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KC's Eternally Springing Hope
At one point, the Kansas City Royals was baseball’s model expansion franchise. They won their first division title in their eighth year in 1976. From 1976-1981, the Royals won 5 divisional titles in six years (in the strike split 1981 season, KC won one half of the season and the A’s won the other half – the A’s won a divisional playoff series). The Royals played in their first World Series in 1980, their 12th season, and won in 1985. From 1976-1985, Kansas City was one of the winningest teams in baseball.
There is a perception that the Royals have been terrible since 1985. That’s not quite true. From 1986-1994, Kansas City finished over .500 in 6 of those nine seasons, never winning fewer than 72 games. Since 1995 however, the Royals have been one of the worst franchises in baseball, only finishing above .500 one time (2003). This time period coincides directly with the time frame in which the Glass family took over the franchise. They have treated it like their own personal giant, box, discount, retail outlet. They throw a shoddy product out for consumption and laugh all the way to the bank. I will never be convinced the Glass family has ever lost so much as a penny on the Kansas City Royals.
In 2006, the Glasses finally did something right. They hired the hot commodity general manager candidate, Dayton Moore. Moore was a childhood Royals fan and cut his teeth in the Braves organization. Moore took the job with the caveat that he would get extended funds to correctly develop and build success from within. The Royals increased the scouting development and budget and expanded their almost non-existent presence in Latin America. Money was freed up for draft picks. The foundation was finally being laid.
It has been a painful process because, as the minor leagues have set a strong foundation, the structure at the top has been a flimsy, straw shack. As successful as Moore has been in building up the minor league system, the product he has fielded on the major league level has not been good. He tried to get things done by bringing in Gil Meche (who was a good signing until Trey Hillman destroyed his arm) and he brought in the only run producer Moore could convince (bribe) to sign in KC, Jose Guillen. Guillen actually produced some much needed power in his 2-plus seasons but he carried so much baggage, it was hardly noticeable. Moore also made some inexplicable trades to acquire Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs, and had some head scratching signings like Scott Podsednik and Jason Kendall. None of these grasped straws worked out.
Finally, the 2011 season arrives. Moore went out on a limb again and pulled Jeff Franceour and Melky Cabrera off the scrap heap. Each showed why they had been top prospects earlier in their careers, producing good numbers all season. Alex Gordon looked to have finally lived up to his promise. Billy Butler, after a somewhat slow first half, recovered to be his steady self. Best of all, we finally started to see some of the fruits of the vaunted “Process”. Some of the top prospects from their highly praised minor league system began to make their way to Kansas City. Several pitchers, namely Aaron Crow, Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Danny Duffy, and Tim Collins appeared early and all made some sort of splash. Top hitters Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakus made the jump. Salvador Perez and Johnny Giavotella join in. This is a huge infusion of youth. Not all of these kids were successful right away. Moustakus and Giavotella both struggled, although Moose hit very well over the last six weeks. Duffy struggled with his control nearly every outing. All showed hints of great promise but when this many kids make their debut in one season, failure and growing pains are part of the deal.
So what does this mean for the 2012 campaign? In my opinion, the Royals failed to improve their rotation enough to challenge the Tigers. It is not realistic to expect every one of those rookies from 2011 to take a big step forward. There are still going to be some serious growing pains. My guess is that this team will be extremely streaky throughout the year as these young players grow and adjust.
Those things aside, I think the AL Central is going to be weak this season. Other than the Tigers, the other four teams are in some degree of rebuilding. I like what the Royals are doing the most. I like their young players better than any other teams’. Of course, I am a serious “homer”. I can see this club approaching 80 wins, which is probably good for second place. It is also possible for everything to fall apart because this is after all, the Royals. Twenty-five years of failure can drain optimism out of a person.
The funny thing is, I think the Royals are going to approach .500. I think there will be more good than bad from these young fellows. The fact that over 60 players were in Surprise, Arizona working out, hitting, fielding, and throwing three weeks early is a really positive thing. These young Royals are actually used to winning. In each of the past four seasons, the Royals have had the team with the highest winning percentage in all of the minor leagues in their organization. These young Turks have come up through the system together, winning games. No one has ever been able to prove the value of chemistry on winning baseball games but I can’t think it hurts. This team has great camaraderie. They know each; they get along; the have fun together. They are hungry to give us long suffering Royals fans something to cheer about. I am going to watch this bunch and I have every confidence that, despite growing pains, this team is going to win some games. They are going to be fun to watch. They are going to give us some reason to actually believe success for our team is getting very close. If we get some miracle growth and development from the rotation, maybe the Royals can be the talk of baseball in September. Maybe it is safe to dream once again…