It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Twenty-twelve was supposed to be the year that things started to fall into place for the Kansas City Royals. The offense was taking shape – albeit on the backs of some career years – and the young pitching was coming around just enough to make even the hardest hearts think there was a chance for something special.
There were still those, though, that didn’t quite believe. There were holes in the offense – poor plate discipline out of key figures; still very little power; terrible base running – and relying on young pitching usually brings more headaches than high fives. No matter the amount of negatives however, the amount of positives coming from both a good September, 2011 record, and a great spring for a number of players, left just enough positive vibes to make fans and columnists anoint this season as the completion of some kind of “mission”.
Except, this is the Royals, and #Royaling is what they do.
It’s fallen apart. A house of cards built on intangibles and indefinable buzzwords like “the right way” and “process” has once again turned back into a pumpkin; back into a bumbling laughing stock worthy of the late night shows. Only this time, because this narrative is too old, too worn, too used, not even the good late night shows will have a run at it.
Before the season began the Royals signed Yuniesky Betancourt. A player that has been so bad throughout his major league career that writers have called him – not the lowly “bloggers” everyone loves to loathe – the worst everyday player in baseball. A player that, just a year ago, the Royals themselves knew just how bad, how below average, how much of a drain he was on their lineup because of his shear tonnage of outs created, the sieve he was on defense with his incredible lack of range in the infield, because he played for them. He played for them, and played poorly enough to amass a mere 0.9 fWAR, while playing in 151 games.
But that didn’t matter. Why? Because when the Royals signed Betancourt before the spring of 2012, they did so with the “intention” that he would be a backup. A backup, for multiple infield positions of which he had either rarely or never played, making $2 million on a team strapped for cash.* He was signed as a guy that could bring some right-handed pop to the lineup out of a backup role, and he was a good fit in the clubhouse. No, seriously, that’s the exact quote.
*We know the Royals are strapped for cash because they never stop telling everyone how strapped for cash they are.
Flash-forward to yesterday and Betancourt is no longer on the team. Designated For Assignment, relieving the fans from having to watch his uninterested, mediocrely-talented demeanor on the field in a Royals uniform again. But for all the good that comes of Betancourt being released comes the same red flags that have been surrounding the organization for the past six seasons, and beyond.
There’s speak of a process, a method of evaluation and determination that would set the Royals apart from all the other small-market-excuses of a mess of the past three decades. But as the Mission comes to an end, there’s seemingly little difference of this season from the last, or the many before it. And if you’re of the opinion that there’s an end in sight, a true end in sight, then the writing on the walls just isn’t the right shade of glowing neon for you to see.
As the goalposts continue to get moved further and further down the line of success, more and more head scratching moves of wasted money and market missteps continue.
Jose Mijares, a talented (at least somewhat), and presumably useful left-handed bullpen piece having a good season on an incredibly affordable contract, was placed on waivers and claimed by the San Francisco Giants. At the time of posting this, the details of the transaction are not fully known, but it appears the Royals gave Mijares away for nothing. There could always (and usually are) things that no one in the general public knows, but for the purpose of the Royals, for the purpose of how things have been both this season and the five before it, what reason would anyone have for giving the Royals the benefit of the doubt this time?
There’s talk of trying to “change the culture”. It’s a nice, cute thing to say. In any normal circumstance, in any other organization, a phrase like that could (and possibly should) be taken seriously. But this is year six of this regime’s run with changing the culture of losing, why is it still around at all?
Eli’s coming. Something is brewing – or at least, that’s how it seems at the moment – with the Royals. And if change is truly coming, some sort of alteration of the culture, then fans may yet have hope that the light actually is somewhere at this end of the tunnel.
But for six years-to-two-decades Royals fans have been promised change and continually get handed pennies in exchange. Let’s hope this time, for once, it’s actually meaningful.
Since returning from the DL, Lorenzo Cain has hit .325/.372/.506 with 4 stolen bases and played a pretty good defensive outfield at multiple positions. Not too shabby.
Given Cain’s swing and approach at the plate, his overall numbers probably won’t reflect this kind of production over the long term, but at the very least he seems to be the kind of player that can be penned into in the lineup somewhere in the foreseeable future.
Cain’s inclusion into the lineup has shown how much he was missed over the two months he was away. Jeff Francoeur has struggled (even by Jeff Francoeur standards) and being able to give him a day off to save the lineup for his almost certain four outs with Cain’s bat and base running would have been a welcomed addition.
Moving forward the question is, and always will be, if he can stay healthy. Health being one of the hardest player attributes to evaluate and predict we may never know how many games he’ll be able to play in a year without breaking down. But for the time being, Cain looks like an athletic, above-average-to-better defender that’s going to provide the lineup with some much-needed production for next season.
This horse was beaten long, long ago. But if there weren’t enough question marks already about Dayton Moore and his ability to put together a 25-man, major league roster, there should be now. And no one should be able to argue otherwise.
Things don’t look to get much better before they get worse, and moves like the Betancourt signing and the trade for Humberto Quintero are at the forefront as why.
Perhaps a trade of one of the team’s better players is what’s needed. Perhaps either Billy Butler or Alex Gordon needs to be shopped in the offseason. Perhaps.
Let’s just not forget that the two best players on the team, those two, are also two that are leftovers from the previous regime that supposedly caused all this losing culture to begin with.
The Royals hit the road with three games against the White Sox and four against the Orioles. A seven game stretch that, even if the team was playing well, would be tough. At the very least, fans get to see Camden Yards.