Archive for Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Changes ahead after Royals’ worst season ever

Kansas City’s 104-loss campaign created opportunities for young prospects who will be counted on in 2005

October 5, 2004

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— Those steadfast fans who endured the Kansas City Royals' team-record 104th loss Sunday afternoon hardly were out of the parking lot before the team announced changes.

The pitching and third-base coaches of the worst team in the American League have been reassigned. Also gone in the wake of a ruinous series of injuries are both the major- and minor-league strength and conditioning coordinators.

There are also certain to be a host of young players on the field next spring. And owner David Glass appears headed for a long winter.

"I'm not going to rest until we're competitive, until we have an opportunity to win," he said. "This has been the most disappointing year of my life."

Fans and experts had expected this season to end Kansas City's 19-year playoff drought. After all, the Royals were coming off an 83-79 year and sporting big-name acquisitions Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago. The team even launched the season with a stunning six-run, ninth-inning rally to beat Chicago on opening day.

In uniform for the victorious home team that day were a former MVP, two All-Stars, the reigning AL rookie of the year, the reigning AL manager of the year and one of the game's rising young stars.

Yet in the final month of the season, only three opening-day starters -- third baseman Joe Randa, shortstop Angel Berroa and pitcher Brian Anderson -- remained in the lineup.

Tony Pena's injury-wracked, underachieving club started 8-20 and finished 58-104, setting a team record for losses and squandering the goodwill they had earned the year before.

"I've never had such a disappointing season in my life in baseball," general manager Allard Baird said.

Just how bad was it?

l No other pitching staff threw fewer shutouts (3), and no other offense got shut out more (13).

l The Royals had the league's worst ERA (5.15), most unearned runs (92) and fewest total bases (2,201). They committed more errors (131) than everybody except Detroit and had fewer hits (1,432) than everybody but Tampa Bay.

l They broke the team record for fewest stolen bases and became the first team in club history to go an entire season without one sweep.

l Carlos Beltran, their best player, was traded on June 24 when it became obvious Kansas City was going nowhere. Nevertheless, his team lead of 14 stolen bases held up.

l The Royals were shut out three straight games in Minnesota -- a franchise-first -- and set a club record by going 32 consecutive innings without touching home plate.

"I can't," Randa said, "think of many things we did well."

The biggest personnel mistake was Gonzalez. The former MVP seemed sluggish. His bat looked slow. And he drove in just 17 runs before going out for the year with what he said was a sore back. Including a $500,000 buyout, Gonzalez will cost Kansas City $4.5 million.

Another worrisome back belongs to three-time All-Star first baseman Mike Sweeney. For the third straight year, Sweeney's back problems caused him to miss at least 35 games.

"I know that word around the league is that I'm a guy with a bad back," he said. "But I'm going to work as hard as I can over the winter and be ready to come back next spring."

The silver lining in Kansas City's dark cloud was the opportunity to check out young players. There appears to be potential for several, including right fielder Abraham Nunez, second baseman Ruben Gotay and catcher John Buck.

David DeJesus, called up to take Beltran's place in center field, ended the season on a 15-game hitting streak and could be a bona fide leadoff hitter.

The Royals brightest prize is right-hander Zack Greinke, who with an 8-11 record will probably be voted pitcher of the year. Greinke could be something special. He was only the third 20-year-old in the last two decades to start at least 20 games and have an ERA under 4.00. His last two months, he was 5-3.

Also encouraging is Glass' vow not to slash a payroll that was in the $48 million range.

The owner also gives his support to Baird and Pena.

"Allard and Tony are both solid baseball people," Glass said. "With their help, we're going to get this turned around."

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