I was surprised. No doubt, Bob Dutton was shocked. And I’m sure many of you were a little taken aback as well.
A revelation. A breath of fresh and reasonable air. In my post on moving a certain terrible pitcher to the bullpen, I noted that the fifth starter decision might be a signal that Royals decision makers are changing their approach/perspective … are maturing really. So, it seems, they have … at least a little … maybe.
Mar 18, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost (left) during the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The evidence for this decision was clear; Mendoza pitched much better last season and this spring. He’s at the peak of his career; Chen is about a month away from Social Security. The fact that a few years ago Chen had a slightly above league average season means very little compared to the travesty of last season, and everyone (that is anyone with eyes and the capability to reason) saw it. Everyone saw that Mendoza is a better option for the fifth spot (I use hyperbole with the term ‘everyone’ for emphasis on just how many people thought Mendoza the better option than Chen).
But that’s never stopped the Royals before. Everyone saw the awfulness of the Yuniesky Betancourt signing, and that didn’t stop the Royals from signing him and then compounding the situation by giving him a starting job at second base. Everyone saw that paying Jose Guillen money to play baseball would be a bad idea. Sign away. Over the course of many, many years, the Royals have turned their backs on reason, and there was evidence suggesting that this year, the year they’re supposed to be going for it, might be the same (tendering Luke Hochevar a contract!!!!).
Choosing Mendoza as the fifth starter flies in the face of their terrible decision making and seems to support the very simple notion that they are trying to play the best players most often (it seems so simple, right!?). It also seems to indicate that they can accurately evaluate who the better of two players is, a flimsy claim for this team from time to time. It’s not that my evaluation ability is better than those calling shots for the Royals. I mean, it is, but that’s not the point. The point is the Royals have typically been in the extreme minority in their opinions on players and still gone with grit over game performance, guts over the ability to hit a baseball.
The good spring decisions they’re making are, of course, only one step. Other important decisions lie on the horizon that will indicate if those calling the shots at Kauffman really have a new approach capable of winning. They’ve already settled on J.C. Gutierrez as the final man for the bullpen, which is, I think, not a terrible decision just a calculated one. Many on Twitter are unhappy that Donnie Joseph didn’t get the job, and while I might have chosen him, I certainly see the logic in a small-market, relatively low-budget team maintaining some priority on inventory. The backup catcher spot went to George Kottaras, another reasonable decision. But once the season gets rolling and a player starts to struggle (perhaps a certain right fielder), this ‘new approach’ will be tested, as it will near the All-Star break when Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino come back and when it will be decision time on whether or not to move Ervin Santana.
Approaches to running a baseball team are not based on one or two decisions, they are the lens through which an organization sees the game, the perspective of their gaze. The Cardinals and Rays have winning perspectives. They don’t just make a good decision every now and then; they make consistently good decisions. In the past, when Ned Yost saw Hochevar allow 7 runs in an inning, based on his post-game comments and talk surrounding Hochevar, it seemed like he literally saw something different than I did. That’s because his perspective seemed much different than a sane person’s. It’s hard to change perspective, and I hope that we can begin to mark this time as a time the Royals decision makers found a way to change theirs. It’s looking like that might be the case.