Kansas City Royals
2008 Record: 75-87 (.463)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 72-90 (.444)
Manager: Trey Hillman
General Manager: Dayton Moore
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Kauffman Stadium (97/98)
Who’s Replaced Whom:
- Mike Jacobs replaces Ross Gload
- Coco Crisp replaces Joey Gathright and Mark Grudzielanek
- Willie Bloomquist replaces Esteban German
- Brayan Peña replaces Mitch Maier (minors) and Ryan Shealy (minors)
- Sidney Ponson replaces Brian Bannister (minors)
- Horacio Ramirez replaces Luke Hochevar (minors) and Brandon Duckworth (minors)
- Kyle Davies takes over Brett Tomko’s starts
- Juan Cruz replaces Ramon Ramirez
- Kyle Farnsworth replaces Leo Nuñez
- Doug Waechter replaces Joel Peralta
- Jamey Wright replaces Yasuhiki Yabuta (minors) and Jimmy Gobble
1B – Mike Jacobs (L)
2B – Alberto Callaspo (S)
SS – Mike Aviles (R)
3B – Alex Gordon (L)
C – Miguel Olivo (R)
RF – Mark Teahen (L)
CF – Coco Crisp (S)
LF – David DeJesus (L)
DH – Billy Butler (R)
R – Willie Bloomquist (UT)
R – John Buck (C)
R – Tony Peña Jr. (SS)
S – Brayan Peña (C)
R – Gil Meche
R – Zack Greinke
R – Kyle Davies
R – Sidney Ponson
L – Horacio Ramirez
R – Joakim Soria
R – Juan Cruz
R – Kyle Farnsworth
L – Ron Mahay
R – Robinson Tejeda
R – Doug Waechter
R – Jamey Wright
15-day DL: RF – Jose Guillen (groin), LHP – John Bale (thyroid surgery)
S – Coco Crisp (CF)
S – Alberto Callaspo (2B)
L – David DeJesus (LF)
L – Mark Teahen (2B)
L – Mike Jacobs (1B)
R – Billy Butler (DH)
L – Alex Gordon (3B)
R – Miguel Olivo (C)
R – Mike Aviles (SS)
The Royals lost a franchise record 106 games in 2005. The following May, they fired general manager Allard Baird and replaced him with Dayton Moore, who had been former Royals GM John Schuerholz’s assistant GM in Atlanta. Under Moore, the Royals have improved by an average of six wins in each of the last three seasons. If they do that again this year, they’ll post just their second 80-win season since 1993. Unfortunately, it looks as though the Royals rehabilitation is beginning to level out.
It’s hard not to make a 106-loss team better. No team has lost more than 102 games since the Royals dropped 106 in 2005. What more has done, getting a terrible team up to 75 wins, is the easy part. It’s getting that team over the .500 hump and turning it into an actual winner that’s hard to do, and I’m beginning to doubt Moore’s ability to do that.
The Royals’ primary assets include two front-of-the-rotation starters in 25-year-old Zack Greinke and Gil Meche, 30; one of the best closers in baseball in Joakim Soria, who will turn 25 next month; two top hitting prospects who are already in the major league lineup in 25-year-old third baseman Alex Gordon and soon-to-be-23-year-old DH Billy Butler; and two of the game’s top minor league prospects in first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, ranked numbers 18 and 21, respectively, by Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein.
Four of those seven players were acquired under Moore. Soria was an utter steal in the 2006 Rule 5 draft; Meche was a risky free agent signing that is paying off beautifully; Hosmer and Moustakas were the Royals’ top selections in the last two drafts (taken with the third- and second-overall picks, respectively).
The problem is that Moore won’t continue to have those nice high draft picks if the Royals continue to improve (they draft twelfth this year), and if you take away Hosmer and Moustakas (as well as 2006’s top overall pick Luke Hochevar, who is already 25 and failed to beat out the excorable Horatio Ramirez for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring), Moore hasn’t really done much. Players like Soria don’t show up in the Rule 5 draft very often, and it took Moore $55 million to land Meche. He has yet to pull off a high-impact trade, and he continues to populate his roster with veteran sludge such as Ramirez or tonight’s starter, Sidney Ponson.
Despite the presence of Kyle Farnsworth, who announced his presence by blowing a save on Opening Day, the bullpen is solid, but it’s also old. Other than Soria, just two members of the Royals pen are under 30, and it’s unlikely that even those two (failed Rays starter Doug Waechter and failed Rangers starter Robinson Tejeda) will last to see the team coalesce around the seven players listed above.
More to the point, the bullpen and the top three men in the rotation (including 25-year-old former Braves prospect Kyle Davies, who was aquired by Moore for Octavio Dotel in late 2007 and may yet prove to be a decent mid-rotation starter) will have to dominate in order for the Royals to improve by another six games given what is shaping up to be a pathetic offense.
Gordon and Butler could very well have breakout seasons, but they’re really the only high-ceiling guys on the team. Moore should be complimented for picking up Coco Crisp from the Red Sox for former Yankee prospect Ramon Ramirez, but Crisp is valuable primarily for his speed and defense. David DeJesus is still around to be a smidge better than average. Shortstop Mike Aviles was a pleasant surprise last year as a 27-year-old rookie, but seems unlikely to repeat his success going forward and is hitting ninth in Trey Hillman’s order. Meanwhile, Hillman has filled the heart of his order with out machines. Third-place hitter Mark Teahen, now playing second base after stops at third, left, and right field, posted a .313 OBP last year. Cleanup hitter Jose Guillen posted a .300 OBP last year, and new addition Mike Jacobs posted a .299 OBP for the Marlins a year ago.
Worse yet, all three are defensive liabilities. Guillen has a great arm, but no range. Jacobs may be the worst defensive first baseman in baseball. Teahen had never played a middle infield postion as a professional prior to spring training this year. Meanwhile, Alberto Callaspo, a legitimate second base prospect with Gold Glove potential who is about to turn 26, is riding pine (or was until Guillen hit the DL with a groin tear, allowing Teahen to temporarily move back to right field). So much for Moore’s emphasis team defense (remember Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Grudzielanek, Tony Peña Jr., and Joey Gathright?).
The Jacobs acquisition was a major blunder. Royals would have been better off putting Teahen at first base, playing Callaspo, and keeping Leo Nuñez, the 25-year-old fireballing reliever they sent to Florida for Jacobs. In that one move, Moore made his team worse at three positions and cost spent $12.5 million (on Jacobs’ arbitration settlement and two years of Kyle Farnsworth, Nuñez’s replacement) for the priviledge. It’s that kind of decision making, also reflected by the fact that Guillen is the highest paid player on the team (he’s in the middle year of a three-year, $36 million contract), that is going to keep the Royals from getting over the hump. There’s talent on this team and more on the way, but it’s being undermined by bad management.
The Royals have scored exactly two runs in each of their first three games this year, and ill send Sidney Ponson to the hill for their home opener this afternoon. The Yankees will only face one of the Royals’ top three starters this weekend (Meche on Sunday), and after getting warmed up by averaging seven runs a game in Baltimore, should have fun taking their hacks against Sir Sidney today. Andy Pettitte makes his first start of the 2009 season today. Andy’s only start in Kansas City last year also came on April 10. He pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-runball and the Yankees won 6-1. I’ll sign up for another of those