Friday, February 22, 2008

Extend Dayton Moore's Contract

As Royals fans, we're well aware of a disappointing history of not being able to retain star players as they approach free agency. Names like Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and Carlos Beltran will make most Kansas City faithful cringe, grind their teeth, or throw something at the wall.

All three of those players have been to multiple All-Star Games. Two of them -- Damon and Dye -- have helped teams win a World Series title, with Dye being the Most Valuable Player of the Chicago White Sox's 2005 championship. And, with the free agent signing of ace pitcher Johan Santana early this month, Beltran might soon be wearing a world championship ring, as well.

What's sad, and all true Royals fans know this, is that all three of those players used to roam the outfield grass at Kauffman Stadium -- at the same time -- and all three were traded before they became too expensive for the Royals to afford. It's sickening to think of the possibilities.

Damon led the American League in 2000 with 136 runs scored and 46 stolen bases, while finishing among the top 10 for batting average (.327), hits (218), doubles (42) and triples (10), but was traded to Oakland on January 9, 2001.

Dye also wound up in Oakland, with the Royals receiving Colorado shortstop Neifi Perez in a three-team deal on July 25, 2001. At the time, Dye was batting .272 with 13 home runs and 47 runs batted in. Neifi Perez is Neifi Perez.

And the last piece of that trio, Beltran, was traded to the Astros in another three-team deal on June 24, 2004. In return, the Royals received Mark Teahen and pitcher Mike Wood from Oakland, as well as catcher John Buck from the Astros. In the 2004 playoffs with the Astros, Beltran established a new playoff record with home runs in five consecutive games, and also tied Barry Bonds' postseason record with eight round-trippers overall. (And, no, if you clicked on that link for Bonds, I'm not insinuating anything about Beltran)

In late May 2006, the Royals' sinking ship was salvaged with the firing of general manager Allard Baird. It was Baird who traded Damon, Dye, and Beltran, and you'd have to search far and wide to find a Royals fan who feels Kansas City got fair value in return. It was also Baird who signed free agents like Juan Gonzalez and Chuck Knoblauch.

To be fair, Baird did also sign free agents like fan-favorite Raul Ibanez and Mark Grudzielanek, who earned a Gold Glove in 2006 and remains the starting second baseman to this day. He also drafted Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon, which is impressive.

But Kansas City suffered through a dismal stretch under Baird's guidance, with three 100-loss seasons and a win-loss record of 381-576. And it might be argued that the Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez trade was reason enough for him to be fired.

So, back to the sinking ship. Out goes Baird, and in comes new GM Dayton Moore. I would argue that June 8, 2006 -- Moore's first day on the job -- is one of the brightest days the Royals organization has had in the past 15 years. Finally, someone to fix the leaks, and bail out the water.

If we stick with the ship analogy, Moore had been cruising on one of the most successful vessels on the sea (a.k.a. the Atlanta Braves) for the previous 12 years. He had learned the role of GM while working in several capacities for former Royals' GM John Schuerholz.

In Atlanta, Moore had gained a reputation as one of the brightest young minds in professional baseball. He was named by Baseball America in 2005 as one of the Top 10 Up-and-Coming Power Brokers in Major League Baseball, and in 2004, the same publication projected Moore as the top general manager prospect.

As such, in November 2005, Moore was interviewed for the vacant GM position with the Boston Red Sox. Moore going to Boston was an exciting possibility for Red Sox Nation, but he withdrew his name from consideration, reportedly because he was not assured that he would have complete control over baseball operations.

You have to give Royals' owner David Glass some credit, as he must have been paying attention to the news of what happened in Boston. Because, despite hedging on whether or not to fire Baird for weeks on end, Glass agreed to hand over control of Kansas City's personnel decisions to Moore, and things have been on an upward trend ever since.

Over the past two offseasons, Moore has aggressively attacked the free agent market. His diligent work has lured Gil Meche, Octavio Dotel, Jose Guillen, Yasuhiko Yabuta, Ron Mahay, Brett Tomko, John Bale, and Miguel Olivo to the Royals' roster.

It has also been widely reported that Kansas City offered a $70 million contract to free agent CF Torii Hunter, who signed with the Angels, and made competitive -- if not better -- offers to Andruw Jones and Hiroki Kuroda, who both signed with the Dodgers.

In addition, his trades have been, for the most part, very sound. Brian Bannister, Ross Gload, Joey Gathright, Ryan Shealy, Tony Pena, Jr., Alberto Callaspo, Jorge De La Rosa, Daniel Cortes, Kyle Davies, and Julio Pimentel have all been acquired via Moore's dealings.

So, what's my point here? Succinctly, Dayton Moore is good at what he does. He's good for the Royals. And, going back to my original point, he needs to be signed to a contract extension at some point during this season. I suppose Glass can decide to wait and see if the team is winning games this year, but the team sure seems like it's ready to move in a new direction, and Moore is the one who pointed the Royals in that direction to begin with.

This morning, I was reading about Arizona GM Josh Byrnes, and how he was given an eight-year contract extension through 2015. Byrnes was hired by the Diamondbacks in October 2005, and has done essentially what Moore is in the process of doing in Kansas City -- rebuilding an organization, with a restricted payroll, and leading it to success.

Sure, Arizona won the N.L. West and advanced to the National League Championship Series last year, which is more than the Royals have done. But I would argue that Moore's task is a far greater challenge, yet the Royals are making progress, and fans are more excited about Kansas City baseball than we have been in years.

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts -- which is an interesting web site, by the way -- Moore has a five-year deal in place for about $1 million per year. Assuming that's accurate, this is the middle year of that contract. He's instilling faith and pride back into this once-proud organization, and he deserves a long-term commitment, just like Josh Byrnes.

David Glass needs to recognize the direction that Dayton Moore is taking the Royals, and reward him before he gets away just like Damon, Dye, and Beltran. Otherwise, as Kansas City has more and more success, and the end of Moore's contract in 2010 nears, baseball owners are going to be licking their chops, just waiting to steal him away.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Please, Save Me the Expense of Therapy

So, I wake up this morning, and I'm feeling great. Despite the fact that I was up until about 1:00 a.m. working on this blog -- I'm a night owl -- I got great sleep, as I usually always do, thank goodness.

My morning routine usually consists of all the basics: lie in bed for a few minutes; stretch out my muscles (no, I'm not like Arnold Schwarzenegger); brush my teeth; kiss my wife; chit-chat about the upcoming day's schedule; make my son some breakfast; make myself coffee; say goodbye to my wife (she works, I'm a stay-at-home dad, although that's "work," too); turn on cartoons for my son after his 15th request; and then spend some time online, reading through news about the Royals.

And, while sipping my java and doing that last item, my mood took a turn for the worse today. According to the Kansas City Star's Jeffrey Flanagan, there are rumors floating around in "baseball circles" that the Royals are once again pondering a switch to the National League.

What?! Where in the heck did this come from? I thought this idea had gone to its grave in 1997, when Bud Selig offered Kansas City the chance to switch, and the Royals (thankfully) declined.

Here is where I stand on this issue: I hate the National League. Yes, I repeat, it's not just a mild dislike for me -- no, it's pure hatred. National League games are dull and boring to me. I do realize that my views on this might fall within the minority, but I don't care. This feeling of contempt for the N.L. has been inside me for years, and I don't see it changing -- ever.

In my entire life as a baseball fan, I've always been an American League guy. It's engrained in my mind that the A.L. is far surperior to the N.L. I love being able to rub it in to my brother, Matt, who is a die-hard Cardinals fan, that Kansas City went 10-8 against the Senior Circuit in 2007. That the American League is 16-3-1 against the National League in the All-Star Game since 1988.

Is there really any doubt which league is better? Certainly not in my mind. And I don't agree with the reasoning that the Royals should switch leagues, so that they'd have a better chance to have success outside of the A.L. Central Division.

Phooey! That's such a loser mentality. We suck, so let's cross our fingers that Major League Baseball will allow us to go play in the weaker National League. No way!

How am I supposed to lose my American League bias overnight? I can't change how I feel. I'd probably have to go see a therapist, or a deprogrammer, to help me adjust to seeing the Royals in the N.L. standings. Do you think I'd be able to send Kansas City's front office a bill for that?

Luckily, in Flanagan's account of this, the Royals' Mike Swanson, Dayton Moore, and Dean Taylor all seemed to dismiss the report as nonsense. I just hope they're not testing the waters to see what kind of reactions are out there among Royals' faithful.

But if that is the case, I hope they happen across this post and decide to keep the Royals in the good old American League. Otherwise, I'm going to need to find a good shrink.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gordon Looks for Big Year at Hot Corner

This is the second installment of a position-by-position look at the 2008 Kansas City Royals.

If there is a player who seems to be virtually unchallenged at his position heading into the 2008 season, it's second-year third baseman Alex Gordon. Sure, there are other players on the Royals' roster who are pretty much assured, barring injury, to be the starter on Opening Day. But Gordon will certainly be a fixture at the hot corner for Kansas City this season.

In his rookie campaign, Gordon was often used as a first baseman. Those days seem to be over, as the Royals have a plethora of candidates for playing time at first base. I'm guessing that new manager Trey Hillman's intent will be to allow Gordon to settle into regular duty at third base in order to create a better comfort level for the 24-year old.

Translation: No more Buddy Bell experiments with Alex Gordon.

The hope is that Gordon can get off to a better start than he did as a rookie, when he batted .173/.285/.281 through June 6. Gordon has the mental maturity to be able to withstand the everyday pressures associated with being one of the Royals' brightest stars, but it was tested in his initial campaign wearing the Blue.

The proverbial light illuminated for Gordon on June 7, when he broke out by going 4-for-4 in a loss at Cleveland. He proceeded to bat .327/.383/.500 in June to kick start a second half that raised his final numbers to .247/.314/.411. He led the team with 36 doubles, 14 stolen bases, and 55 extra-base hits, while ranking second with 15 home runs and 60 runs batted in.

Behind Gordon on the depth chart are newly-acquired infielder Alberto Callaspo, who came over in a trade with Arizona in exchange for pitcher Billy Buckner, and veteran utility man Esteban German.
Callaspo is a 24-year old switch-hitter, who was named the Diamondbacks' 2006 Minor League Player of the Year. He's projected by most to be Mark Grudzielanek's eventual replacement at second base, but is versatile enough to play several positions. His numbers at the MLB level with Arizona didn't meet expectations, but in six Minor League seasons, he batted an impressive .317/.370/.437.

The 30-year old German's numbers dropped significantly in 2007, as some felt he was exposed too often in a career-high 348 at bats. German batted .264/.351/.376 last year, following a very solid 2006 campaign in which he went .326/.422/.459 in 279 at bats. He did manage to finish fourth on the team with six triples and 11 stolen bases -- impressive feats considering his lack of playing time.

But there is no question that third base is Alex Gordon's for the taking in 2008. It's as big a no-brainer as you can have, and if he continues to make strides offensively and increase his power numbers, his name will be etched in that spot on Royals' lineup cards for years to come.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Adjusting to Life's Curveballs

Sometimes, life throws you a curveball when you're not really expecting it.

My son, Eric, is closing in on his fourth birthday. He's a wonderful boy, a parent's dream, full of energy and very mischievous, but well-behaved, sleeps like a rock for about 12 hours a night -- and has since he was a couple months old. He can say his alphabet and count to 250 or beyond, loves to watch The Little Einsteins on Playhouse Disney, adores both sets of grandparents and his cousins, too, and is cute as can be.

I've always dreamed of having a son who I can teach the game of baseball to. I've envisioned afternoons of playing catch in the backyard or going to the batting cages, just the two of us, or maybe playing whiffleball like I did as a kid, and pretending that the roof of the neighbor's house is the "upper deck seats."

My dad coached college football for 26 years, and is Director of Athletics at a nearby college, so of course, sports have always been an integral part of the fabric of my life. I spent more than 10 years as Director of Sports Information at several colleges, and even served as the official statistician at the NCAA College World Series in Omaha for a couple summers.

Baseball has always been important to me. I love the sport, played Little League, Babe Ruth, and high school baseball, have coached kids' teams, and have had a love affair with the Kansas City Royals since 1980. Even though I currently live in Minnesota, and have had to put up with my son occasionally wearing a Twins shirt that he's been given, I have secretly hoped that my love for the Royals will wear off on him, and I'll have another KC fan in the house to celebrate, or commiserate, with.

But that's where life's curveball comes into play. Within the past year, we've learned that Eric is Autistic.

Just like one of those slow-breaking Zack Greinke curveballs, I had seen this coming for quite some time, as I've had suspicions that autism might be a possibility for a year or two. I recognized signs in his behavior at a very early age -- staring at ceiling fans, slow development both physically and verbally, flapping his hands when he was excited -- but it still takes awhile to absorb the news that your suspicions were on the mark, and to think about what type of impact it might have on our lives.

Today was one of those days, as I was thinking about the start of Spring Training for the Royals in Surprise, AZ, and then realized that those days of playing catch with Eric might no longer be a possibility.

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person's lifetime. It is part of a group of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Today, 1 in 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls. Autism impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe. (Source: Autism Speaks)

Many people's image of autism is of an individual like Raymond Babbitt, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the 1988 movie Rain Man.

Fortunately, Eric seems to be on the mild end of the spectrum. He communicates very well, despite getting his pronouns confused, and is for the most part, a very normal child. We take him to private speech and occupational therapy sessions every week, and he attends a class four afternoons per week to work on various skill sets. Early intervention can have a very positive outcome on a child's long-term prognosis, so we do everything that we can to try to help him, as any parent should.

For Christmas this year, his grandma and grandpa gave him his first baseball glove. It really brought a smile to all of our faces, as we watched Eric try to figure out how to use it. We put it on his hand, and then laughed as he took the ball, put it in the glove, and tried to throw with the glove hand -- who knows, maybe he's a natural lefty. But I suppose that's common for any young kid who might get his first baseball glove at the age of three, and I love that he seems interested in sports, even if it's unlikely that he'll play them competitively at an advanced level.

But just like a hitter who has to adjust to a curveball or a changeup, I simply need to adjust to the pitch that life has thrown me, and to be content with whatever it is that makes Eric happy in life. Maybe that will be baseball, maybe it won't. Maybe his love of numbers will lead him to become a statistician, just like his dad. And, maybe, he'll choose to be a Twins fan, just like grandpa. Or maybe he'll find that he really enjoys things other than sports, and that's just fine.

Of course, that would be a hard curveball for me to take, but then again, you never know what life will throw your way. And, it could be worse -- he could end up being a Cardinals fan like his uncle Matt.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Three-way Battle Behind the Plate

This is the first of a position-by-position look at the 2008 Kansas City Royals, as they begin full-squad Spring Training workouts on Tuesday in Surprise, AZ.

For John Buck, the 2007 season must have been frustrating, to say the least. It began with a very promising start -- as he batted .310/.410/.630, with eight home runs through May 23 -- but it ended with four sub-par months, which saw his final numbers plummet to a disappointing .222/.308/.429. He managed to hit 18 home runs to lead the team, but only four of those came during his final 60 games. In August, his picture was next to the word slumping in the dictionary, as he was 9-for-58 (.155), and five of those hits came in two games, which meant he was 4-for-50 (.080) in the other 19 games.

With the departure of 2007 backup catcher Jason LaRue, Kansas City once again signed a free agent catcher to provide competition behind the plate for Buck. Miguel Olivo, who hit .237 with 16 home runs and a career-best 60 RBI in 122 games for the Florida Marlins last year, will push Buck for the starting job. LaRue, who batted a dismal .148 last season, signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals (I'm snickering as I write that...).

Despite Buck's declining numbers to end 2007, he enters Spring Training as the starter, a position that was reinforced by new manager Trey Hillman prior to the start of official workouts.

Olivo signed with Kansas City with the understanding that he'd have a good shot at stealing the starting spot away from Buck. But Hillman stated that the job was Buck's to lose, and that he needs to maintain a certain level of productivity in order to keep his job, as it should be with any position.

However, Buck and Olivo are not set in stone on the roster yet, as six-year Minor League veteran Matt Tupman will get an opportunity to make an impression following a strong winter showing in the Dominican Winter Baseball League. Playing for Tigres del Licey, Tupman batted .293 with 12 RBI during the regular season, and earned the chance to start for his team in the Caribbean Series. He helped his team win the series with a 5-1 record by batting .353.

Tupman will likely open the season on the Royals' roster, as Olivo is facing a five-game suspension for his part in an altercation as a member of the Marlins late last season.

Competition is always good, and depth at catcher is something the Royals haven't had in recent years. Kansas City certainly doesn't have anything close to an All-Star behind the dish, but the combination of two of these three should be solid enough in 2008.
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