Okay, so maybe this is a little late and doesn't really matter now, but keep it in mind for when the Rays head out to Kauffman Stadium in early June. I had this piece prepared on Friday, but I closed the window accidentally just as I was wrapping up and was out for 12 hours yesterday, so I didn't do much of anything. But, for what it is worth, here is the piece. I'd like to thank Will McDonald from Royals Review, a masochist writer just like us who recently had some damage to his Iowa City home from a tornado. Here's wishing him the best in his recovery from the disaster (and us FL residents know exactly what high winds can do) and keep up the good work!
Chattin' With.....Royals Review
DRaysBay-The Royals and Rays are actually very similar franchises if you think about it. Both are in areas with no major population center, both franchises have, to put it bluntly, sucked over the last several years, and both have stadiums in areas which some fans would describe as "inopportune locations". We have a heavy farm system, and that is what keeps some of us sane watching the Rays play, but how do you guys preserve and maintain your sanity as Royals fans?
Royals Review-I think there are some important differences, although I agree with your general premise, that it is somewhat puzzling that these teams have any fans. For one, the Royals had a nice 20-year run of success during the 70s and 80s, which has helped create a fairly dedicated, if old and jaded, old-school fanbase. The Royals have been living on those dividends for years now, with smaller returns each season, but it still helps. Secondly, KC has no NBA, no NHL and only one (albeit hugely popular) NFL team. More importantly, beyond Kansas basketball and Nebraska football, the region doesn't really have a larger than life college program which consumes endless attention. So, all in all, we've got time. As for sanity however, I don't think there are any sane Royals fans left. You'd be amazed what one fluky 83-win season (2003) can do however; perhaps you guys can experience this soon.
DRB-Kauffman Stadium is a facility that has really stood the test of time. Built 33 years ago, it is still regarded as one of the most beautiful stadiums in baseball. However some of its 70s era facilities are needing an upgrade, and an initiative is on the ballot in Jackson County to upgrade the Truman Sports Complex, that is Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Chiefs. A previous ballot initiative was rejected by the voters, and there has also been some talk of building a downtown stadium. Now, taking in all of this, what is your opinion of this whole stadium issue, and could we really be faced with the prospect of no more waterfalls in a Kansas City ballpark?
RR-On April 4th voters in Jackson County Missouri indeed approved the funding measure, bringing $425 million to the Royals over the next 25 years. But hey, the Royals tossed in $25 mil, so we can now read about the "joint-funded" renovations for the next decade. Considering the joint Royals-Chiefs lobbying team spent over $1.5 million advertising their cause, as well as the generally positive coverage sports teams nearly always receive, its remarkable that the move only passed with about 53%. Personally, I was against the measure - which came complete with fake Seligean announcements proclaiming "KC Awarded All-Star Game!!" followed by the qualifier, "if funding measure passes" - and largely insulted by the arguments for it. But then again, it probably shuts off further demands for a new Park, and precludes a contraction threat, so it may have been a lesser evil. I also don't live in Jackson County, so perhaps it is inappropriate for me to say much at all.
DRB-Another connection the Royals have to the Tampa Bay area is their old spring training facility. The Royals moved their spring training headquarters to Haines City/Davenport in 1988 as part of the "Boardwalk and Baseball" theme park commonly known as Baseball City. Well, the theme park closed two years after the Royals moved in, and the Crown left Central Florida in 2002 for greener pastures in Arizona. How are you guys liking Surprise, and was Baseball City really that bad?
RR-Just about anything is better than Kansas during March. However I was just a kid when I went through Baseball City, so I don't have really solid memories of it. Regarding Arizona, hmmm... what is there to say really? Someone should really write a book on how Spring Training is really changing, especially with high-profile teams (which of course, isn't the Royals). The Cubs presence in Arizona is incredible, it is still relatively low-key, but it is not like it probably used to be. Last, the Arizona run-inflation tends to ruin us every spring; we already know our pitching will suck, but I get emails from Royals fans every March with lines like, "I think this team will score some runs", and it never happens.
DRB-Now on to the player's side of things. The Royals previously had one of the worst farm systems in baseball, Dee Brown was their top prospect, 'nuff said. But now the team is finally focusing on the farm, and you are starting to see some talents like Justin Huber, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler rise through the farm system. Tell us a little about these three and, just generally, about the Crown's farm system.
RR-The system is still weak, although with the Royals its almost impossible to objectively evaluate how they are doing for two reasons. One, their top players are almost all recently grabbed #1 or #2 picks, which are aided by their constant on-field failure. Its hard to mess up Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, they'll hit, but its also hard to truly praise the Royals for having them either. Congrats, you didn't draft an 18 year old who supposedly hit 100 mph and now is almost out of baseball. Secondly, if the Royals were a better team, some of there current players would almost certainly still be in the minors. In an alternate universe, players like John Buck and Mark Teahen might still be in AAA, along with about half the Royals pitching staff, and the Royals blogosphere would be filled with hope. Well guess what? Mark Teahen's never going to be an elite player. His upside is late 90s Joe Randa, but that's years away. The Royals have aggressively promoted their young pitchers to such an extreme that some have speculated they're actually attempting some kind of radical experiment in development. Still, essentially, it's a weak system.
DRB-Now on to the most depressing part of the interview, the actual Royals players themselves. First off, a relatively simple question. What the hell is up with Zach Greinke?
RR-No one knows. He left camp on Feb 25th, and it seemed like a typical player-management meltdown that would blow over after a long weekend and a meeting over drinks at some Arizona gentleman's club. Instead, he never sniffed coming back, and was eventually placed on the 60 day-DL, sans an actual injury. The consensus seems to be, "he's a little different, one of those prodigy types that doesn't actually enjoy the game, and he clashed with the decidedly old-school Royals culture, especially Bell and the pitching coach, who tried to force him (amazingly) to throw 90% fastballs." The problem is (well beyond the incredible stupidity of that alleged coaching) that today Allard Baird is quoted as saying, "For the issues he's been going through, I'm really proud of him. He's a courageous young man." This seems to suggest something more substantial actually happened.
DRB-If nothing else, the Royals have a stable of talented pitchers. Tell us a little about guys like Ambiorix Burgos, Andrew Sisco, Mike Wood, Mike MacDougal, Jimmy Gobble, Runelvys Hernandez, and Jeremy Affeldt.
RR-The upside is competence, the downside is 110 loses. Runelyvs Hernandez probably has the most potential, but he's currently represented by Scott Boras and signed for only one more season. Should he be anything but terrible, there is an almost guaranteed chance he won't be in Kansas City in 2007. MacDougal, Burgos and Sisco are a potentially strong 1-2-3 bullpen punch, and are more or less the only Royal pitchers that strike anyone out. There is so much variance with these guys, and their unlikely to be as good in '06 as they were last season. Jimmy Gobble and Mike Wood are two of my favorite Royals, capable of putting up a 5.00 ERA in their sleep. Wood's an old low-upside A's prospect which the team seems to have soured on: why accept his 5.00 ERA when LimaTime can get you 7.50? Jimmy Gobble has the distinction of posting some of the lowest K-rates for a full time pitcher in Major League history, the fact that he's still a well-liked Royal should tell you all you need to know.
DRB-A follow-up question on Sisco, what do you do with him, bullpen, or move him into the rotation?
RR-Send him to AAA for a month to get used to starting and then give him at least 15 starts with the big club. It is simply an innings matter here, and Sisco himself demonstrates that quality relievers can be found. That being said, I don't have a major problem with what the Royals are doing either, which is keeping him in the `pen. I wouldn't mind seeing him packaged at the deadline either, though I doubt that will happen.
DRB-John Buck was among the players acquired in the Carlos Beltran deal a few years back. He has shown decent pop, but overall has been a disappointment. Tell us a little about him, and the hopes you have that he will indeed become a good catcher.
RR-He's a regular, and with some luck and good managing, he might slug .500 this season or next. He's also already 25 and likely is what he'll ever be. His defense has had periods of murkiness, but he's more or less league average. Average defense, low batting and on-base skills, homers in the teens, that's John Buck for the next two or three years. The problem is, he's always good for a .150/.170/.200 month now and then.
DRB-Speaking of the Beltran deal....two years later, how has it turned out. Good deal? Or another addition to Allard Baird's Hall Of Fame of shitty moves?
RR-The Royals ended up getting three members of their current big-league team, Mike Wood, Mark Teahen and John Buck in exchange for a half-season of Carlos Beltran. For a team on its way to a 58-104 record, this haul was probably Baird's finest moment. Factor in the emergence of David DeJesus in centerfield as well as the money saved playing regulars like Buck and Teahen, and it gets even better. On the other hand, no team with Buck or Teahen as one of its five best players will never be a contender. You need elite players to win, but the Royals had no chance of resigning Beltran, so the point is mute.
DRB-Angel Berroa has been disappointing since stealing the AL Rookie of the Year Award from our own Rocco Baldelli a few years back, but rebounded a bit last year. What are your hopes for him, and how realistic are they?
RR-Lets see, in 2004 he posted a .262/.308/.385 line, followed up by a .270/.305/.375 gem last season. He's generally considered a poor fielder and his base running often does more harm than good. At least last season he was finally moved off the top of the lineup, although for two years Tony Pena couldn't seem to figure out that a guy with a .305 OBP wasn't the best dude to have in front of Beltran. This is his age 28 season, so he might hit .295/.340/.400, which would cause the Royals to promptly sign him to a ten year extension. It is funny, as a product of the 2001 Johnny Damon trade with Oakland, Berroa's been ridiculed, then lauded, then ridiculed again. For awhile though, we though that Baird may have actually won the trade (which also involved your D-Rays of course).
DRB-The recent claiming off waivers of Tony Graffanino apparently means that the Esteban German era will be tardy in starting. What is your opinion of this move?
RR-Beyond pointless. Its odd that an aging team, with a huge payroll that needs to win NOW would dump (through waivers) a $2 mil backup to a team that wants to get young, can't win for years and has no money. Totally nonsensical. Then again, the goal for this season isn't winning, or building for the future, its much more simple, avoiding embarrassment. German had a decent chance of hitting .200/.210/.250 in limited duty, whereas Graffy doesn't. So it's Graffy.
DRB-Mike Sweeney....one of the only star players the Royals have had in recent years who has actually stuck around, continues to rake, but wouldn't it be better for the team to trade him at this point and get a few prospects in return?
RR-I see a parallel with the Huff situation in Tampa. At a certain point, the window's closed, the deal has lost value, and you still have a fairly good player that's gonna be hard to replace. Sweeney's expensive, but at this point it may make more sense to keep him around rather than trading him for cash and a B pitching prospect. Of course, it all depends on the individual deal. The interesting thing is, Sweeney is something of a lightening rod amongst Royal fans; you know, the old saw Bill James had about bad teams always turning on their worst player. He's seen by some as holier than thou, soft (because being injury-prone is always a moral choice) and overpaid. Still, its funny how we spent a decade bemoaning an inability to keep homegrown stars around (Dye, Damon, Beltran) and then the one guy who stays is repeatedly chided.
DRB-Mark Teahen, yet another acquisition in the Beltran deal, has been plugged in at the hot corner for the past two years without doing much, but started to perform a little better last year. Similar to the Buck question, what are his chances of becoming a solid, major league third baseman.
RR-It seems like I spend my whole life talking about Mark Teahen. The bottom line is that he simply has to hit more (.246/.309/.376 in `05). By all accounts Mark is a delightful guy, a hard worker and a good teammate. If the world was about 99% different in every way, Mark and I would probably be friends. Still, he's 24 and its time to start hitting more. With Teahen, Buck and Berroa down at the bottom of the Royals lineup, the outs come fast and furious. Still, Teahen's cheap, he's part of the Beltran deal and people like him. He'll be given every chance to show something this season, but if Gordon keeps mashing, or even if he doesn't, windows might close for Mark quick.
DRB-David DeJesus is one of the only prospects that the Royals have plugged in recently who actually has performed well within a short period of time from his debut. Is he the next Beltran in center for the Royals, how good will this guy end up being?
RR-It is hard not to see a young Johnny Damon. He's fast, but a little raw on the basepaths and in center. He already has the plate discipline, and he's in his age 26 season with a career .290/.361/.427 line in over 900 PAs. I think there is something to be said for the possibility that he's just a fast developer and may already be near the ceiling of his potential. Signed through 2010, he should be the face of the franchise for the next few years. This being the Royals however, there is always a potential that things get messed up.
DRB-There have been some crazy rumors in the past about Jonny Gomes, our star outfielder who absolutely mashed the ball last year, possibly being headed to Western Missouri. Have you heard these rumors, and if so......why would KC have any interest in Gomes in the position they are in?
RR-With apologies to the new Rays Front Office, how much combined logic does there have to be behind a Rays-Royals trade rumor?
DRB-The Royals were relatively active in the free agent market this offseason, signing a few players to improve their 56 win squad like Scott Elarton, Mike Redman, Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Reggie Sanders. Some of them, I think, were simply signed to make life difficult for Royals writers in terms of spelling. Anyways, is the $$$ the Royals invested in these veterans really worth it to a team who, in all likelihood, is still going to finish in the cellar?
RR-I guess it depends on what your goals are. If the goal is not being a laughing stock, having something to hold a press conference about, and giving Buddy Bell some old dudes to hang out with, then the moves were a success. To be fair, not all the moves are equal: Sanders, Elarton, Redman and Grudz are decent players, who should make the Royals marginally better. On the other hand, Minky and Joe Mays have looked awful, and I haven't even mentioned Paul Bako yet. There has been some discussion that the -moves are Dave Littlefield-esque veteran-players-to-be-traded-later moves. Considering a) the Littlefield picks were stronger players and that b) he still didn't get much for them its an odd idea (either for Baird himself, or for fans to dream about). Honestly, the barrage of moves probably were at least half the idea of the Glass family cadre, as their inept attempt at talent evaluation, as well as a PR ploy in hopes of getting tax monies in April. Mission accomplished.
DRB-Here's hoping you guys have your "Under Construction" moment like we did, where you are able to clean out Baird and David Glass, but in the meantime, what is it going to take to make this franchise successful, on and off the field?
RR-We need the AL Central to return to 2001-4 levels, number one. Secondly, having the Yankees sign Billy Beane wouldn't hurt. It is only possible for there to be so many good teams, and probably the talent market can only support a handful of small-market teams that are also competitive, so sending Beane to NY would kill two birds with one stone. Beyond that, its vaguely possible that the team could be good offensively in the next few years, with DeJesus, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler etc. If that's the case, we better hope that the pitching prospects (most of whom are already with the team) are there in '08 to help the cause. If not, the upside is the Royals teams of the early 00s, who had Damon-Dye-Beltran-Sweeney-Randa, but still couldn't win.
And thanks again to Will for participating in this interview, and best of luck to KC this season. You can read some of his fine work over at RoyalsReview.com.