I guess it’s appropriate that the Royals decided to interrupt my nostalgic trip to the mid-1990s by signing Willie Bloomquist, because Bloomquist reminds me of no one so much as a certain arch-nemesis of that era.
You see, if there was one player that summed up the frustration of being a Royals fan in the 1990s, it was our old pal David Howard. It’s hard enough to explain how Howard made it to the majors in the first place; he was a 32nd round draft pick, and he never hit a lick in the minors. Howard actually raised his batting average over each of his first four years in the minors – the bad news is that he started at
Howard started the 1991 season in
In those six seasons he never hit better than .243, or slugged better than .325, or on-based better than .310 – all of those numbers coming in 1995, which impressed the Royals so much that he was made a full-time starter in 1996. He hit .219/.291/.305. The following year Howard played Vic Wertz to Jim Edmonds’ legendary catch in centerfield, but what made that play so spectacular was the fact that
Howard’s continued employment, and continued performance, was so aggravating precisely because the Royals were not a terrible team at that time, and the two or three additional wins that might have come from replacing Howard with a reasonably competent player might have actually had some relevance. To this day I have not figured out how Howard was able to hold onto his job for so long, but the best explanation was that the Royals were so blinded by his versatility, his athleticism (so many times we heard that Howard was the best athlete on the team), and his clubhouse presence that they simply could not see that DAVID HOWARD COULD NOT HIT.
Howard started a game at every position except pitcher and catcher during his Royals career, and even pitched one day in a blowout, walking five batters in two innings and allowing Scott Cooper (Scott Cooper!) to complete the cycle when Cooper singled to lead off the ninth in a game the Royals lost 22-11. To borrow the line about Moe Berg, Howard could play seven positions, and to the Royals it didn’t matter that he couldn’t hit at any of them.
Every team has a David Howard on their roster at some point; it’s just that usually it’s a different guy every year. It takes a special combination of incompetence and intransigence to willfully trot out the same guy year after year when he’s already proven he can’t hit. I didn’t witness a single comparable situation to David Howard and the Royals anywhere else in baseball throughout the 1990s. But in the 2Ks – that’s what I’m calling this decade – I finally got to laugh at another team’s inexplicable fetish for a (s)crappy ballplayer. For the first time since Howard left the Royals, another player seemed to have an equally mesmerizing hold on his organization. That player was Willie Bloomquist.
Bloomquist, like Howard, has no real track record of offensive prowess even at the minor league level. Bloomquist did hit an impressive .379/.457/.523 for half a season in the California League in 2000 – playing for
Bloomquist never hit that well – or hit, period – after that, but he was already in the
Versatility? Check. Athleticism? Check (he’s like Howard, only with speed!) Character? Off the charts! Can he hit? HELL NO.
Yep, we’re back in the
Oh, there are reasons to think that Bloomquist isn’t quite as bad as Howard. His career line is just .263/.322/.324, with an OPS+ of 74, but that’s positively Ruthian compared to Howard’s .229/.291/.303 and OPS+ of 57. Bloomquist not only has speed, but seems to know how to use it; he’s 71-for-87 on the basepaths in his career. And he did have a .377 OBP last season, but unfortunately that seems to be
I don’t know what’s sadder: that
What is going to make it difficult for me to sleep tonight isn’t that
I don’t want to hang
“He's never really been an everyday player, but he's always had good people ahead of him like [center fielder Mike] Cameron, [shortstop Yuniesky] Betancourt and [second baseman] Jose Lopez.” Oh God, here we go with Yuniesky “We offered Billy Butler for him straight up” Betancourt. If Bloomquist is the new Howard, Betancourt is shades of Angel Berroa – a .280 hitter who swings at everything under the sun, and who came into the league with a good defensive rep but whose defensive numbers now suggest he’s almost unplayable. Jose Lopez? He never had an OPS+ of even 90 before 2008. The fact that
“He's a winner, he has versatility and he's a very good offensive player.” That’s right:
I wonder if the Cardinals thought David Howard was a "winner" when they signed him after the 1997 season, paying him $1.8 million for two years to do for St. Louis what he did for Kansas City. St. Louis went 83-79 and 75-86 with Howard on the roster; in 2000, with Howard gone, they won 95 games and went to the NLCS.
There’s one way that this signing can help the Royals: if it means that they boot Tony Pena off the roster (even better, and in all seriousness, if they try Pena in relief.) If the signing of Bloomquist is an acknowledgment that Pena no longer justifies a roster spot, and that the Royals are willing to pay a slight premium for a utility player who knows his role and isn’t a complete cipher at the plate, then this isn’t a bad move. Unfortunately, all the vibes suggest that Bloomquist is actually going to get to challenge Alberto Callaspo for the starting job at second base.
And that raises the tally on “payroll spent on replacement-level talent” to:
Mike Jacobs: $3 million (approx.)
Kyle Farnsworth: $4.6 million
Horacio Ramirez: $1.8 million (plus incentives)
Willie Bloomquist: $1.55 million (plus incentives)
Total: $10.95 million
I’m not crediting the Royals for the $1.6 million it would take to fill those four roster spots at the league minimum, but then, I’m not counting Miguel Olivo ($2.7 million) and Jose Guillen ($12 million) either. And keep in mind, every one of those contracts (except Guillen’s) was given out in the midst of the worst financial situation (baseball or otherwise) since collusion ended, when an absolute offensive beast like Pat Burrell is getting 2 years/$16 million and the still-imposing Jason Giambi (I'd rather have him in 2009 than Jacobs) got 1 year, $4.5 million.
Here’s an idea, Dayton: instead of spending all this money on a bunch of guys who don’t push you into contention, why not take all this cash and dangle it in front of Ben Sheets, a guy who when healthy is potentially dominant, and as an extreme fly ball pitcher is perfectly suited for Kauffman Stadium and a DeJesus-Crisp outfield? A Greinke/Meche/Sheets front of the rotation, and suddenly the Royals are a Gordon or
Two weeks ago I wrote this: “Dayton Moore does many things well, and he still has my support as the man who could lead the Royals to the playoffs once again. But after three off-seasons to prove himself on the free-agent market, with one notable exception (Gil Meche), all he has proven is that he is prone to wildly overspending for highly replaceable talent.” Now that he’s signed Bloomquist, I stand by these words completely. Well, accept for the part that he still has my support.
I thought that we were finally past the point of being a national laughingstock. I thought I wouldn’t have to hear that awful mixture of pity and contempt from fans of other teams anymore. I never thought the Royals would enter the
Dammit, Rob. I hate it when you’re right. And when it comes to the Royals, you're almost always right.