Royals Rotten Decade (2004)


During the 2000s, no major league team lost more games than the Kansas City Royals.  It was a decade where the negatives far outweighed the positives.  This is the fifth installment of the 11 part Royals Rotten Decade series.  I will briefly examine each season in the last decade before wrapping up the decade in the 11th and final part. This one really hurts folks, so prepare yourselves.

Part 5, the 2004 Royals (58-104) 720 RS / 905 RA

Payroll:  $44.7 million (25th)  /  Attendance:  1,661,478

Draft:  3B-Billy Butler (1st), LHP-Matthew Campbell (1st), LHP-J.P. Howell (1st), RHP-Billy Buckner (2nd), RHP-Erick Cordier (2nd), SS-Joshua Johnson (3rd), RHP-James Moore (4th)

Top Prospect:  RHP-Zack Greinke

Above 110 OPS+ (Minimum 50 AB)
129 CF-Carlos Beltran (27):  0.278/.367/.534 in 266 AB
117 DH-Mike Sweeney (30):  0.287/.347/.504 in 411 AB
116 C-Kelly Stinnett (34):  0.305/.379/.458 in 59 AB
113 DH-Calvin Pickering (27):  0.246/.338/.500 in 122 AB

Above 110 ERA+ (Minimum 40.0 IP)*
151 LHP-Jaime Cerda (25):  3.15 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 6.5 SO/9 in 45.2 IP
122 RHP-Shawn Camp (28):  3.92 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.9 SO/9 in 66.2 IP
120 RHP-Zack Greinke (24):  3.97 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 6.2 SO/9 in 145.0 IP
112  RHP-Nate Field (28):  4.26 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6.1 SO/9 in 44.1 IP

*I tweaked the requirement yet again from 50.0 IP down to 40.0 IP to include Cerda and Field.

After a surprising 2003 season, a drop off seemed likely.  Undeterred by logic and common sense, the Royals “went for it” and added the following players via free agency:
RHP- Shawn Camp (28) $300,000
C-Kelly Stinnett (34) $500,000
LHP-Dennys Reyes (27) $550,000
OF/1B-Matt Stairs (36) $1.0 million
2B-Tony Graffanino (32) $1.1 million
RHP-Curt Leskanic (36) $1.25 million
RHP-Scott Sullivan (33) $2.1 million
C-Benito Santiago (39) $2.15 million
OF-Juan Gonzalez (34) $4.0 million

If you are scoring at home, that’s $12.95 million in FA salaries for the 2004 season to help the team win 58 games.  Baird and the Royals also added DH-Calvin Pickering (27), C-Alberto Castillo (34), UT-Wilton Guerrero (29), OF-Adrian Brown (30), RHP-Rudy Seanez (35) as minor league free agents.  In what turned out to one of the best offseason moves, the team acquired LHP-Jaime Cerda from the New York Mets on January 26th, 2004.  All they had to give up was RHP-Shawn Sedlacek.

The offense was again led by Carlos Beltran, until he was dealt anyway, and Mike Sweeney when he was able to get on the field.  The only 2 other players to break the 110 OPS+ threshold, Pickering and Stinnett, combined for a whopping 181 AB.  Only two other players on the entire roster, regardless of playing time, managed to break 100 with their OPS+:  20-year old SS-Andres Blanco (106) and 36-year old 1B/OF-Matt Stairs (104).  Mike Sweeney’s 22 HR led the team.  Stairs added 18 and Beltran hit 15.  Ken Harvey hit 13 and John Buck hit 12 in his 71 games of action.  Looking for stolen bases?  You’re looking in the wrong place.  Beltran and Berroa tied for the team lead with 14 each.  Tony Graffanino was the only other Royals player to break double digits with his 10 SB.

At the end of the year, the team’s OPS+ was just 85.  Needless to say, it’s not exactly a surprise the team scored 116 fewer runs than they did in 2003.

The team’s complete collapse wasn’t all on the offense.  The pitching staff allowed 905 runs which is the 5th highest mark in team history.  Though at the time it didn’t seem like it, the bullpen was actually pretty solid in 2004.  The trio of Jaime Cerda, Nate Field, and Shawn Camp led the way.  Scott Sullivan, Jeremy Affeldt, Dennys Reyes, D.J. Carrasco, Jimmy Serrano, Jason Grimsley, Rudy Seanez, and even Ryan Bukvich finished the year near or above an ERA+ of 100.  During the 2004 season, my friends and I always mocked the Jaime-Field-Camp monster and for that I apologize.  We were wrong in our assessment of their contributions that season.  Perhaps it was guilt by association.  Being tied to a horrific starting rotation will do that I suppose.

Zack Greinke, at 20-years old, was the shining light in the oppressive darkness that was the 2004 rotation.  Five pitchers started 17 or more games for the team, and Greinke was the only one to finish the year with an ERA under 5.00.  The next closest starter was 22-year old LHP-Jimmy Gobble who had a 5.35 ERA and an ERA+ of 89.  Darrell May followed up his career year in 2003 (3.77 ERA and 130 ERA+) by throwing up a 5.61 ERA and 85 ERA+.  Brian J. Anderson followed up his 2003 (3.99 ERA and 123 ERA+ as a Royal) with a 5.64 ERA and 85 ERA+.  24-year old Mike Wood came over in the Beltran trade and proceeded to make 17 starts with a 5.94 ERA and ERA+ of 80.  Not a single pitcher on the staff managed to break the 200 inning mark, though based on the results they were getting that shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.  Focusing on the positives, Zack was amazing.  In 145.0 IP he walked only 26 and allowed only 143 hits while striking out 100.  The fact that he was only 20-years old bears repeating.  It took longer than we all hoped for him to completely figure it out, but his 2009 season was more than worth the wait.

Others to take the mound as a starter during the 2004 season were the following:  LHP-Dennys Reyes (12), LHP-Jeremy Affeldt (8), LHP-Chris George (7), RHP-Jimmy Serrano (5), RHP-Denny Bautista (5), Kevin Appier (2), and the very unfortunate 24-year old RHP-Eduardo Villacis.  You may remember Villacis.  He opened the 2004 season pitching in Double-A for the first time in his career.  Despite being 24, and despite the fact he had made 3 starts above A-ball, the Royals called him up to make a spot start on May 1st against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.  He made it 3.1 innings, which is in itself a bit of a miracle.  He gave up 6 hits, 5 runs, 4 walks, 1 home run, and 1 wild pitch.  The Villacis start was a microcosm of the entire 2004 season.

When the regular season had mercifully come to a close, the Royals were 34.0 games back of the first place Minnesota Twins (92-70) and 14.0 games back of 4th place Detroit (72-90).  Kansas City had the worst record in the AL by a full 5 games over the Seattle Mariners.  Unfortunately the Arizona Diamondbacks would manage to win only 51 games and “earned” the right to the 1st pick in the 2005 draft.  Arizona took consensus #1 prospect OF-Justin Upton with their pick.  The Royals had to settle for the consensus #2 prospect 3B-Alex Gordon with their pick.  In fairness to Alex, if the Royals had selected Upton with their pick they probably would have stunted his development like they appear to have done to Gordon.

Have you had enough on the 2004 Royals?  I haven’t.

The following players made their major league debut with the 2004 Royals.  Many of these players haven’t played in the majors since.  Imagine some cheesy song often used in HS graduation videos as you read this list.  Something along the lines of “I Will Remember You” or whatever suits your mood.
RHP-Eduardo Villacis (24)
RHP-Jorge Vasquez (25)
RHP-Justin Huisman (25)
RHP-Jimmy Serrano (28)
RHP-Shawn Camp (28)
C-Paul Phillips (27)
C-Mike Tonis (25)
SS-Andres Blanco (20)
OF-Byron Gettis (24)
OF-Rich Thompson (25)

I know you’re wanting more, so here’s a rundown of some of the other moves made by Baird during the 2004 season with their 2004 contribution in parenthesis:

April 8th:  Acquired RHP-Justin Husiman (25) from Colorado for Chris Fallon, Zach McClellan and cash.  Huisman would pitch 25.0 innings for the Royals in 2004 with an ERA+ of 70.  He was released on April 14th, 2006 and never pitched in the majors again.

April 29th: The Royals returned OF-Rich Thompson (25) to the Pittsburgh Pirates after 6 games and just 1 at bat.  On December 15th, 2003 the San Diego Padres selected Thompson in the Rule 5 draft and traded him to Kansas City in exchange for cash and RHP-Jason Szuminski, who was the Royals Rule 5 selection out of the Chicago Cubs organization.  All to give the guy 1 at bat.  It was Thompson’s only at bat in the majors.

May 31st: Acquired UT-Damian Jackson (30) from the Chicago Cubs for 2B/SS-Travis “Gookie” Dawkins.  Jackson hit 0.133/.185/.267 with an OPS+ of 16 in 15 at bats as a member of the Royals.  He became a free agent at the end of the season.

June 21st:  Acquired RHP-Denny Bautista (23) from Baltimore for RHP-Jason Grimsley, who had an ERA+ of 142 when he was dealt.  Bautista would pitch 27.2 IP with an ERA+ of 73 in 2004.  He’d produce similar results in 2005 and part of 2006 before being traded to Colorado with Affeldt, for Ryan Shealy and Scott Dohmann.

June 24th:  The team traded CF-Carlos Beltran (27) to the Houston Astros in a three-team deal.  The Royals received C-John Buck (23) from Houston and 3B-Mark Teahen (22) and RHP-Mike Wood (24) from the Oakland Athletics.  He signed with the Mets on January 13th, 2005 and has made $11.6 m, $13.6 m, $13.6 m, $18.6 m, and $19.2 million in the following years.  Though he made it clear he had no interest in signing an extension with the Royals as he approached free agency, the team could have locked him up following the 2001 or 2002 seasons.  Further away from free agency, with less leverage, and with less of a track record, Beltran probably would have been open to an extension with the team.

June 28th: Purchased the contract of 3B-Jose Bautista (23) from the Tampa Bay Rays.  In 13 games and 25 at bats he hit 0.200/.231/.240 with an OPS+ of 22 with Kansas City.  On July 30th he was traded to the New York Mets, and the Royals got 1B-Justin Huber in return.  That same day, Bautista would be dealt from the Mets to the Pirates along with Matt Peterson and Ty Wigginton.  New York would get Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger in return.  Keppinger of course would be acquired by the Royals 2 years later when Ruben Gotay was sent to the Mets.

July 1st: Purchased the contract of OF-Ruben Mateo (26) from the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He’d provided the Royals with a 38 OPS+ in 93 at bats.  On August 26th, he was granted free agency.  He was signed by two other teams in the following seasons, but never made it back to the majors.

July 31st:  Acquired OF-Abraham Nunez (27) from the Florida Marlins for RHP-Rudy Seanez.  Nunez became the everyday RF for the Royals and hit 0.226/.304/.335 with an OPS+ of 65.  They were his last at bats in the majors.  On March 31st, 2005 he was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Mariners.

August 13th:  Claimed RHP-Matt Kinney (28) off of waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers.  He pitched 16.1 innings for the Royals with an ERA+ of 67 and became a free agent at the end of the season.

For one season, in 2003, the Kansas City Royals were a real major league baseball team.  By the end of the 2004 season, they resembled a Triple-A or Independent League baseball team.

Okay now I’ve had enough.  Unfortunately things didn’t exactly improve in 2005, but you’ll have to wait till, at least, tomorrow to read my recap on that team.

(Wally Fish is the lead blogger for Kings of Kauffman and FanSided’s MLB Director.  Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)