10 million later, the Royals haven't improved their offense, have less talent in the bullpen, and less money to shop for free agents in the coming years to try and right their wrongs.

It seems simple, I know, yet we're really just scratching the surface here. These kind of mistakes are what got the Royals here. If a remedy isn't found soon, we'll surely be in for another decade of the same.

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