Is there hope in Kansas City for baseball?

I spent some time in Kansas City this weekend. If I had any doubts this season, where the Royals went from favorites to win the division to worst team in the league in a matter of about a week, had eroded fan support, that doubt is gone now.

So now what?First, there’s the question of what went wrong. To me, the biggest thing that went wrong was Juan Gonzalez. Gonzalez proved a lethal replacement for Manny Ramirez in Cleveland not so long ago, so there was reason to believe he could be the big booming bat in the cleanup spot the Royals have never had.

The question was whether you got the healthy Gonzalez or the Gonzalez who’s more injury prone than George Brett and Fred Lynn combined.

They got the latter, and thus a waste of almost enough money to keep Carlos Beltran.

Ah, Beltran. The guy who someday would have broken the Royals’ record for number of home runs hit and bases stolen in the same season. The most underrated defensive center fielder in the game. The Scott Boras client.

Trading Beltran was the only thing the Royals could do. Scott Boras is going to ship Beltran to the team willing to pay the most money for him. Can the Royals afford to give $18 million to one player? Doesn’t matter. George Steinbrenner will top the Royals’ best offer, because he’s got Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton in center field.

I find it very encouraging that none of the Royals’ high draft picks this year was a Scott Boras client.

The fear in KC right now is that the Royals will never keep any good players they develop, because they look back at Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, and Jermaine Dye. Beltran and Damon were Boras clients. They couldn’t keep them. I won’t try to explain the Jermaine Dye trade, other than to say they didn’t think they’d be able to re-sign Rey Sanchez and they felt like it was easier to find outfielders than shortstops, and they thought Neifi Perez could hit his weight outside of Colorado.

Judging from the production they’ve had out of left field this year, I think they were even wrong about that bit about outfielders being easier to find than shortstops. But at least they’ve learned.

I see upside out of this year. I really do. David DeJesus is turning out to be a fine center fielder. It would be nice if he could steal more bases, but he’s a good defensive center fielder and he can hit, and he has good speed, even if he doesn’t know how to use that speed to steal bases. Ideally he should be a #2 hitter, but even still, he’s the best leadoff hitter the Royals have had since Johnny Damon left.

Abraham Nuñez is turning out to be a steal. He may or may not be a superstar, but he’s a good defensive outfielder with respectable speed, good power, looks like he’ll be able to hit .270 or better, and can play center field when you have the need to rest DeJesus. He’s an affordable Jermaine Dye.

I haven’t seen John Buck play since his first series in the majors, but he has managed to pop some homers even if his batting average is still below .220. Still, he got off to a tremendously slow start, so hitting .220 indicates he’s making progress. But an even-up John Buck for Carlos Beltran would be a better trade than Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez turned out to be. Buck is already a better hitter than Perez, and the Royals didn’t have much in the way of catching prospects before Buck.

Angel Berroa has been a disappointment this season, but he’s in his second year and he watched the team implode around him. Of course he’s going to be jittery.

Zack Greinke looks like the best young pitcher the Royals have developed since its amazing Class of ’84 (Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson and Mark Gubicza). If Runnelvys Hernandez comes back from Tommy John surgery and pitches like he did in 2003, and if Jose Bautista lives up to expectations (he’s Pedro Martinez’s cousin, so hopefully that counts for something), the Royals might have fearsome pitching again for the first time in a decade. Jeremy Affeldt could come back from the bullpen and start if Mike MacDougal is healthy, and suddenly the pitching rotation looks awfully good.

I don’t know what the Royals will do in left field or at second base. But with Gonzalez gone, that leaves them some money to go after a better-than-average player for one or both positions. Or maybe they can swing a trade in the offseason for a prospect.

As hard as it may be to believe, they do seem to be getting smarter. They seem to have learned a lot from this season. Which is really all you can ask.

2 thoughts on “Is there hope in Kansas City for baseball?

  • September 7, 2004 at 9:24 pm
    Permalink

    My recollection is that Buck was quite well thought of in the Astros organization, but was considered more like triple A ready, and maybe due to get a chance at the big leagues next year. KC may have thought it necessary from a fan-relations standpoint to bring him up this year, since he was one of the main returns from trading Beltran. So if he had a slow start it may be more indicative of his inexperience than of his ultimate potential. I think that the Astros were only willing to part with him because they also had a guy at double A that they really like.

    Of course with the way that Beltran and the Astros have been playing, no one here is talking much about the players that we gave up. Beltran is looking at 40-40 and hit one tonight just under the scoreboard above the second deck in right. On the down side, Scott Boras is at the game in Minute Maid park (Houston’s park) tonight, reminding us that, although Houston is a bigger market than KC, it is probably still unlikely that we can keep Beltran either.


    -Steve

    • September 8, 2004 at 12:38 am
      Permalink

      Buck came up so quickly purely out of necessity. Benito Santiago broke his hand, then backup Kelly Stinnett got hurt a day or two later (elbow?) and was out for the season, leaving the Royals with the immortal Alberto Castillo and whoever else they might be able to scrounge up at AA or AAA. Buck probably was the best catcher in the organization by default the day he arrived, and since Tony Pena had managed him in the minors, he had a leg up. And maybe they figured with two former catchers on the big league staff, he’d get better instruction in the bigs than anywhere else.

      But had everything gone as planned, Buck would have spent this season and most of next season in AAA.

      I saw part of his first game with the team. Zack Greinke was pitching against the National League All-Stars, er, St. Louis. Buck went to the mound to talk to Greinke, and that snapshot could have passed for a Little League game.

      As for Scott Boras, the Royals aren’t showing any inclination to do business with him again. I hope Houston does likewise. In the meantime, enjoy the second coming of Willie Mays for the few weeks that remain.

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