Up until this past week, whenever anyone asked what my Royals have done this winter, all I could say was they got a new backup catcher. Hardly exciting.
Now it’s not like they’ve replaced Angel "Swings at pickoff throws to first" Berroa with Alex Rodriguez, but now they’ve gotten themselves some pitching.They weren’t exciting moves. They traded the talented but wild Ambiorix Burgos to the Mets for Brian Bannister, the son of former big-league pitcher Floyd Bannister, who was one of the better strikeout pitchers of the 1980s. They signed ex-Mariner Gil Meche, the biggest objection being his contract, since he’s an average pitcher at best but once Mike Sweeney’s contract expires, he’ll be the highest-paid player on the team. And they pulled reliever Octavio Dotel off the scrap heap to be the closer.
Far be it from me to criticize any of these moves. This is a team that had a team ERA of almost 6 last year. When you can count on the pitching staff giving up six runs and your best hitter is a second-year guy named Mark Teahen who was playing hurt all year, you’re not going to win very many games.
The front office hopes Meche is about to break out and become a superstar. More likely, he’ll remain average. But average means he’ll give up 4-5 runs each start, which is a substantial improvement over what else they’ve got.
Dotel is damaged goods, but at least he’s closed out games before. If he comes in and he’s awful, then the Royals just have to explore other options, such as making Zack "Future Greg Maddux" Greinke the closer until they come up with another plan that allows them to put Greinke in the rotation. The Cardinals did that with Adam Wainright last year and that didn’t turn out so bad at all.
Bannister projects to be, well, the next Gil Meche. He won’t be great but the Royals need a starter, and they haven’t been able to get through to Burgos. Now Burgos might thrive with the Mets, or he might implode, but he’s someone else’s problem now.
Last year I got burned thinking the Royals would improve; instead they lost 100 games for the third year in a row. So I won’t count on miracles, but like John Lennon cynically sang in the background of "Getting So Much Better all the Time," things can’t get much worse.
Meanwhile, we can dream of the day when superprospects Alex Gordon and Billy Butler suit up in Kansas City and walk onto the field together for the first time. It might or might not happen in 2007, but once those two are ready, pitching really won’t matter as much because the Royals will stand a chance of scoring seven or eight runs a game a couple of times a week.