Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Kansas City, Misery

They did it again. The Royals blew another game. They were leading the Indians 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth and were able to lose it 6-4.

It's not so frustrating anymore. I mean, we all know this team won't win. But what is frustrating is that this organization is in complete turmoil. There is no reason to feel hopeful.

Smart baseball fans understand that sometimes you have to exchange a losing season or two in order to develop into a winning team. We've seen it happen several times. Minnesota did it. Cleveland did it.

But here we are in the what? third? fourth? season of a rebuilding plan. A youth movement. And what progress do we have in this youth movement? Let's look at the lineup that manager Buddy Bell has been running out there:
Kerry Robinson32
Mark Grudzielanek36
Doug Mientkiewicz32
Reggie Sanders38
Matt Stairs38
Emil Brown31
Tony Graffanino34
Angel Berroa28
John Buck25

Can you tell me how that youth movement is doing? Berroa can be considered part of that rebuilding plan. The Royals rewarded him with a long term contract after his fine rookie season. The problem is that he's hasn't play anywhere near his rookie level since. John Buck is probably one of the cornerstones of this particular youth movement (sad, a catcher?). Buck's struggled though, and just recently has been able to raise is average to .241.

What about the Pitchers? Let's look at the rotation:
Scott Elarton30
Mark Redman32
Jeremy Affeldt27
Denny Bautista25
Runevlys Hernandez28

Do you see any hot young arms in that list? Anybody who you feel still has a great deal of upside? Maybe Bautista, but skinny pitchers who throw hard notoriously are injury prone, and Bautista has held true to form. Jeremy Affeldt occasionally pitches well, but is so inconsistent, you never know what you're going to get from him. Same with Hernandez who can't keep away from the Twinkies.

So where are we in this youth movement plan? The major league team doesn't have any young talent to speak of. There are some talented players in AA Wichita including last year's first round draft pick Alex Gordon. But what makes us think the Royals know how to properly develop those players? They haven't successfully developed a player since Carlos Beltran. Their idea of player development is to call up a promising hitter like Justin Huber and sit him on the bench, denying him valuable at-bats and time to develop as a first baseman in AAA Omaha.

Maybe they can pull off some trades? Don't count on it. Whether it's Allard Baird or Dan Glass making the decisions, the Royals have a track record of gloriously bad trades. Niefi Perez for Jermaine Dye? Buck, Mike Wood and Mark Teahen for Carlos Beltran? Remember that trade? Baird insisted that Teahen was the cornerstone of that trade. He had to have Teahen. Where is Teahen today? In AAA Omaha where he's 2-23 since his demotion.

So what we have now is a collection of aging veterans who were brought in to win an election. There was no other reason to bring those guys here. They aren't here to develop younger players. They aren't here to push the team over the hump. They were brought here to make Kansas Citians think that they are trying to win; to give Jackson County voters a reason to feel good about the Royals. Why? To pass the stadium renovation vote. The $20 million David Glass spent on Grudz, Minky and Reggie doubled the value of his team.

But now what? There's no plan. There's no reason to think that the Royals will be competitive next year or the year after. They will have a fantastic stadium in two years, but there's no reason to believe the team on the field will be any better than this year's. They may be playing in an empty palace.

Is Glass posturing to sell the team? Perhaps he doesn't care about baseball at all. He just wanted to pass the stadium vote so the taxpayers would pay for the renovations that boosted the value of his club. He paid $95 million for the team and could sell it today for nearly $250 million.

Glass has told the Kansas City Star (several times now) that he's frustrated with the losing and that changes are coming. But what can he change? The GM? What can a new GM do when David Glass's son, Dan Glass, apparently has the last word on all decisions? Word is that Dan Glass has vetoed trades through the years that in hindsight would have made this a much better team today.

If David Glass is serious about making changes to improve this team, he needs to remove his son. Allard Baird may be a great GM. We don't know. If he wants to fire Baird, fine. But give the new GM full control. Give him a budget and let him do what he wishes with that budget. Do not veto trades. Give him the resources to rebuild the scouting and the player development in the organization. Let the baseball man do his job and stay out of the way.

If Glass fires Baird and simply hires a new puppet GM, we will just have more of the same and Glass will, at last, succeed in killing a wonderful baseball city.

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