The beginning of this week has been particularly enlightening for Royals fans. After the Zack Greinke trade, there has been a lot of information released about other teams’ offers and/or Zack’s (un)willingness to go to certain teams. This has answered many, though not all, of our questions about the trade proceedings.
Along with this have been two interviews in particular that were absolutely eye-opening. The first was a great interview by Nate Bukaty and Steven St. John of 810 WHB radio with Dayton Moore on Monday morning. I know many of you are likely not awake and listening to sports radio at early hours of the day, so I’ll just say that it was great to hear Dayton answer some of Nate’s questions. Dayton was very open and I, for once, felt that he cared to tell us fans what he was thinking and feeling. As always, there were a few standard responses thrown in, but Nate asked some great questions and Dayton gave some very interesting answers. If you want to hear the interview, check out the podcast called “The Border Patrol” on your podcast device/program of choice.
The second interview I was able to catch was today’s chat between Nick Wright of 610 Sports and Billy Butler. This was on this afternoon and the audio file is available here. Nick, like Nate, did a great job with the questions and keeping Billy talking about both the Greinke situation and the coming time with the Royals. This is the one I want to focus on (though you should still check out the Dayton Moore interview).
Nick started off quickly in talking to Billy, as he brought up the possibility that Billy is pushed to the forefront of the organization. That was interesting to hear, but what really got me thinking was Billy’s straightforward honesty about the Greinke situation as well as where the organization is headed. Billy obviously doesn’t feel too bad about losing Greinke and maintains that the team’s goal doesn’t change any season – they aim to compete. He was open about his weight and even was clear that he doesn’t want to move off of first base to be a full time DH, but will if it becomes very necessary. He was more open and honest than you often hear players, and that made it a great interview to hear.*
*Side note: Billy talked about the trade as a “4-for-1″ deal. Obviously, Billy doesn’t consider Yuni to be a player any more than any of us do.
A funny thought started to occur to me through all of this: Billy may just be our next leader with the team. Sure, he’s young and there are more experienced guys on the club. But no matter how much I thought about it, that idea just stuck with me, and to explain why I think that I want to use another recent leader change that I’ve experienced.
I’m a hockey fan. In fact, strangely enough, I’m a Nashville Predators fan. If you follow hockey at all, you might know what I’m getting at. This past offseason, the Predators traded their captain of three seasons, Jason Arnott, and had to find a new captain in-house. Now, there are several possibilities and guys that have been around for a long time. Martin Erat, David Legwand, and J.P. Dumont all come to mind. Anyway, the Predators picked Shea Weber, a 25-year-old defenseman who first reached the NHL in the 2005-2006 season. You might know Weber because of his blistering slap shot, which soared straight through the net in the Canada-Germany game of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Predators fans and other teams’ fans know him as arguably the best Predator and one of the top defensemen in the NHL. Either way, he’s extremely talented and helps anchor down the team in multiple ways.
Now, as far as I know, Shea was never an outspoken guy before this season. He would have comments and such, but he was otherwise like any other guy on the squad. Once it was announced that Shea was the new captain, much joy emanated from the Predators’ dedicated fan base. The rest of the outpouring came from Shea himself, who was thrust into the spotlight and relied on to lead his team into icy battle. From my experiences at Predators games, Shea stepped into this role and has excelled, being every bit the leader that Arnott occasionally wasn’t.
If you know Billy’s history, you’ll see where this lines up. Billy broke in with Kansas City in 2007 at the ripe young age of 21. Like Shea, he split his time between the majors and the minors for the first bit of his career. By 2009, he was the full-time first baseman and stepped into this role with great success, much like Shea. And Billy was a youngster on a team of many older folks, putting him in the role of trainee for quite a while. During this time, Billy’s interviews left listeners uninspired, leading many to call him, quite literally, “dumb” or “immature.” He just wasn’t much to talk to, and in the end there just weren’t many quotes from him.
With the gradual loss of the more experienced Royals Mike Sweeney, Mark Teahen, John Buck, David DeJesus, and now Zack Greinke, there remain very few Royals with long-term presence in Kansas City. In fact, the longest-tenured Royals consist of only three that were raised in the system: Luke Hochevar, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler, all of whom reached Kansas City in 2007. Kyle Davies, Gil Meche, and Joakim Soria also started their time in Kansas City in 2007, though none of them were raised in the system. Hochevar has struggled to settle in and Alex Gordon has had both injury and production issues throughout his time. Though Billy did spend time in Omaha in 2008 to get his bat heated up, he’s had the most consistently-productive career of the Kansas City-drafted Royals since 2007.*
*For the record, I think Soria will be relied on for the pitching corps. I also think he’ll excel in this role, but this is about Billy.
I hope it’s clear why I brought up Shea Weber and the Predators. Like Shea, Billy deserves to be in the spotlight. He hits well and is a very young player who has the potential to be a lifelong Royal. In fact, he was quoted in today’s interview as saying he wants to stick around long-term with Kansas City. Of course, anyone can say that, but I trusted Billy’s word today.
If you listen to him talk, Billy sounds earnest and forthcoming. He speaks his mind and is honest about his feelings on situations. Sometimes this sounds strange, as it did when he told Nick that the Royals should move Eric Hosmer around the field a bit, like they did with Billy. The rest of the time, it sounds to me, as it did to many fans, like Billy is embracing the opportunity of being a leader with the Royals. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to know that the Royals have been pushing him out into the public eye to set this role up for him. In my mind, it fits who he should be and what the Royals are wanting to do. Namely, this means building a strong, youthful atmosphere on the club that makes it easy for the newly promoted Royals to mesh with the team.
One of the problems I’ve had with the Royals in the past is their seeming necessity to crown newly-signed players as leaders on the club. For instance, they seemed to want to anoint Jason Kendall to this throne. To progress toward the young, capable future they’ve described, the Royals must promote and expose the youthful leadership with the club. This is where Billy comes in.
Billy has hit .299/.359/.457 with the Royals, actually having a better line in the last couple years. He is the epitome of young talent. Though he may never be Albert Pujols, Billy will seemingly continue to be a strong player in his own right. If his hand was bothering him this season as much as he made it seem in the interview, he could get even better. Add to this the fact that he’s missed exactly seven games in the last two seasons (324 total games), and you get a player who is an active contributor to a team that sorely needs such a player. With David DeJesus, a notable constant producer, now an Athletic, Billy’s importance is more clear than ever.
These are all reasons why Billy’s potential spot as leader of the Royals is well-deserved and necessary. He’s no longer the young, inexperienced player and interviewee he once was and seems poised to take a vocal position with the club. With the plethora of minor league talent that will soon be reaching Kansas City, having a guy of Billy’s age, experience, and production will be extremely important to build a great clubhouse atmosphere.
There’s always a lot that’s not immediately clear, but if Billy acts anything like Shea Weber has since his crowning as captain of the Predators, it will be an instant and long-lasting victory for the Royals. His influence will set the stage for a great advancement of The Process and help with the realization of many Royals fans’ dreams.