Hope springs eternal. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard more times than we can remember, but none of us would be surprised if it was coined by a baseball fan. With the coming of spring brings with it the onset of everyone’s favorite time of the year for baseball (especially in Kansas City), Spring Training. It’s that point of the year where everybody is tied for first—although technically last as well—and if you squint hard enough through your Royals-colored glasses you can see the team having a winning record for the first time in 10 years and maybe, just maybe, competing for a playoff spot.
As the calendar continues to tick off the day’s towards opening day the talk about the Royals will go places it hasn’t gone in quite a while. The term “competing” has taken on a different meaning in this part of the country. Most other Major League Baseball franchises look at competing as vying for a playoff spot. Here in the heart of the country, competing has been used in the vein of little league. If the Royals can “compete” in a given year, usually that means that everyone thinks they should be good enough to not get blown out every time they take the field—which has been hard to come by some years.
Even in those seasons if everything fell right or the organization and players played to their potential this city would have been happy with a win total that had an eight in front of it and a winning record. “Our Time” last year was one of those years where they were poised to “compete” and if everything went just right might even win 80 games or more.
As we all know, that didn’t happen.
Time is starting to run short for Dayton Moore and, if nothing else, it’s obvious he knows it by the moves he made this offseason. He traded for Ervin Santana, re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, and traded away the best hitting prospect in all of baseball—from an offensively challenged team, no less—for a 31 year-old pitcher who has received Cy Young votes before and carries the moniker “Big Game.”
The Royals this year stand poised to legitimately compete. Not in the watered down version of the term we’ve become accustomed to around these parts, but in the sense that everyone else thinks of it. Maybe they’re not going to win 90 games, maybe they’re not a shoe-in for the playoffs, but if everything breaks in their favor and everyone plays to their potential, if you squint just hard enough and peek around that corner that Luke Hochevar has turned about 187 times, you just might see the Royals in the playoffs.
This is what we had hoped for seven years ago when Moore took over. This is where we were promised we’d be. All things considered this team probably should have been here sooner, but the ultimate result is that the Royals have finally reached the point where everything won’t have to be measured with the qualifier “—for the Royals.”
What still gives me pause as we head into the meat of spring training is whether or not this is a new reality for the Royals, or if we’re just trying to convince ourselves that the hope that comes with spring training blinding us all to the reality right in front of us.
Moore’s current status within the organization is hinged on him creating one of the best and deepest farm systems in all of major league baseball. His 2011 system was heaped with more praise than a Meryl Streep performance. The promise was endless and people began to wonder how such a collection of talent was even possible. Two years later and the unfortunate reality is that Streep has won more than that great farm system has here in KC.
“Trust the process” was the mantra Moore brought with him in 2006. What was supposed to be a sound philosophy, turned into a moniker of pleading for blind faith, and finally has devolved into a punch line for local radio hosts.
Moore has done more than enough to warrant every chance he has been given. Fans take things for granted now, but not many realize quite how awful of shape this organization was in when Moore took over. Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and a wayward Zack Greinke were all the team had when Moore first came aboard. After those players this team had to be built from the ground up. Moore did a fantastic job in turning the overall talent in the organization from league worst to league best.
But as with any coin there is always the other side. Moore has done plenty to this organization to warrant dismissal from many others. The acquisition of Mike Jacobs, Jose Guillen, and Jeff Franceour, by means of poor trades or unnecessary contracts—among other moves--have all hurt this franchise more than helped.
Moore has had a notorious failure to develop pitching. Whether it’s the players’ fault or the Royals fault is up for debate and that won’t take place here. Regardless, the fact remains that this team hasn’t been able to develop pitching and as a result had to trade away one of the best offensive prospects in major league baseball this offseason in Wil Myers just to get it. Maybe it will work out best for both sides, maybe not.
While some of the development falls out of the hands of Moore and the Royals but development should always be the cornerstone of any organization. While the idea of “draft and develop” is paramount to baseball—especially in small market teams—to this point Moore and his crew have only won half of that battle (drafting, albeit convincingly).
Some of the developmental concerns come with philosophy and inconsistent approaches to the game that this regime has taken. Once a “small ball” more National League-type approach of “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” has now lead way to “pull the ball, more home runs” approach that might not be the best fit for this current lineup.
With the exception of Mike Moustakas, nobody on this team projected as a true homerun hitting, power hitter. Most like Butler, Gordon and Eric Hosmer were considered guys who could hit for high average but have good pop as well. Some of them might be in the 30 homerun range, but would be better suited hitting .320 with lots of doubles. The effect such an approach might on have on the non-power aspects of this lineup remain to be seen, but it’s a shaky proposition when one blanket approach to hitting is applied to a lineup that has a wide array of hitters with different approaches.
The Royals remain, as they’ve always been, an American League team. Yet, as they have three games out of their total 162 early in the season, Manager Ned Yost has been quoted as saying they will run their spring training more like a National League camp to compensate. The shortsighted thinking is just another example of issues that have plagued this team throughout Moore’s tenure.
This might be the most exciting time to be a Royals fan in the last decade. More than that, it is one of the most pivotal years in the organizations history. If they fall flat on their face and win 75 or less games, they could clean house. A new regime might mean a Florida Marlins-style fire sale to start fresh. Moore’s golden opportunity gone asunder would mean back to the scouting ranks for him. And it would be a return of neutered expectations for this team.
While that may seem like a gloom and doom approach to this season, it’s really meant to underlie the importance of what 2013 means to this franchise. The course of this team will be altered with the results of the coming year. Whether that means jumping into yearly playoff contention or back to the drawing board, the importance of the next six months cannot be understated.
I look at this season the way I usually do with my sports teams. My powder blue-colored glasses tell me the Royals are an 85 win team that could make a run at the playoffs. The rational side of brain says that Moore and Yost together might not be the right men to get this franchise back to where it needs to be. At this time of year I can fool myself in believing. After all, hope springs eternal, even if job security in major league baseball doesn’t.