So…we have now reached that part of the calendar whereby all but the most hopelessly optimistic Royals fan (i.e. even more optimistic than I) officially give up any hope of contention this season.
I guess we should give thanks that the Royals gave us reason to believe as long as they did. With the White Sox looking like they’ll never lose again (man, Carlos Quentin would have looked nice in powder blue*), the Royals are now 7.5 games out. In each of the last four seasons, they were 7.5 or more games out by May 1st. (May 1st!) They let us believe this year for longer – a week ago, they were a game under .500 and two games out – than any time since 2003.
*: I know it’s trendy for Royals fans to whine about the fact that Dayton Moore didn’t try to get Quentin, when it was obvious that the Diamondbacks were willing to move him cheap and he still had youth and a tremendous track record on his side. And the guy the Diamondbacks got in return was Chris Carter, a fine prospect but one of just six guys they would later send to
Here’s the problem: if the Royals wanted to beat the White Sox offer of Carter, who as a 20-year-old hit .291/.383/.522 in the South Atlantic League last season, there’s really only one hitter in the entire farm system that would have trumped the offer: Mike Moustakas.
The Royals are making strides in this department – particularly on the pitching side of the equation – but it’s going to be a few years yet before the Royals have a well of hitters deep enough that they can tap into it without feeling the pain.
Which is why it’s good to remember that for all the time we spend arguing about whether Hillman knows what the heck he's doing or whether there’s anything
- The chief problem with the Royals offense – and the reason why their problems are to a large degree intractable – is that the team is overrun with solidity. Ten or fifteen years ago, I was having a conversation with Joe Sheehan on the phone, trying to trade him one of my players in our Stratomatic league. I tried to sell him on some pitcher I didn’t need – I don’t recall exactly who – by calling him “a solid pitcher.” Joe responded bluntly, as he usually does, “you do realize that ‘solid’ is just a nice way of saying ‘he sucks’, don’t you?”
I didn’t have a good response for that. Ever since, I have kept tabs on the usage of that term, and it turns out Joe’s right: when a player is described as “solid” by the media, it usually means that he’s just not very good. It means that he doesn’t have any major weaknesses, except for one: he doesn’t have any strengths.
And that describes two-thirds of the Royals’ lineup to a T. David DeJesus? A fine centerfielder who does everything well, except…he’s never hit .300, he’s never reached double digits in homers, he walks about once every 10 at-bats, his career high in steals is 10. Solid. Mark Teahen is a terrific baserunner, a good defensive player, can play five different positions in a pinch, he draws a good number of walks…and he’s hitting .249 with as many homers (2) as Matt Cain. Solid.
John Buck (.259/.328/.362) is a solid catcher. Mark Grudzielanek (.290/.349/.361) is a solid second baseman. Billy Butler has star potential, but right now (.261/.330/.339) he’s just a solid young player. Jose Guillen is streaky as hell, but overall (.249/.279/.439) he’s a solid outfielder.
The point isn’t that “solid” is an insult, because it’s not. If any of these guys were the worst, or even second-worst, hitters in your lineup, you’d have a terrific lineup. Every championship team needs two or three solid players at their weaker positions, rather than suffer a festering sore at the position. The
The point is that the Royals have six solid players in their lineup every day. They have Alex Gordon, who I think we can comfortably place in the “quality starter” category, and then Pena and one of Gathright/Gload, who we can comfortably place in the “needs to be replaced ASAP” category. But the other six spots? None of these guys are playing so badly that they have to be replaced ASAP. More to the point, none of them are bad enough that it’s easy to find a replacement for them that would represent an improvement.
The Royals have three hitters in
So I don’t see any easy solution to this problem. If a market opens for Grudzielanek, he ought to be moved, which will open regular playing time for Callaspo, enable German to get more at-bats, and open up a roster spot for