Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2007

Royals’ camp could be interesting

Arrivals of free-agent pitcher Meche, rookie infielder Gordon might shake things up

February 15, 2007

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— The arrival of a $55 million free-agent pitcher and a hard-hitting third-base prospect should make this Kansas City's most interesting spring in many seasons.

A raft of other new faces pouring into a talent-starved program that's lost 100 games four of the past five years also should make it one of the most competitive.

Not many jobs will be entirely safe when pitchers and catchers report this weekend for Dayton Moore's first spring training as general manager. And that's exactly the way he wants it.

"Competition is the No. 1 criteria all successful organizations have," Moore said. "Players know they've got to perform every day and be prepared to perform every day. We're excited about the competition and depth going into spring training."

Taking center stage will be Gil Meche, a right-hander with a career record of 55-44, a lifetime earned-run average of 4.65 and a shocking (at least for Kansas City) five-year $55 million free-agent contract.

That makes him the highest-paid Royal ever, besides first baseman/DH Mike Sweeney, who'll be on the final year of his own $55 million deal.

If anyone but Meche emerges as the No. 1 starter this spring, it'll either mean owner David Glass' first venture into high-stakes free- agent poker was a bust, or some young prospect came roaring out of nowhere.

"The commitment the organization made in me, that's going to come with a lot of responsibility," Meche, 28, said when he signed in December. "To me, I thought it was a pretty big challenge to try to help this team turn around."

Also under heavy scrutiny will be third baseman Alex Gordon. Hitting for both power and average, Gordon was named minor league player of the year in 2006 and is expected to force Mark Teahen into what could become a crowded outfield.

One difference in Moore and his predecessors, however, is a reluctance to rush young players to the majors. Outfielder Billy Butler, another gem in the minor league system, will also be in camp, but nothing short of a spectacular month in Arizona will keep him from opening the season at Triple-A Omaha.

Right-hander Luke Hochevar, the overall No. 1 pick last year, will also be in camp but fans should not look for him on the opening day roster in Kansas City, either.

"We don't want to put limitations on our players, but we don't want to put unrealistic expectations on them either," Moore said. "Guys who are special players sometimes move up quicker than you expect. As for Luke Hochevar, we have made an advanced decision to start him in Double-A. Gordon will be given an opportunity to force our hand out of spring training."

Other new pitchers include closer Octavio Dotel and promising right-hander Brian Bannister. Dotel agreed to a one-year, $5 million contract.

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