01/10/2001

Mailbag:

Relocating the My Docs folder

First, some computer news. AMD is building a third fab after all. Location still TBA. Reportedly they’re looking for someone to share this $4 billion facility, but that of course could change by the time it’s ready in 2004. They were looking for someone to share their Dresden fab up until the day it opened, it seemed, but it turns out that capacity kept all to themselves really isn’t enough.

Time to talk baseball. My Royals did it. They made their first blockbuster trade since 1991, when they traded their beloved pitching ace, Bret Saberhagen, for a bag of baseballs. Well, actually they got Gregg Jefferies, who played third base with an oven mitt and hit .270–his biggest contribution was helping George Brett get his 3,000th hit by giving him some protection in the lineup, forcing pitchers to pitch to Brett–before getting traded across the state for Felix Jose, a bust who played right field for a couple of seasons, then played himself out of a job and dropped off the face of the earth. They also got Keith Miller, a scrappy player who was murder in the clutch, but he couldn’t stay healthy. He only lasted two seasons before he was done too. The most noteworthy guy from the trade was Kevin McReynolds, an underachieving power hitter past his prime, who lasted a couple of seasons, then was shipped back to the Mets in exchange for Vince Coleman, who provided some needed speed but his expensive contract and poor defense led them to ship him to Seattle for a prospect. His replacement was a youngster by the name of Johnny Damon.

Well, the Royals have once again traded a franchise player. Johnny Damon, their leadoff hitter, team leader, and sometime center fielder (he also plays left) is gone. Traded to Oakland, home to many an ex-Royal, in a three-team deal that brought a 20-year-old shortstop prospect and a backup catcher to Kansas City. (Ironically, this backup catcher lost his job with the A’s because Sal Fasano was better. Sal Fasano’s old team? The Royals.)

But the key to the deal was Roberto Hernandez, a 36-year-old closer. He throws hard and routinely saves 30 games a season. Lately the Royals have been doing well to get 15 from their closers. The Royals routinely scored 6 runs a game, but their bullpen routinely gave up 7. Hernandez and newly acquired setup man Doug Henry look to end that trend. Without Johnny Damon they won’t score 6 runs a game as much anymore, but the improved bullpen can reduce the number of runs they give up by one or two.

I feel good about this trade. Johnny Damon talked about how much he loved Kansas City, but he acted like a hired gun. And when he wasn’t making threats about leaving, he was trying to run the team. The solution to all the Royals’ problems last year, according to Damon, was Paul Sorrento. Paul Sorrento was a .240-hitting first baseman with some power and an average glove. The Royals already had Mike Sweeney at first base, a converted catcher who thinks he’s the second coming of George Brett. He’s good for .320 or .330, 20+ homers and 100+ RBIs a season. Not a great fielder, but he’s getting better. Paul Sorrento only would have taken playing time from Sweeney and wouldn’t have given them much. I guess 29 other teams agreed, because after the Royals let Sorrento go, no one else snapped him up. Then the Royals went and got Dave McCarty, a career minor leaguer with a fabulous glove who’d always managed to hit .230 or .240 in his brief stints in the bigs. But as a part-time player, McCarty found his groove. He flirted with a .280 average and hit a number of big homers, in addition to playing well, if not spectacularly, at first base and also spending some time in left and right field. Great move. Paul who? Good thing the front office didn’t listen to Johnny Damon.

This off-season, Johnny Damon was talking about how the Royals needed to go get some pitching, like, say, Darren Dreifort. Darren Dreifort. Who? Exactly. Darren Dreifort is an overpriced career National Leaguer who in a typical season goes 8-8 with an ERA around 4.50. The Royals already have six guys who can do that, given the kind of bullpen support Dreifort always got in LA, and they won’t ask for $7 milion a year to do it either. What’s so special about Darren Dreifort? He and Johnny Damon have the same agent. Can anyone say conflict of interest?

Johnny Damon was fun to watch, believe me. I liked the guy, as long as he kept his mouth shut. He played hard and did everything they ever asked him to do. Move to left field to make room for Carlos Beltran? OK. Hit third? Sure. Uh oh. All of our cleanup-type hitters are dropping like flies. Will you do it for a while until one of them gets healthy? OK. Uh oh. Carlos Beltran’s hurt. Would you move back to center field for a while? Sure, and might as well field spectacularly and hit .387 the second half of the season too.

But Johnny Damon didn’t want to sign a long-term contract. Johnny Damon wanted to make Bernie Williams money. And the Royals don’t have Bernie Williams money to offer. So Johnny Damon was going to move elsewhere the instant he became a free agent. The best thing the Royals could do was trade him for whatever they could get.

What they got was an expensive relief pitcher and a shortstop prospect, but Roberto Hernandez is no more expensive than what the Royals offered Johnny Damon. And now the Royals have cleared the logjam in their outfield. Mark Quinn can keep on playing left field. Carlos Beltran can go back to center. Jermaine Dye’s a lock in right. Dave McCarty and Mike Sweeney can rotate between first base and DH, which had been Quinn’s old role. Or power-hitting prospect Dee Brown can take over at DH if he’s ready, with Sween at first and McCarty back in the old role of supersub. Carlos Beltran or second baseman Carlos Febles can hit leadoff. If they falter, third baseman Joe Randa doesn’t have Johnny Damon’s speed, but he can replace his on-base percentage.

And as for the shortstop prospect, Angel Berroa, the Royals had no successor to smooth-fielding Rey Sanchez. Sanchez is a free swinger, but he’s managed to hit .270 or .280 for the Royals for two seasons so he’s not as bad as some make him out to be, but he’s 33 and has been a bench player most of his career. (Rob & Rany don’t like him much, but I have two words to say to that: Felix Martinez. Martinez was Sanchez’ predecessor, and he had one good hit his whole time in a KC uniform. It was a sucker punch in a brawl with the Anaheim Angels.) But Sanchez probably can’t be an everyday shortstop much longer and the Royals had to think about the future. Berroa looks to be one of those rare shortstops who can hit and field.

And Mike Sweeney is more than ready to take over Johnny Damon’s role as team leader. Sween loves the community, and the community loves him. Sween leads a Bible study in the clubhouse already, and players come. When a player has a problem, Sween’s the guy he’s most likely to seek out. What’s his manager have to say about him? He once told a Kansas City Star reporter that he has a twentysomething daughter. Now don’t get me wrong, he said. I don’t want her to marry Michael Sweeney. But I want her to marry someone like Michael Sweeney.

This from a guy who doesn’t give many compliments.

Sween’s as good a guy as any to build the team’s future around. Johnny Damon’s been around a little bit longer, but Mike Sweeney has qualities Johnny Damon never had and might not ever have.

Yes, Johnny Damon was nice to have, but he wasn’t the team. He looked irreplaceable, but his mouth made management wonder otherwise, and I think management was right.

Now, what do the Royals have to do to get Bret Saberhagen back? He’s been not-a-Royal for longer than he was a Royal, but I’ll always think of him as that 21-year-old who won two World Series games.

Not everyone agrees with me, of course. KC Star sportswriters pretty much do. Rany Jazayerli doesn’t. Rob Neyer hasn’t spoken yet.

Mailbag:

Relocating the My Docs folder

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