Kansas City, Mo — David Glass, who made a fortune at Wal-Mart by peddling inexpensive stuff to the masses, is taking the same approach to baseball.
Although Glass has raised Kansas City's payroll to around $34 million, it's still in the lowest major league tier. Yet the Royals' new owner says he expects no less than a 10-game improvement over last year's 77-85 record.
His players think he'll get it.
"I think we should win more than 10," third baseman Joe Randa said. "There's a lot of optimism around here."
Leadoff hitter Johnny Damon was dealt to Oakland, but the Royals added closer Roberto Hernandez to fix a wretched bullpen that blew 56 saves over the past two years.
The entire staff, starters and relievers alike, spent spring training showing signs of significant improvement. Of course, the outfit that last season gave up league highs of 693 walks and 239 home runs while compiling an appalling 5.48 ERA could hardly get worse.
"I don't think our guys are going to have to score seven runs to give us a chance to win any more," said starter Dan Reichert, who has added a changeup to a hard slider.
"People who expect this staff to be at the same level it was last year are in for a surprise."
The offense, minus only Damon, is coming off a second straight banner year. Led by emerging stars Jermaine Dye in right field and Mike Sweeney at first base, the 2000 Royals set team records in runs, hits and average.
Plugging Damon's spot in left is second-year man Mark Quinn, who hit .294 with 20 home runs as a rookie. Damon's leadoff chores will be taken by second baseman Carlos Febles, who was effective in that role through the minors.
Like all small-market clubs, they Royals are thin. One or two key injuries could wreck all their plans. But with a little luck, it's possible this franchise which hasn't even sniffed a postseason game since winning the 1985 World Series could make a run for the wild card.
Tony Muser, entering his fourth full season as manager, figures they'd better. Nobody thinks Glass was joking when he talked about a 10-game improvement.
"I know this team can accomplish something," Muser said. "If things don't work out, I'll shake hands and tell people I thank you for the opportunity, and I will not embarrass people."
Right-hander Jeff Suppan (10-9) will make the opening day start Monday in New York. Filling out the rotation will be Blake Stein (8-5), Reichert (8-10), Brian Meadows (6-2) and Mac Suzuki (8-10).