Thursday, March 5, 2009

Royals Today: 3/5/2009.

Thirty-two days. Thirty-two days until Coco Crisp steps into the batter’s box here in Chicago. (If anyone has access to some quality tickets to Opening Day, by the way, please let me know.) It’s still too early to take spring training results seriously, but it’s not too early to start talking about how the roster is shaping up. Which means it’s time for the first Royals Today of the new season.

- Royals fans have become quite accustomed to the fringe benefits of being a bad team: an early draft pick (and the accompanying opportunity to blow that pick by passing on the best player available to save money – I’m so glad we took Jeff Austin instead of J.D. Drew ten years ago), a plum spot in the Rule 5 draft, first dibs on the waiver wire. To that, we can add the fact that bad teams don’t have to worry about having their roster disrupted by the World Baseball Classic. Three years ago, I don’t recall a single significant member of the Royals that participated.

This year things are different, which is yet another sign that the Royals are slowly pulling themselves out of the morass of the post-strike era. The Mexicutioner will close for Mexico, and would have made any team’s roster. You obviously have to worry about Soria’s health; this is one instance where the Royals’ insistence on keeping him in the bullpen is unassailable. Working one or two innings at a time, there’s little reason to think that he’s going to get hurt (although his Mexican teammate Luis Ayala blew out his elbow in the 2006 WBC, and has never been the same.) Ayala excepted, the WBC hangover primarily hit the starting pitchers, who were throwing five or six innings in game conditions at a point in the spring when they were used to throwing three or four innings in an exhibition setting.

Jose Guillen and Miguel Olivo will be playing for the Dominican Republic, which should have no impact on the Royals, both because their starting jobs are fairly secure, and because it’s not clear that an injury to either player would hurt the team at all. Mike Aviles is the starting shortstop for the Puerto Rican team – he’s come a long way, baby – but I can’t imagine that his absence will endanger his starting role on the Royals one bit. And then there’s Lenny DiNardo, working as a ringer for the Italian team but otherwise irrelevant. (I’m guessing that my brother and I could make the Syrian national team right now. We’d have a sizeable advantage on the other applicants: we’d know the rules of the game.)

Finally, there’s Dylan Lindsey, the 17-year-old South African pitcher who’s most famous for the fact that no one in the Royals organization – other than the scout who signed him – has even seen him pitch. (Strangely, this is the second straight WBC featuring a Royals pitcher on the South African team – Barry Armitage was one of the team’s most prominent members three years ago, and if he could have held onto a ninth-inning lead, South Africa would have pulled off a hellacious upset of the Canadians.)

The most impactful spring training desertion is Mark Teahen, who will be playing third base for Team Canada instead of working on second base for the Royals. (Then again, maybe that’s for the best. I didn’t expect it to take long for the second base experiment to go sour, but I thought it would take more than one inning.)

The WBC is to be played every four years, but after the first one was hurriedly put together in 2006, it was agreed that the second one would be held three years later before starting the quadrennial pattern. This may have been a lucky break for the Royals. A year from now, Alex Gordon might have spent a few weeks backing up David Wright at third base, and more importantly, Zack Greinke might have been in Team USA’s rotation. This year the WBC goes on with no impact to the Royals’ rotation, and it will be four years – and another Greinke contract – before we have to worry about this event again.

- If there’s one player on the roster that you have to root for to have a huge March, it’s Alberto Callaspo. Unless Teahen magically learns how to play second base from ninety feet away, second base is going to come down to Bert vs. the Spork. Sam Mellinger has already set his over/under on Bloomquist’s starts at second base at 100, and while I’d take the under on that, the fact that 100 starts is even theoretically possible scares the hell out of me.

Joe Posnanski has written of "The Gloaden Rule", which states: "1) Use Ross Gload correctly, he will help your team win games. 2) Use Ross Gload incorrectly, he will get you fired." That rule applies doubly so for Bloomquist. Used as a backup at seven different positions, as a defensive replacement at second base, as an early-inning pinch-hitter when you need baserunners more than you need power, he’s a near-perfect 25th man. As an everyday starter, he’s a whirling vortex of suck that threatens to bring down every offensive rally he comes into contact with. If you could commune with the future and have access to the number of starts made by a single member of the Royals in 2009, Bloomquist is the guy I’d pick. If he makes 30 starts this year, the Royals have a chance. If he makes 130 starts, they don’t.

- Speaking of Gload, am I being unreasonably optimistic when I say that there’s actually a chance the Royals might cut their losses with him? He has a guaranteed contract for 2009, but I have yet to see any clear-cut evidence that he’s guaranteed a spot on the roster. The roster math for the Royals is pretty daunting, particularly since Hillman is committed to keeping 12 pitchers. DeJesus, Crisp, and Guillen man the outfield; Gordon and Aviles lock down the left side of the infield. Olivo and Buck share catcher duties. Jacobs will play at either first base or DH, and Teahen and Bloomquist are roster locks.

That leaves all of three roster spots for Butler, Callaspo, Brayan Pena, Shealy, Gload, Tony Pena Jr, or anyone else. If Butler or Callaspo fail to make the roster, something has gone terribly wrong, and for the third spot, I’d argue that Brayan Pena or Shealy – both of whom are out of options – are a better use of that roster spot than Gload. (And that doesn't account for the possibility of another acquisition this month, which wouldn't surprise me at all.)

Giving Gload a two-year contract for no reason (Gload wasn’t eligible for free agency any time soon) remains one of Moore’s most inexplicable decisions, and the cost of that mistake is coming due. Cutting Gload would force the Royals to eat $1.9 million. Nonetheless, it’s the right move to make. Gload’s salary is a sunk cost, something they’re going to have to pay either way. Better for the Royals to not also pay by keeping him on the roster.

As Bob Dutton reports, the Royals may be considering just that. It may be a small decision in the grand scheme of things, but if the Royals do release Gload, the implications are fairly significant: it means that Moore understands the concept of a sunk cost, that he’s willing to admit when he’s made a mistake, and that he’s able to convince David Glass to pay a player to not actually play. Stay tuned. If Gload gets cut before Opening Day, it will be a very welcome sign that the Royals are hellbent on contending this year, and neither sentiment nor the ghosts of decisions past will get in their way.

- Some of you may have read Christina Kahrl’s column on the Royals’ small but very real playoff hopes. She makes many of the same points I’ve made – that the AL Central is a very compressed division, that even the division favorite Indians have holes, and that if the Royals are going to pull this off, it’s going to be on the backs of their talented young players, and not on the veterans that they’ve thrown millions of dollars at over the last two seasons.

I’ve been rooting for an underdog for so long that part of me resents Kahrl for giving the Royals as much credit as she does. I don’t want anyone to believe in us – it will make the inevitable victory that much more satisfying.

Obviously, that’s juvenile. It’s very, very hard – nearly impossible – for a team to suddenly reach the playoffs without having someone believe in them first.* The Rays had their believers last year. Even the Braves had a bandwagon of supporters back in 1991 – the Braves were just 39-40 to start that season, but a lot of people (myself included) looked at the team during the first half of the season and said, man, there’s some talent on this squad.

Talent doesn’t just materialize out of thin air, and you’re not going to win without talent. The Royals tried that before in 2003 – I don’t know anyone who was talking them up before that season – and it didn’t work. You need a foundation of talent to dream. The Royals have that foundation now, and suddenly people who don’t bleed blue and white are starting to take that dream seriously.

*: I have no explanation for the 2008 Arizona Cardinals. I’m not sure anyone does.

The latest to do so is Bill Simmons, who not once but twice this week talked up the Royals on "The B.S. Report." In his March 2nd podcast – flip to the 48-minute mark – he starts by talking up the Chiefs as the biggest sleeper in the NFL next year, but around the 52-minute mark goes out of his way during a football discussion to hitch his train to the Royals this summer. “You might be looking at The Year of Kansas City.”

The next day he goes even further during a discussion with Matthew Berry - again, forward ahead to the 48-minute mark. “I love the Royals in general – I think that whole team is going to take off this year. I like Cruz, I like Soria, I love Mike Aviles. Gordon – this is his third year, he’s due to make the third-year leap. I like Billy Butler. I just like that team.” This podcast is worth listening to, if only to hear Berry – ESPN’s Senior Director of Fantasy – laughably mispronounce Mark Teahen’s name and briefly claim that Joey Gathright was in the outfield mix.

So obviously, not everyone has taken notice of the Royals. But Simmons has, and there are few, if any, sportswriters more popularly read than him. (And Simmons isn’t just blowing smoke. I have it on good authority that he stands to make some money if the Royals win the division. Or he would, if gambling were legal.)

I guess we’ll just have to accept that the bandwagon isn’t solely made up of die-hards. But hey, if the Royals go to the playoffs this year, none of us are going to complain or even remember that a few national observers thought this was a possibility. And it’s fun to go into the season talking up the Royals’ chances of a playoff run without being openly laughed at for a change.

We ought to prepare ourselves for a different kind of heartbreak this year, though. The saving grace of the Royals the last 20 years is that they’ve been so bad that they don’t have any near-misses on their resume. The Royals have been eliminated from playoff consideration with at least four days to go in every season since 1986, and they haven’t been more than mathematically alive in any season past about September 15th. This could be the year the Royals fall two or games short, and if that happens, I guarantee that we’ll be bitching about the money wasted on Kyle Farnsworth or Horacio Ramirez, or the playing time given to Gload or Bloomquist, or the one-of-a-kind event that is the Jose Guillen Experience, as the difference between missing the playoffs and making it. I might as well bookmark this column now, because if that’s the case I’ll almost certainly want to quote from this paragraph six months from now.

But you know what? I’ll take that risk, and so will every one of you. If the Royals go out there and challenge for first place all year long, and come up a game or two short, or if they collapse in September and cough up a division title that was in their grasp, we’re going to feel a hurt that, for many of us, we’ve never felt before. But at least we’ll feel something. We’ve been beaten down as Royals fans for so long that we’ve become numb to the pain. To feel pain is to feel alive, and Royals fans have endured two decades worth of dead Septembers. I don’t know if the season will end in agony or in ecstacy, but I’ve got a good feeling that this year, at least it won’t end with a sense of relief.

26 comments:

Clint said...

thanks for writing this post, Rany, now the Royals will go 55-107.

just kidding, but you're right, I would much rather us pull a Willie Randolph in september than to be out of the race in june.

Adam said...

You don't recall Matt Stairs and Aaron Guiel suiting up for Team Canada?

Anonymous said...

Adam from two comments previous, Matt Stairs and Aaron Guiel were never really relevant players

Matt said...

Rany you right an incredibly interesting blog, I only hope you keep up the good work during the season. I just want 82+ wins, and not the 83 we had in 2003 that everyone knew was an aberration. I want 82+ wins with a feeling that we can be as good or better the next year.

jonfmorse said...

"If the Royals go out there and challenge for first place all year long, and come up a game or two short, or if they collapse in September and cough up a division title that was in their grasp, we’re going to feel a hurt that, for many of us, we’ve never felt before."

Or maybe "none of us." Simply, none of us have ever experienced anything like "finally we have a shot but we came up just short." The Royals have finished fewer than six games out (without winning, of course) exactly three times in their history. Two of those times were 1982 and 1987, each two seasons removed from a World Series appearance -- painful, but not horribly so insofar as we still had such recent success to feel good about.

On the other hand, the third time was possibly even more painful than a close-but-no-cigar 2009 might be: finishing three back of the Angels in 1979 while trying to four-peat. Then again, I don't recall feeling overly distraught in '79; 'course, I was only 13 and had already celebrated three division championships in my young existence, so one might forgive me my lack of perspective at the time. Besides, missing the playoffs wasn't nearly as bad as the way we kept losing to the damned Yankees.

Robert said...

The Cardinals had two of the best half dozen receivers in football, and play in a mediocre division...so them hosting a playoff game wasn't too big of a surprise. Now, getting to the Super Bowl was/is/continues to be a head scratcher.

I'm fired up about this Royals team, and I agree with you that Bloomquist is the barometer. I said when we signed him that if it's for his versatility and defense that I like the signing. But if it's going to take Hillman/Moore 300+ Bloomquist ABs to figure out last year's OBP was a fluke, I hate the signing and he could play us right out of contention.

We'll see.

Huskergut said...

God Bless you Rany, you cockeyed optimist you. I don't want to be a downer, but here's what the Royals should do well this year: pitch. That's it. That's the list.

If I can only be good at one thing, I'll take pitching, but the fact remains this team is substandard on offense unless Gordon and Butler both make the leap. It's also poor-to-terrible defensively, especially in the infield, which will hurt the pitching. Oh, and they're slow.

I'm glad you're excited, but try not to raise everyone's hopes too much. 80 wins would be an accomplishment for this team.

Mark said...

I'm disappointed that you didn't comment at all about the potential prospect of the Royals trading Teahen to the Yankees now that it appears A-Rod could be out for a significant portion of the season. They have no decent replacement (Angel Berroa's name has been tossed around) and there aren't any good free agents out there. The Royals could finally unload him and the Yankee's could get a player with some actual experience at the position for very little cost.

ChaimMKeller said...

The Royals weren't talentless in 2003. The problem was that the starting pitching specifically wasn't talented. We got a few fluke months from Runelvys Hernandez, Jeremy Affeldt, Miguel Asencio, Kyle Snyder and Jose Lima. Mike Macdougal did have talent, but was too fragile to maintain a full season.

But they had talent. Beltran, Sweeney, Randa, Ibanez, ROY-level Angel Berroa...that's not at all a bad lineup core.

Sean said...

Those comments about Gload had me laughing out loud. If they cut Gload and TPJ it will go along way in showing the fans that players that wouldnt make another teams lineup woudlnt make ours either. Gload carear highs in starts have came the last 2 years. I cant believe he would get a 2 year deal when the rest of baseball wasn't bidding. Oh well, lets have a great year and I'm hoping for Shealy to make the squad.

KMartin said...

If our season is one of just missed the playoffs...I will be very, very happy. If that happens WITH THE CURRENT STAFF then that means Gordon broke out, Butler figured it out, Davis toe it up, Jacobs and Guillen jacked it out, Meche and Greinke are 15+ winners, and more importantly (albeit unpopular), the AAA guys stay there ready to kick some in 2010 (Cortes, K2, Rosa).

Alex said...

Rany - First off, great post. Second, I don't have tickets to opening day in Chicago yet, but two of my sox fan buddies and I are going to do our damndest to get tickets. I just hope we don't have to go the stubhub route and pay $100 for upper deck down the line or something.

I think it's a really good thing that no one is picking the Royals to do anything this year. I just found my Sept '96 SI NFL preview issue that has Steve Bono, Marcus Allen and Neil Smith on the fold out cover facing the Packers in the Super Bowl and I remembered what it's like to go into a season with EVERYONE picking your team. I'd much rather be in the position we're in now (I just hope we're not still in this position next year).

I think that I had always kind of pictured this season as being an improving season, maybe be around .500, probably finish in 3rd, etc, etc. If not that, I was thinking some sort of miracle season where everything goes our way and we make the playoffs. I hadn't, until now, considered being in contention and losing by a game or two at the end of the season. I can't imagine the pain that would cause to come that close. Thanks for the advanced warning, I guess.

konch said...

If anyone needs tix to opening day in Chicago, I have 4 upper deck tickets that I will sell at 60 bucks a piece (about 15 bucks more than cost and less than whats on Stubhub). The tickets are Upper Box 542, Row 20. E-mail me at konchar221@hotmail.com if interested

Anonymous said...

This post has officially put me into excitement mode for Baseball season. Don't get me wrong, I was alreayd optimistic and excited, but now it's go time!

Jeff said...

For the past two days I have been expressing the worry that we might be quickly approaching overrated status. I feel that this point is finally here.

I don't think we're much better than a .500 club this year, but with a whole lot of hope for the duration of Zack's contract.

Brett said...

I'll be at Opening Day in Chicago, Rany, but I'm going with a friend (Sox fan, boo), and I have no idea if their group has any extra tix.

Brett said...

I'll be at Opening Day in Chicago, Rany, but I'm going with a friend (Sox fan, boo), and I have no idea if their group has any extra tix.

rey rey said...

Jeff, your thought process and conlcusion is probabaly the correct one but keep this in mind:

Rany thought by just removing Gload and Pena as starters would have been good for another 5 games last year.

Then factor in our two biggest offensive weaknesses from last year may have been addressed (OBP--Crisp and HR's Jacobs). Then finally conclude, like I have, that the pitching staff should be better this year and then its not hard to jump in with both feet.

Ryan said...

For the Royals to be decent, Gordon and Butler are going to have to significantly improve. Jacobs is not and will not be an impact player. Jacobs and Farnsworth's additions were boneheaded mistakes. They were just blatantly stupid for reasons that you, me and others have already gone over ad nauseum.

If anything those two acquisitions, Guillen, and perhaps the Bloomquist, will make sure the Royals don't have any real hope of competing for the pennant.

If anyone trusts Hillman to properly use Bloomquist, then they didn't pay attention to how he managed last year.

Anonymous said...

You can argue all you want about whether Mike Jacobs is a good first baseman or whatnot, but here's my question for all of you. Is he better than what we had last year? The answer is a resounding YES! Replacing Gload with him is worth at least 3-5 wins.

The Farnz signing is looking a little better now that he won't be counted on to be the top right handed setup man (although the dollar figure is still high). As a 7th inning guy, I'm comfortable with having him in my bullpen.

I do worry about our rotation after our top two though. I do agree there. I don't think Bannister will be as bad as last year, nor as good as the year before. He'll be league average probably. A lot will depend on the improvement of Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar. If only one or neither pans out, then what?? That's my biggest concern.

Paul said...

I would be absolutely shocked if they release Gload. Hillman has to be ecstatic having a right side of Bloomquist and Gload; his type of players.

Remember his comments last year about how he wished he had 25 Ross Gload's on his team.

No way they cut him........

Olentangy said...

I know there will be at least one game where the Royals infield will consist of Gload, Bloomquist, Pena jr and Teahen at third. We don't want our team hitting any of those dreaded extra base hits now do we?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and apparently we don't want any of our guys hitting them either with that lineup... :)

Anonymous said...

here's a sneak peek at the new scoreboard crown about to be installed at the K... looks pretty cool, but it will be a little awkward if the reflected sunlight is blinding.

http://videos.kansascity.com/vmix_hosted_apps/p/media?id=3357877

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.

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