Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Royals Preview: 2003 designated ‘rebuilding’ year

Inexperienced K.C. team promises little

March 30, 2003

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— Most major-league teams select their opening-day starter based on arms. The Kansas City Royals made their call because of heads -- and tails.

It would be one thing to argue making Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson the ace.

But a coin flip to choose between a 24-year-old right-hander with four major-league wins and a 23-year-old lefty with three wins inspires little hope for improvement over the 100-loss debacle of 2002.

Runelvys Hernandez, having won this spring's toss, will start the opener at home against the Chicago White Sox and Jeremy Affeldt will pitch the second game.

Still, the Royals are not apologizing -- they have to start somewhere. The plan is to build from the ground up and endure a 10th consecutive losing season while regaining a new, hard-earned competitive footing.

"It will be a staff of very limited major-league experience," general manager Allard Baird said.

Affeldt is not about to forfeit a thing.

"I think we're going to win, that's my mentality. I'm not going into the season thinking negatively," said Affeldt, 3-4 with a 4.64 ERA as a rookie last year.

Collectively, the five-man rotation of Hernandez, Affeldt, Darrell May, Miguel Asencio and Chris George has 21 major-league wins and 35 losses. The graybeard of the group is May, the only one who will not be in his second season.

"We're in a rebuilding mode," said Baird. "This is the direction we said we were going."

The Royals have two proven, outstanding everyday players -- first baseman Mike Sweeney and center fielder Carlos Beltran -- and a couple of decent major leaguers in third baseman Joe Randa and left fielder Raul Ibanez.

But the switch-hitting Beltran probably should not be counted. He's a good bet to be traded after declaring he's not staying in Kansas City one minute longer than necessary.

Assuming Beltran is still around, the Royals will probably open with Michael Tucker in right field and leading off and Ibanez in left field and batting fifth, behind Randa, Beltran and Sweeney.

Ibanez had what the Royals are hoping was a breakthrough season in 2002, hitting .294 with 24 home runs and 103 RBIs, second on the team to Beltran's 105.

One newcomer who could have an impact is first baseman Ken Harvey, a 240-pound slugger who set an Arizona Fall league record with a .479 average and a .752 slugging percentage last year. He will be the designated hitter.

Defense up the middle could be a problem. Carlos Febles, who hit .245 last year with 28 RBIs before being demoted to the minor leagues, has won his old second base job. Angel Berroa, who hit .215 with Triple-A Omaha a year ago, has been declared the new shortstop. Newcomer Desi Relaford will probably see a lot of action at both positions.

The catcher again will be Brent Mayne, who turns 35 in April and hit .236 with four home runs and 30 RBIs last year.

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