Friday, February 18, 2011

The Royals Off Season

Sunday, October 3- The last game of the 2010 season

I wasn't there. I can't remember if we had tickets or not and if we did, I'm not certain that they were even used. Some people love the last game of the season. It is after all, fan appreciation day at the K, an appropriate gesture to those that suffer annually through the repetitive carnage that is Royals baseball. I never go though; it's not for me. It's not that I lack loyalty, this much is for sure, or even that apathy has set in. But by then I'm finished. Burnt out.

I can't really say that it's the losing that wears on me. I'm used to that. My teams lose, that's what they do. I like to think that it builds character and while I'm not sure if such is the case, I do at least get a breath of fresh air every year, which does kind of help me to endure the pounding that I suffer year round from my other teams...primarily the Royals. And when it comes to the Royals...oh man...they really know how to lose.

Lately though, there have been whisperings of better things ahead. What does this mean to you? There are quite the variety of responses to this information, ranging from "duh, knew that already" all the way to "so, they're the Royals, they'll blow it." Now I'm not going to try to persuade you to simply dive into the same kind of self-defeating optimism that I've been corroding my own sense of reality with for say...twenty years now, but I believe that I can safely say this: the best collection of talent in any minor league system, not to mention the best in Royals' franchise history, is on it's way.

Now, do you really believe that? It's OK if you don't, but understand that building from the ground up within our own organization has been the primary objective from day one, or at least since General Manager Dayton Moore took over the reigns. There have been some hiccups in the GMDM regime, but they've primarily been at the Major League level, while the agenda to find and develop young talent and provide depth to the organization appears to working.

In the meantime however, some distrust clouds the sunshine and frosty malts of Royals baseball future and as we gradually eased into winter for another long off season, one was left to wonder what direction we were headed in the short term to help insure laugh and be merry time down the road. Another poor season in 2011 seemed inevitable, but the damage there should be minimal, as the fans lost were already firmly entrenched in some kind of hypnotic state long ago, and not only remain to this day unable to forgive and forget the passing of a few outrageously priced outfielders, but are unlikely to acknowledge progress until a perennial playoff threat returns to Kauffman Stadium.

So, as to my understanding, the road map for the cold Kansas City winter was really quite lucid:

A) Decide who on the current roster is to contribute to happy joy time and who is not likely to ever see the day.
B) Get optimum value at the optimum time for those that will not still be around long term.
C) If you have a fat kid on the team that can't really run, can't really field a position properly, but sure can hit...go ahead and throw the kid some money so that he might stick around for a while.
D) Don't do anything, PLEASE, to potentially block talent that might be ready to debut. This includes Hawaiians in need of a showcase season.
E) Go ahead and use free agency to fill in any holes that may be necessary to field an acceptable, albeit another losing one in all likelihood, Major League Baseball team in 2011.
F) Please bring back grilled onions and green peppers for the Sheboygan.

Wednesday, November 10- David DeJesus traded to Oakland for pitchers Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks

I picked up my friend Geoff from the airport that day and it was an overdue reunion. Geoff, a friend from my time in California, was in town to visit and hit the road for a little college football in Lincoln, NE. As I was driving him around town, introducing him to Kansas City, this trade was announced on the radio. The timing was impeccable as Geoff is a devoted fan of his local baseball team: the Oakland A's.

I really have no idea how Geoff views this trade in retrospect, but it was striking to me that his initial response was somewhat apathetic, something like: great, another A's outfielder. Who will be left out? Geoff was right not to get too excited, David DeJesus does little to inspire visions of championship celebrations at Jack London Square, but then neither did either pitcher dealt to the Royals so it was lacking inspiration for emotion from whatever angle an A's fan might take.

But for a Royals fan, while the talent evaluation need not be dissimilar, it still meant much more somehow. DeJesus was OUR guy. We don't really get to say that about too many players. Granted, most teams in today's game do not get to stake claim to an entire player's career, but unlike most teams, the vast majority of our payroll usually gets distributed amongst has beens, reconstruction efforts, players with glaring yet somehow overlooked deficiencies and most significantly, our own "prospects" which generally fail to meet expectations, find injuries at every corner or never really had any talent in the first place. 

DeJesus was none of those things and in his time here, he offered not only solid performance, but also a very comforting familiarity. He was our guy and was not a failure. I wish that I could say that about even five Royals with more than three years service to our current club. But while I can't, it is also important to remember that he is not an all-star caliber player. He just isn't. And more than that, it was becoming clear that his time here in Kansas City was becoming more limited with every passing day. My suspicion is that Mazzaro and Marks will not be all-stars either, but they might help us, and if they can do that and offer it for a lot longer than DeJesus could have, then hey, it's a good trade. It is kind of sad to see him go, but let's be sure to not be overly sentimental about the loss. Otherwise, Geoff and his A's brethren would be a lot more excited about the gain.

Monday, December 6 through Thursday, December 9- The Baseball Winter Meetings- Orlando, FL

The dream is to actually be a part of these meetings. Can you imagine that? Wandering around a gigantic convention talking baseball, while the vast majority of the continental United States bundles up for their mundane, frost-bitten daily activities...I can't imagine anything better! Somehow though, I am yet to be invited. While this is unfortunate, I would recommend to any baseball/summer activities lover that at the very least, following closely to what's going on at the baseball winter meetings can be extraordinarily refreshing, a kind of reminder of warmer days to come.

As for the Royals, the DeJesus departure had left an immediate need in the outfield, and more significantly, that crazy Cy Young guy of ours was expressing discontent and thus dominating the talk of those chattering heads that are actually really invited to that special, special place. Discouraging. Yet, somehow not completely deflating...I'll get to that Zack guy in a minute. So what was accomplished during the meetings? Well, this and then this. Frenchy and Melky. Sigh. Oh well, even the biggest Royals optimist in the world would be better served to not expect much from the upcoming 2011 season anyway. I don't see much up-side to either signing, but then, neither cost much and neither locked us into any kind of long-term commitment, so it can't hurt to fill the positions while waiting on younger talent to emerge from below. At least this time that talent actually exists and we're not counting on either Melky Cabrera or Jeff Francoeur to finally realize their potential, if either of them actually ever had said potential in the first place.

Sunday, December 19- Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt traded to Milwaukee for shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and two pitchers- Jeremy Jefress and Jake Odorizzi

The day the Royals traded for Yuniesky Betancourt was almost as frustrating as actually having to see him start at shortstop for the Royals every day following. How could anything possibly spoil the joy of seeing him finally depart the organization? Well, this is about as close as one can come to that. But not entirely. Yuni is gone; this is good. Problem is, so is.

That Sunday morning followed a particularly enjoyable Christmas party the previous evening and while I was awake somewhat early that day, I can't quite remember the precise sequence of events that led to my full awareness of such unexpected Sunday news of this caliber. What remains clear to me now is sitting with my brothers, somewhat anticipating a pivotal noon-time football game, but mostly discussing the trade with our lap-tops open and our baseball prospect books sprawled out around us. Greinke. Cain. Greinke. Escobar. Greinke. Yuni. Greinke. Jefress. Greinke. Odorizzi. Greinke. That's about the closest I can do to offering some kind of stream of consciousness explanation to our analysis that day. Yet somehow, despite all that "Greinke," all three of us were pleased with the trade in the end. I would soon discover that we were very much in the minority.

Why the outrage? Well why not? This is what happens when the Royals staff league best type players. We trade them. That's the stigma anyway. But what my brothers and I see differs a little from such simplicity in protocol. The guy wanted out. A guy that was signed on for only two more seasons wanted out of town now. And the thing is, when it comes to Greinke, you don't just assume that he's merely posturing for something. When it comes to Greinke, you don't assume anything. What has bothered me for a while is how much flexibility he has had because of his social anxiety disorders. I get that these can be debilitating and should be treated with a certain degree of patience and understanding. But here's my question, at what point, taking into account the guy's likely very real social disorders, at what point are we allowed to say: nah, I don't care, the guy's a jerk? I don't know, you decide for yourself. But as for me, I had already resolved that I couldn't really care less about Zack Greinke, the man. Can I blame him for recognizing that his team might not be able to compete for a division in the time remaining on his contract? No, not really. But given that he signed the contract and was now attempting to force Dayton Moore's hands with ambiguous threats of how keeping him into spring training would not go well for the organization, couldn't he have at least opened up his no trade clause a little bit, and given us more teams to work a deal with? His whole disrespect for the organization that allotted him great patience in whatever it was that his stubborn, confused mind had to overcome...that bothered me. It bothered me a lot and frankly, I'm not so sad to see him go. And it seems that I wasn't alone.

Of course though, Zack Greinke is not the type of player that you dump just because he cares little for you and you don't really like the guy anyway. For Greinke, you must get value. And we got that. Did we get any one player that carries the all-world type of talent that Zack possesses? Likely not, and this point seems to be the emphasis of all criticism that I've read concerning the Royals end of the bargain. But it seems to me that the pieces just might add up. Cain and Escobar might give us more from the two positions of CF and SS than we've had in a long time and those are two positions that we don't seem to have an answer for in our ridiculously deep farm system. We filled holes there, and then we got pitching. Jefress hurls that little white ball at about 100 MPH on the gun. Odorizzi is still really young but is full of promise and adds to what is already the deepest minor league pitching depth in baseball, "While he was the top starting pitching prospect in the Brewers system, and will be in the Top 101 prospects, he's suddenly the fifth-best pitching prospect in a loaded Royals system. I'd slot him as the eighth-best prospect in an updated Royals Top 11, which is amazing considering that he'd be an easy top-three selection in most organizations."-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus.  I like it, I like it, I like it. And oh yeah, let's not forget the cherry on top: Yuni is gone.

January 2011- Pitching staff reconstruction

So enough, for now, with this rich get richer theme. Because in terms of starting pitching, the Greinke trade means that without a doubt, the poor just got a whole lot poorer at the Major League level. With the retirement of Gil Meche and the release of Brian Bannister to make room for one of the earlier transactions, we were now looking at a staff that included Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Sean O'Sullivan and the newly acquired Vin Mazzaro. And besides any unexpected early arrivals from one of our aforementioned stud prospects, that's about it. Oh boy, not good. Here comes the band-aid.

In Francis and Chen, I like both but I'm hardly overjoyed. Chen at times last year, particularly once Zack started doing his lack-luster can't get inspired pitching for a loser act, was our best pitcher. Resigning him to the staff of sorries that he outperformed last season just made sense. Now, it should be acknowledged that last season was his best Major League season and that most projections estimate his 2011 performance to be one of notable decline, I still don't see any problem bringing back a guy that performed more admirably than the rest in 2010, particularly at a decent price, which the Royals got.

Signing Francis is a bit more inspiring. After all, it was just 2007 when we watched him take down Cole Hamels and Brandon Webb en route to a World Series. But since then, he's never been the same because of injury. He's back now and at least appears to be healthy, which could be huge if he proves to be so and gives the Royals anywhere close to the same kind of production he once offered the Rockies. Nobody likes shoulder injuries though, which is one reason that the Royals acquired him at so little cost. But again, not spending much and filling a mean-time team, while waiting for the arms of Royals future to arrive, is only a good thing. I get a little tired of fan criticism being entirely based on payroll. You spend as needed, my friends, and just like any other smart consumer or investor, one does not just throw money out there for the sake of spending it alone.

Tuesday, January 23- Billy Butler signs on

He's our best hitter. Say what you like or perhaps at times, what you don't like about him, but the guy can hit and given his age, he very well might hit far more than he has so far. I have read and read and read about this guy since the Royals drafted him right out of high school and now I'm ready see what he can become. And if he does start mashing like we've been told he will for so long? Let's be sure to not see him go so easily. He's likely a future designated hitter, perhaps even spending more time away from first base this season with Kila Ka'aihue finally getting a look and almost assuredly finding less time there once Hosmer is ready, but DH, 1B...or whatever...if the guy can hit, that's where you spend some money. And the Royals did.

Right Now

They're in camp. Some young, some new and the departures are apparent. But they are, as we wait patiently back here in Kansas City, preparing for the 2011 season and beyond. Predicting baseball success is basically weighing how many what-ifs need to happen for a team to enjoy a winning season. Right now, at the Major League level, there are simply far too many what-ifs to assume anything grand in the upcoming season. But down below, in the minor leagues, the numbers game is a lot more favorable. How much immediate improvement we will start to see is somewhat questionable, but I suspect the signs will be clear, perhaps starting with the bullpen and gradually spreading to all parts of the roster over time. And that's exciting. I call it worth watching this season, but then I call it worth watching just about any time I hear the National Anthem preceding the event. Normal people will have to decide whether enduring yet another losing season (which is very, very likely) is worth it, just to bear witness to the emergence of a youthful foundation that could fill our city with overwhelming baseball joy in the not so distant future. Do you buy that? It's OK if you don't, but it's also just fine to still have hope.

I'm going to have to figure out a way to place dead-lines on myself to get these blogs out in a more timely manner! Anyway, once again, thanks for reading and here are the new subjects to vote on for the next post:

Book Report
Big 12 Basketball
Cookie Monster, Charcot Foot And The Congo

These are all based on reader suggestions, but I prefer not to explain too much, leaving all to be revealed should it be time to write the actual blog...sort of like a Jeopardy category I guess. The subjects from the last poll that received 0 votes have been removed and the new three have been added to the list. Please take the time to cast your vote and leave any new suggestions in the comments...thanks again and have a great week!


Anonymous said...

Book report, please.

Will said...

The Congo....or about a book report on "Congo"

Anonymous said...

Book report

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes, book Report.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Book Report.