Chicago Tony Pena was easy to recognize at the recent winter meetings. He was the man who couldn't stop smiling.
While the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Anaheim Angels and Philadelphia Phillies dominated recent headlines, the Kansas City manager said he believes no team has made more good moves than his Royals.
General manager Allard Baird, who never has had the resources to compete for a high-profile free agent, has upgraded Pena's pitching staff. That weakness was exposed after the All-Star break a year ago when the surprising Royals slid from first place to third in the American League Central.
"We've made some moves that were huge," Pena said. "Re-signing Brian Anderson, that was huge. Adding Scott Sullivan, that was huge. I am so happy with so many of the things we have done. I wish the season started tomorrow."
Preaching belief and togetherness, the perpetually optimistic Pena seemingly willed the Royals to an 83-79 record in 2003. It earned Manager of the Year honors for Pena and ended a run of eight consecutive losing seasons for a once-proud franchise that has not been to the playoffs since 1985.
It was no surprise the Royals scored runs. The lineup included three proven run-producers in Mike Sweeney, Carlos Beltran and Raul Ibanez and received above-average production from shortstop Angel Berroa, who was named the AL's Rookie of the Year. But the pitching staff was a work in progress constantly changing.
A group of young starters and rookie closer Mike MacDougal fueled the strong start, but injuries to Runelvys Hernandez (elbow surgery), Miguel Asencio (shoulder) and Jeremy Affeldt (recurring blisters) put a strain on a thin bullpen. Baird imported veterans Curtis Leskanic, Graeme Lloyd and Al Levine in midseason deals, but Pena's staff still lacked depth.
For the season, the Royals' bullpen was 26-29 with a 5.55 earned-run average, the highest in the AL. Relievers allowed opponents a .292 batting average and an .826 on-base plus slugging percentage. No Kansas City reliever who appeared in more than 40 games had an ERA lower than MacDougal's 4.08.
"I don't know what we would have done without MacDougal," Pena said. "But getting a lead to him wasn't easy for us."
Baird has added experience to his young roster. Anderson and Kevin Appier, both acquired late last season, agreed to free-agent contracts. They join a rotation that will include lefty Darrell May and two starters from a group topped by rookies Zack Greinke, Jimmy Gobble, Kyle Snyder, Chris George, Affeldt and Asencio.
"Our starters won't have to carry as heavy of a load with the bullpen we will have," Pena said. "That could be a big difference."
Sullivan, a workhorse during eight seasons in Cincinnati, was stolen away from the Central rival White Sox. The Sox had traded for him last season, sending third baseman Tim Hummel to the Reds, and tried to re-sign him. But Sullivan received a better offer from Baird, who gave him a two-year, $5 million contract.
K.C. also re-signed Jason Grimsley, who was third in the AL with with 76 appearances. Affeldt could become a key member of the bullpen if he does not regain his spot in the starting rotation.
Baird still is shopping for a hitter to replace Ibanez, who left to sign a three-year deal in Seattle. But he re-signed third baseman Joe Randa and has upgraded behind the plate by signing Benito Santiago to replace Brent Mayne. He also raided the White Sox roster to sign utility infielder Tony Graffanino.