Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Struggling Organization: Kansas City Royals

Oh boy, where do I begin here? The Royals haven't been relevant since 1985 and they can't seem to break the awful string of mediocrity. The days of George Brett, Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen, Frank White, and Willie Wilson are long gone. Over the past two decades, the Royals have failed to produce quality talent and they failed to retain the little talent they had. Too many times the Royals have wasted at bats with guys who have no business being on a major league roster instead of frontin' the dough for some talent. Only in the past two seasons has new GM Dayton Moore finally convinced the Glass family to open their wallets. This really is a shame because the Royals have some of the greatest fans in baseball and quite frankly, they deserve a lot better than what the Royals have given back to them.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Royals over the past 5-8 seasons is the way they have handled their pitchers. The Royals relied heavily on scrub pitchers (Darrell May, Jimmy Anderson, Dan Reichert, Jose Lima) while rushing up their young starters (Zack Greinke, Jimmy Gobble, JP Howell) before they are ready. So how did this happen? Well after years of refusing to sign any pitchers of note, the Royals would go into spring training with many holes in their starting rotation. The young guys and the scrubs would battle it out for the chance to get beat up with a 5+ ERA for the season. That is certainly not a strategy for winning baseball and set of two corresponding negatives: the Royals lose 100 games/respect around baseball and the development of the young pitchers is set back. To make things simply, this is just horrible baseball decisions by the men in charge.

Free Agents
Let's start this off on a semi-positive note: the Royals are actually spending money. In each of the past two offseasons, the Royals have made one big free agent signing by paying way over market value for mid level free agents. While Gil Meche has been good, he is not a $55 million dollar pitcher. He simply isn't that good. But I understand his signing because he gives the Royals consistency at the top and he'll eat 200 innings every season. For the Royals, that is valuable.
And Jose Guillen? Seriously Dayton, your gonna give $36 million dollars to a clubhouse cancer who is 32 years old? Sure he had a good 2007 campaign (41 HR), but the Royals are no where close to competing for anything right now. Spending that much on Guillen right now was absolutely foolish. And Jose has done nothing but support my claims this season (.254 BA, .290 OBP with 18 HR).

And as we look into the Royals past, boy is it ugly. Their biggest free agent signings prior to 2007 were Mark Grudzielanek, Joe Randa, Paul Byrd, and the aging Juan Gonzalez in 2004. Not exactly the greatest list of free agent signings. Anyone notice a trend with these signings? All of them are aging veterans who were past their prime (or approaching it) by the time the Royals picked them up. Furthermore, all of these guys were signed to cheap contracts for a year or two, which is just further proof of the Royals failure to spend on free agents. There are quality free agents out there, but going after aging veterans, who are well past their prime is not going to speed up the rebuilding process.

This is the section that really kills me. Ladies and gentlemen, the Royals have done a terrible job by trading away the few talented players they have and not getting any value for them in return. The Royals have traded away the following players in their players in their primes: Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and Carlos Beltran. Their rationale for trading them away was that they simply could not afford them. Fair enough, but at least get some return on these guys! Take a look at what the Royals have gotten back from 3 all stars in their prime.

Dye: Neifi Perez
Carlos Beltran: Mark Teahen, Mike Wood, John Buck
Johnny Damon: Angel Berroa, AJ Hinch, Roberto Hernandez

So basically, the Royals traded away the 3 best players they have had in a long time for some spare parts and lots of junk. Perez and Hernandez are retreads while Teahen, Berroa, and Buck have had very very mild success in the bigs. Hinch and Wood never did anything in the bigs. Simply put, that is a terrible job by Royals management to butcher all three trades so badly. These three deals set the Royals back years because the level of talent in their organization went down so greatly after making these deals.

I hope the Royals have learned from these three deals by signing their young players to extensions while they are still cheap and affordable so that they don't have to trade them off. I already see that this is exactly what they have done with David Dejesus (5 years/$13.8 mil) and Joakim Soria (3 years/$8.75 mil) and hopefully Zack Greinke is not too far behind.

The Royals have actually drafted many of quality young players over the years: Alex Gordon, David Dejesus, Zack Greinke, JP Howell, Billy Butler, Jeremy Affeldt, Mike Sweeney, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Luke Hochevar. This is exactly the way the Royals need to be building their team because it is the only way the Royals are able to bring in quality young talent and affordable prices. However, it should be noted that the reason why most of these guys have been available to the Royals in the draft is because the Royals have consistently picked in the top 10 or even the top 5 in almost every amateur draft of the past 10 seasons. Even the Royals are bound to hit on a few when your picking high all the time.
the one problem that I see here is that the Royals need to start drafting some pitchers. Sure they drafted Hochevar in 2006, but he has not been good so far and Howell and Affeldt are currently with new teams. You would figure that with all these high draft picks the Royals would take some quality young arms because the Royals have never really recovered from trading away David Cone and Bret Saberhagen. But maybe former 1st rounders Mike Stodolka and Colt Griffin (2000 and 2001 respectively) have scared the Royals away from drafting any more pitchers in the early rounds. Still, pitching is the key to winning in the majors and the Royals must make it an organizational priority to draft and develop more quality young arms.

*The Royals have shown some definite signs of pulling themselves out of the cellar. However, I think the Royals will continue to struggle until they are able to develop some quality young pitching to go along with the young hitting they have. The Royals need to remain active in the free agent market, but they need to target guys in their prime, not aging veterans.*
-No playoffs until at least 2011, probably later than that-

The Royals need to look at how the Rays were able to pull themselves out of the cellar and into the pennant race. Here's the formula: draft quality young players (and sign them), don't afraid to be bold, and sign guys for modest prices who will serve a role or purpose to the younger players (Cliff Floyd, Troy Percival). The Rays have had a fantastic season and have shown the baseball world that a worst to first turnaround is possible. There is the hope Mr. Moore. Now please, draft some PITCHERS and do not sign anymore aging outfielders with your newfound surplus of money.

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