Friday, May 22, 2009

The Sky is Not Falling!

So, the Royals have lost nine of their past 12 games. Fickle Royals fans are hanging off the bandwagon, with one foot dragging on the ground, and prepared to jump ship. Message boards are filled with posts from people who are ready to write this season off. The Royals can't win this division. This team doesn't have enough offense to keep pace with Detroit. The defense sucks. KC's pitching isn't able to keep its ERA so low for the entire season.

To all the wishy-washy, non-believer Royals "fans" out there, I just have one thing to say. It's May 22nd, people!!!

Good grief. The Royals are 21-20, and in second place. I think most of us would have taken that if someone had told us that's where the Royals would find themselves toward the end of May. And, yes, the team is 3-9 in its last 12 games. But go back six more games (to include KC's six-game winning streak), and the team is 9-9 over its last 18 games. So it depends how you look at it.

I've shared my opinion on those message boards, and I'm one who truly believes that there is not going to be a team that runs away with the A.L. Central this season. Sure, right now it looks like Detroit's newfound pitching proficiency is going to allow the Tigers to pull away from the pack. But I don't think that's going to last throughout the summer.

Dontrelle Willis had a 9-point-something ERA prior to pitching a great game against Texas in his last start. And, I'll admit, even I picked him up in one of my fantasy leagues, just in case the old D-Train is back on the tracks. But something inside me tells me it won't last.

And Chicago came very close to acquiring Jake Peavy, before picking the worst possible time to lose a game 20-1, and possibly helping Peavy to realize it might not be much different in Chicago than it is in San Diego. Thank you, Minnesota!!

The Twins do look good, at least offensively. Joe Mauer has suddenly found a power surge, and Justin Morneau is putting up MVP-type numbers again. But the Twins' pitching isn't as good as most people around here (I live in the Twin Cities) seemed to think. Francisco Liriano is just not the same pitcher he was prior to his surgery, and I think Minnesota's just going to be like every other team in the division.

And Cleveland? Even though the Tribe just took two of three in Kansas City, I think the lack of pitching will continue to send the Indians in the wrong direction. And I really think Eric Wedge would have been out of a job had Cleveland lost the series at Kauffman Stadium.

What Royals fans need to keep in mind is one of the oldest sports cliches in the book. It's a marathon, not a sprint, people. It's a 162-game season, and just because the Royals are struggling in the past two weeks doesn't mean that the season is over, or that the team doesn't have a chance to make a run at the division.

It's not going to be easy, and there will be lots of bad stretches, mixed in with plenty of good stretches. This division race is going to be a fight the whole season, and those of us who are smart enough to realize that are going to be okay.

For everyone else, it's going to be a bumpy ride, with lots of bruises, as they jump off the bandwagon, only to try to chase it down and jump back on whenever the Royals hit another hot streak.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Royals Need Aviles' Bat to Come to Life

Kansas City has had the pitching and defense it needs to win games this season. But the offense? It leaves much to be desired.

Prior to Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Tigers, the Royals led the American League in runs allowed, runs allowed per game, complete games, shutouts, hits allowed, earned runs allowed, WHIP, strikeouts per nine innings, fewest errors, double plays turned, and fielding percentage. Yet, three weeks into the season, Kansas City is 9-9 after today's loss to Detroit.

Every Royals fan knows that three of those losses hang on the shoulders of Kyle Farnsworth, who has not exactly lived up to the two-year, $9 million free agent deal he inked during the offseason. Farnsworth's inability to hold leads has stirred the ire of Kansas City's faithful from coast-to-coast, and hopefully, manager Trey Hillman has finally realized (or has been told) that Farnsworth is not the guy to call upon late in close games.

But, more than anything, it's Kansas City's lack of offense early this season that has led to the .500 record. The Royals entered today's game ranked first only in triples, thanks to Coco Crisp's league-leading total of three. But K.C. ranks last, or next-to-last, in the following categories: runs scored, runs per game, at bats, hits, stolen bases, and batting average.

It's certainly not fair to focus on one player for the Royals' offensive woes, as one player could not make much of a dent in the team's deficiencies, but Mike Aviles' struggles sure come to mind when thinking about the team's lack of offense.

One year after taking the American League by storm, Kansas City's shortstop is having a nightmarish "sophomore" season. In 2008, Aviles batted .325/.354/.480 in 102 games after a late-May call-up from Omaha, with 136 hits, 68 runs scored, 51 runs batted in, 27 doubles, four triples, and 10 home runs. Aviles had 39 multiple-hit games, coming up with more than one hit an impressive 38.2 percent of the time.

And this year? Aviles entered this afternoon's game batting an ugly .169/.180/.203, with only two multi-hit games, four RBI, three runs scored, two doubles, and no home runs. He had collected one hit in his past 20 at bats.

This scares Royals fans, as they've seen this act before. Angel Berroa was the A.L. Rookie of the Year in 2003, and was never the same. Tony Pena Jr.? Well, he's Tony Pena Jr. In order to be successful this season, the Royals need to have a productive bat from Aviles.

Because, if Aviles can't be close to the player he was in 2008, when he was named the Royals' Player of the Year and finished fourth in the A.L. Rookie of the Year balloting, then it's either TPJ or Willie Bloomquist at shortstop, and I don't think there are many K.C. fans out there that want that.

But there might be a light at the end of this, slump. With the Royals trailing the Tigers, 3-1, in the bottom of the ninth today, Aviles came to the plate having just one single in his past 23 at bats. Although I really wish there had been a runner on base at the time, Aviles hit his first home run of 2009 into the Tigers' bullpen, cutting the lead to 3-2.

Now that is the Mike Aviles the Royals have been missing. Enough with this Angel Berroa/TPJ impersonation. We want the 2008 version of Aviles back. Hopefully, Aviles' final plate appearance this afternoon is the first sign of life in a desperately-missed bat in the Royals' lineup.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fire Hillman? Seriously?!

Saying the Royals should fire Trey Hillman right now is blowing these two early season losses -- the season-opener and today's game -- completely out of proportion. It's such a Chiefs mentality.

In the NFL, if a coach blows two games, it'd be an eighth of the schedule. But seeing how MLB plays 162 games, two losses is just 1/81st of the schedule. So it's definitely not as drastic, and all the "fire Trey!!!!!" types should take a step back from their keyboards and come back tomorrow.

Yes, I'm pissed that Trey brought Kyle Farnsworth into the game. Read my post in the game thread on I (Royal_in_MN) predicted the end as soon as I saw him enter the game. There is NO WAY that Farnsworth should have been anywhere near the mound in the ninth inning of a tie game.

But do I want Trey Hillman to lose his job for it? Quite simply, no. Farnsworth is a seasoned veteran, and Hillman had to think that he could get some guys out. I mean, I'm sure the thought of another disastrous finish crossed Hillman's mind, but he went on a hunch that Farnsworth wouldn't do a repeat.

Of course, Hillman's hunch was wrong, and it sucks for us that he thought Farnsworth was an option in that situation. I think Kyle Farnsworth needs to be "demoted" strictly to the sixth or seventh innings in games that are not close (3+ run differential), until he can put together a lengthy stretch of worthwhile performances that prove he deserves another chance to work the eighth (NOT the ninth).

But even I don't think Farnsworth should be "dumped," which is what many of those same "fire Hillman" types are advocating. To dump Farnsworth is like eating $9 million, and I seriously don't think the Royals are in a position to be able to do that.

And firing Hillman at this point of the season would probably do no good for such a young team. Going back to the NFL vs. MLB analogy, losing the two games I mentioned is not even equal to playing one miserable quarter in a football game. Would you seriously fire a coach for having one bad quarter early in the season?!

I hope your answer is no.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Zack Greinke = Filthy Good

Did you watch tonight's game? Did you see what Zack Greinke did to one of the highest-scoring offenses in Major League Baseball? On the heels of Friday's 12-3 spanking of the Rangers in Arlington, Greinke made Josh Hamilton, Hank Blalock, Marlon Byrd, Michael Young and the rest of the Texas lineup look like a bunch of school kids during a complete-game 2-0 shutout victory. It was absolute greatness in Royal Blue.

Greinke needed 111 pitches to finish his first career complete-game shutout, and he struck out 10 while walking none. He dazzled fans, and kept Texas batters guessing, by throwing 61 mile per hour curveballs, followed by 94 mph fastballs on the outside corner. For Royals fans, it was fun to watch, and that's not even the big story about this performance.

Greinke (3-0) entered the game against the Rangers having thrown 11 consecutive shutout innings in 2009, and 25 straight scoreless frames dating back to 2008. Add the nine zeros from tonight, and Greinke unofficially broke Kevin Appier's record for consecutive scoreless innings* by a K.C. pitcher, reaching 34 in a row.

*According to Ryan Lefebvre, he was told by a member of Kansas City's media relations staff that the Royals would create a new category for scoreless innings over two seasons. So Appier's single-season mark of 33 innings will still stand (for now?), while Greinke now holds the record for a streak covering more than one season.

It's early, but Greinke is working on an amazing streak. Are there any Royals fans out there who questioned whether signing Greinke to a $38 million contract extension was worthwhile? I seriously doubt it. But if there were any, they sure must be quiet now. Greinke's stuff is just plain filthy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Latest KC Giveaway: 1st Two Home Games

Patience. I keep trying to remind myself that it's crazy to get bent out of shape for losing the first two home games of the season. After all, the old cliche -- that this is a marathon, and not a sprint -- is so true in baseball. It's a long season, and there are still 157 regular season games left.

So it seems a little ridiculous for me to get mad about a pair of losses to the New York Yankees, but I'm simmering.

Like many Royals fans, I'm mad because Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez started the first two games at the beautifully-renovated Kauffman Stadium. In my mind, that was like handing New York the first two games on a platter. Would Luke Hochevar and Brian Bannister have done better? We can only guess at what might have happened, but it probably wouldn't have been any worse.

Hochevar seemed primed for his second season with the team, and he pitched well in Spring Training, with a 1-0 record and a 3.86 ERA in 16.1 innings. The former first overall pick of the Royals should be in the rotation this season.

Bannister did not pitch well in Spring Training, and was coming off a rough 2008 season. It's understandable that he's starting the season in Omaha, but it makes Kansas City fans roll their eyes when they see Horacio Ramirez get rocked for six runs in less than five innings, and then think back to the Bannister we all grew to appreciate in 2007.

I understand the reason Ponson started the home opener. He had a clause in the Minor League contract he signed that gave him an out with the Royals if he didn't make Kansas City's roster by May 1. That clause is no longer a factor, so I say give him one more start at the Major League level, and if he doesn't pitch well enough for the Royals to win, he should be sent to Omaha. By doing that, Ponson could get some regular starts, work out his kinks, and prove whether or not he deserves another chance.

And I didn't think the team's offense would be something that I'd be mad about at this point, but it's been non-existent. Sure, the team has faced some of the better starters in the American League in the five games to date, but I didn't envision the possibility of scoring just eight runs through five games. That's dismal, and I hope Kevin Seitzer can get some of these guys turned around in a hurry.

Kansas City has three solid starters at the top of its rotation, and hopefully Gil Meche can put a stop to this short two-game tailspin tomorrow afternoon. I'm tired of simmering inside.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What a Start for Royals' Pitching

Sure, it's only three games into a 162-game schedule, but what an amazing start to the 2009 season it's been for Kansas City's top three starters -- Gil Meche, Zack Greinke, and Kyle Davies.

Only one of the three -- Greinke -- recorded a win, but the Royals took two out of three games versus the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, and it was primarily due to the work of the Royals' starters. The trio of right-handers combined to pitch 20 innings, allowing just 13 hits and one run (earned), while striking out 21 and walking only five.

Royals fans will not forget Meche's start. He went seven innings, scattering seven hits, and striking out six Chicago batters with no walks. It was a fabulous Opening Day start for Meche, but it will be remembered for the wrong reason, as manager Trey Hillman decided to pitch Kyle Farnsworth with Kansas City holding a 2-1 lead in the eighth. Farnsworth, of course, got two outs before making the mistake of leaving a fastball up in the zone to Jim Thome, who blasted a three-run homer to center to help the White Sox win, 4-2.

Then came Greinke, who allowed the Royals to avoid an 0-2 start by going six innings and holding the White Sox to three hits and no runs, while striking out seven during an eventual 2-0 win in the middle game of the series.

In the rubber game of the series, Kansas City fans saw what they hope to see on a consistent basis this season -- a very effective #3 starter in Kyle Davies. The 25-year old baffled White Sox hitters for seven innings by surrendering just three hits, striking out eight, and walking just two in a no decision. He departed with the game tied, 0-0, and newly-acquired centerfielder Coco Crisp delivered the win to reliever Ron Mahay by hitting a two-run homer to right in the top of the ninth inning. The Royals wound up winning, 2-1.

It's not too often that a team can score a total of six runs in a three-game series, yet come away with two wins. If not for Farnsworth's (or Hillman's) gaffe, the Royals would have won three games with only that much run support. That is promising, to say the least, and I haven't even mentioned the two perfect innings that Juan Cruz threw in support of Greinke, or Ron Mahay's scoreless eighth frame today, or the back-to-back saves that Joakim Soria recorded.

I wrote earlier this spring about the importance of Kyle Davies this season. Meche and Greinke are known commodities. The two of them make up what many people feel are one of the top 1-2 combinations in the American League. But, if Davies can consistently put together solid outings like he did this afternoon, Kansas City will remain right in the thick of the race for the A.L. Central crown.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Meche Pitches Gem...Farnsworth Blows It

Opening Day, Take Two, after Monday's snowy postponement. Gil Meche is on the hill for the Kansas City Royals, and he has his "A" game with him today. He looks like he's in midseason form, going seven strong innings, scattering seven hits (six of which were singles), striking out six, and walking none. You honestly cannot ask for much better of a season-opening performance from a starting pitcher than what Meche gave the Royals on Tuesday against the White Sox. Meche departed after the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead, ready to hand it off to what many consider one of the best bullpens in the American League Central.

In comes Kyle Farnsworth, who signed as a free agent for $9 million during the offseason. Nasty fastball. Biting slider, but he has the tendency to leave it hanging sometimes. A tough pitcher to bunt against, but Chicago's Josh Fields manages to surprise everyone by squaring up and dropping a perfect bunt down the third baseline to open the White Sox's eighth frame. Dewayne Wise attempts to move Fields up with a bunt, but can't get it done before flying out to center. But Chris Getz comes up with a bloop single to right to move Fields to third.

Farnsworth looks solid in striking out Carlos Quentin, but manager Trey Hillman makes the mistake of leaving him in the game to face Jim Thome, who blasts a three-run home run to center field, and the Sox hold the Royals scoreless in the ninth to win the game, 4-2.

I'm pissed that Meche didn't get a win for such an outstanding 2009 debut on the mound, and I'm mystified why Trey Hillman didn't bring in Ron Mahay to set up a lefty-lefty matchup against Thome. But there were lots of positives in the game, too. Like Alex Gordon's 418-foot blast to straightaway center to put the Royals on the board early. And the fact that the team seemed to be better at working the counts. But the Royals are 0-1, when they should be 1-0, and Trey Hillman and Kyle Farnsworth have already used their one mulligan, in my book.

Monday, March 2, 2009

$20 Sunflower Seeds, and Mark Teahen

I've been meaning to write about this for months now, but since it's Spring Training and I've been looking for something different to post, I figured I'd share a funny story about my favorite personal baseball memory of 2008.

It was September 9, and my youngest brother Evan had scored some incredible front-row seats -- basically right on top of Kansas City's dugout -- for the Royals-Twins game at the Metrodome. The tickets were my birthday present from Evan and his wife, and you really can't give a die-hard Royals fan like myself a better gift than that.

The seats were amazing! I mean, we could lean forward, and look down at the Royals' players milling about in the dugout. Attending the game were myself, Evan, and two of our friends -- Mike and Scott -- and our first comments when we all got to our seats were something about being worried whether we could safely drink beer and sit in such close-range line-drive territory. Yes, we were in a potentially dangerous spot, and all of us had seen people nailed by shots off bats before.

Needless to say, though, the threat of being clocked by a foul ball didn't stop us from indulging in a beer or three...or four. Let's just say we were feeling pretty good, and I wasn't even too bothered by the fact that Kansas City was on its way to a 7-2 loss that night in an awful game for Brian Bannister.

Ryan Shealy was playing first base for the Royals, and between Scott and myself, we collected a total of five baseballs from Shealy as he walked back to the dugout in between innings! I kept the one I got, and Scott gave the rest away to the little kids who quickly learned of his generosity. But that isn't even my favorite part of the evening.

Late in the game, and still feeling good from the close-to-excessive beverages we drank, Evan decided it'd be funny to take something and "accidentally" drop it onto the steps of the dugout below. We weren't dumb -- though, that can be argued -- and so we started thinking about things that a person wouldn't usually drop on purpose.

The first suggestion was to take his credit cards and most of his cash out of his wallet, and drop that, but he didn't like that idea. So then it moved to a discussion about cash, and we wanted to see whether the Royals would give it back, or if we could perhaps get something else back in exchange. But the idea was still that we were going to try to make it seem like it had been an "accidental drop."

So, after coming to the conclusion that a $20 bill was the right amount, Evan did the deed, and casually dropped the money. It slowly fell to a spot on the steps, right by the Gatorade, the gum, and the sunflower seeds. We watched for what seemed like ages -- probably about 30 seconds -- before an unidentified member of the Royals finally snuck up, grabbed the bill, folded it in half the long way, and teased us by holding it out and running off to the end of the dugout.

Just like that, we thought our experiment had ended with a disappointing result. But Mark Teahen, who was playing third base that night, came over before he went out to the field, grabbed a bag of ranch-flavored sunflower seeds, and tossed them up to me. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Sure, it was a small bag of what were now $20 sunflower seeds, but it was something, and Evan laughed at it. It was a fun story to tell friends and family.

A few weeks later, in the final regular season game of the year at the Metrodome, the Royals were back in town. Before the game, I went down to a spot above the Royals' dugout during batting practice and got some autographs on the ball I had gotten from Shealy earlier that month.

One of the players who signed for me was Mark Teahen, and I chatted with him for a minute, quickly recounting the story and asking him whether he knew who it was who ended up with my brother's $20. He laughed at the account, and claimed that he had no idea who got the money. My guess is that it was a batboy or something, but we'll never know for sure.

But, as Teahen moved back out to the field for more pregame drills, he tossed me another bag of ranch-flavored sunflower seeds and smiled. I think he knows the answer to my question.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

KC's Future 3B: Moustakas or Gordon?

Baseball America's annual list of the Top 100 Prospects was released today, and the Kansas City Royals have two players among the publication's Top 25. Kansas City is one of five organizations with two prospects among the Top 25, while Baltimore and Florida are tied for the lead with three each.

Third baseman Mike Moustakas (pictured), Kansas City's top overall selection in the 2007 draft, is ranked 13th on the list. And last year's top pick for the Royals, first baseman Eric Hosmer, is listed 24th. Both players are projected to make their Major League Baseball debuts during the 2010 season, which presents an interesting question for Royals fans.

With Kansas City's top draft pick in 2006, Alex Gordon, currently manning third base, exactly where does "Moose" fit into the Royals' plans? Is Moustakas the future starter at the hot corner for KC, or will he be utilized in another role?

Moustakas has already gone through one position shift. He was drafted as a shortstop, and was the 18th-ranked prospect by Baseball America in 2008. But about midway through last season, he was moved to third base, and he played 59 games there.

Even so, many people predict that Moustakas would be a natural fit in a corner outfield spot, with his strong arm and raw power at the plate. But if that's where the Royals envision him, wouldn't it have made more sense to have moved him there right away, rather than have him work to become a third baseman?

Playing for Burlington, Moustakas got off to a slow start in his first full season in the Minors, but wound up becoming the first teenager since 1992 to lead the Midwest League in home runs (22). He played in 126 games at Burlington, finishing the season with a line of .272/.337/.468 with 25 doubles, three triples, 77 runs scored, 71 runs batted in, 43 walks, and 86 strikeouts in 496 at bats.

After the All-Star break, Moustakas batted .321/.392/.557 with 13 home runs, helping Burlington win the Midwest League Championship Series for the first time since 1999. It also marked the first time since 1999 that a full-season affiliate of the Royals had won a league title.

Moving Moustakas to third base makes you wonder if Kansas City sees Alex Gordon as the long-term answer there, or whether there are plans in place to move Gordon. The logical move would be for Gordon to shift to first base. That is, until you remember that the hope is to have Hosmer playing there within a couple seasons, and Mike Jacobs is only signed for one year. So the move needs to be to a corner outfield spot, but which player is moved, Moustakas or Gordon?

It's an issue that needs to be addressed, and maybe it already has been in closed-door meetings involving the Royals' front office staff. But, then again, it's a nice problem to have.

Mike Moustakas Photo Credit: Chrish Wish

Monday, February 23, 2009

Can the Royals Draw 2,000,000 Fans?

On the field for the Kansas City Royals, things certainly look promising for 2009. Players like Alex Gordon, Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Coco Crisp, Gil Meche, Joakim Soria, and Jose Guillen have Kansas City fans excited about the possibility that this team could challenge for its first division crown since 1985.

But away from the baseball field, times are tough due to a financial crisis that has crippled the U.S. economy. It's one of the most difficult economic periods in a generation. The newly-elected government is attempting to figure out how to stimulate the economy, and just today, President Obama promised to cut the U.S. defecit in half by the end of his first term. Any stimulus package isn't going to have a short-term effect, and it could be years before improvements are felt.

In the meantime, businesses continue to close their doors left-and-right, banks are still struggling to stay afloat, the unemployment rate could reach levels that haven't been seen in decades, and families are being forced to cut back on discretionary spending in order to simply pay the monthly bills and avoid foreclosure on their homes.

So, tell me, when the Royals start to win games like we're all hoping they will, are people still going to have the extra money needed to attend a Royals' game? And even if Kansas City remains in contention for the American League Central Division title in August or September, will Kauffman Stadium's seats once again be filled like they were in the glory days of the late 1970's and early 1980's? Those are difficult questions to ponder, with unclear, and potentially scary, answers.

Here are some amazing signs of the times. The other day, I heard one of the hosts on XM Radio's MLB Home Plate mention that there are apparently still tickets remaining for what he said are the first nine games of the season for the New York Yankees.

Normally, this might not seem like such a big deal. But New York, which regularly attracts sellout crowds to its games, is moving into a state-of-the-art, $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium this season. If ever a series of early-season games in the Bronx should be sold out, you'd think this would be it. But, apparently, not in this economy.

During the same conversation, the host suggested that it might not be long before Boston's MLB-record consecutive sellout streak at Fenway Park, which currently stands at 468 games, will come to an end due to the financial strain on U.S. citizens. If you follow the game of Major League Baseball, you know that's an astounding thought, especially for a team with two World Titles in the past five years.

So, when faced with possibilities like that, will a small-market organization like Kansas City be able to actually increase its attendance in the coming years?

A few weeks ago, also on XM, Royals general manager Dayton Moore was asked about attendance figures in relation to Kansas City's ability to increase its payroll. Moore said that, in order for the Royals to be able to increase their payroll to $80-85 million in any season, Kansas City would need between 2 million and 2.4 million fans to pass through the turnstiles at The K.

To put that in perspective, in their 40 years of existence, the Royals have had just 11 seasons in which they've drawn in excess of two million fans. The last time it happened was during the 1991 season, which capped a seven-year streak of two million or more through the gates. The largest total ever is the 2,477,700 who came out to watch the Royals during 1989. But, since 1995, the highest attendance figure for Kansas City is the 1,779,895 fans it drew during the 2003 season.

Last year, Kansas City's total attendance was 1,578,922, for an average of 19,493 per game. In order to reach the 2,000,000 figure, average attendance would have to jump more than 5,000 fans per game, to at least 24,691 per game. Can that honestly happen in this day and age?

According to an annual cost analysis study conducted by Team Marketing Report during April 2008, there were only five teams in Major League Baseball with a more affordable FCI, or Fan Cost Index*, than the Royals.

Yet, the same report said the following: "The Kansas City Royals, a regular at the bottom of the FCI, jumped up a few spots thanks to a 21.1 percent increase on tickets, going from $14.48 to $17.54. The Royals' FCI concurrently went up 22.5 percent to $151.16."

*The Fan Cost Index comprises the prices of two (2) adult average-price tickets, two (2) child average-price tickets, two (2) small draft beers, four (4) small soft drinks, four (4) regular-size hot dogs, parking for one (1) car, two (2) game programs, and two (2) least-expensive, adult-size adjustable caps.

So, it's true that the Royals remain a bargain in terms of the cost for a family to attend a game, and the thing about that report is that it didn't factor in such savings as Dodge Buck Night, and all-you-can-eat seats, or other promotions that Kansas City runs on a regular basis in order to increase attendance. But the fact of the matter is, with another hike in ticket prices set for 2009, can the average family really afford to attend more than a handful of games?

It's not fun to think what could happen to organizations like the Royals, or other teams located in smaller markets, if the economy continues on its downward spiral.

It's not a stretch of the imagination to think that more than one team could run into such financial difficulties that it is forced to shut down, or relocate. And it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that teams like Kansas City might have to drastically cut their payrolls, and return to a strict reliance on players who come up through their farm systems.

Many MLB teams have already taken steps to reduce payroll for 2009. In fact, Kansas City is one of a very select number of organizations who have actually increased payroll this season. The Royals are set to pay a team-record total of around $74 million to their players this season, which is a reported $4 million over the team's budget. In order to offset that cost, I'm guessing the front office is factoring in an attendance increase.

Optimism surrounding this year's team is at its highest point in recent memory, and these Royals should win lots of games. But the big question is whether Kansas City can once again reach that elusive total of 2 million fans.

I guess we won't know the answer to that question until it happens, but it sure would be nice to read about the two millionth fan passing through the turnstiles at Kauffman Stadium this season.

Kauffman Stadium Photo Credit:

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Dislikes: Yanks, Red Sox, and Redbirds

This topic is almost sure to draw criticism from at least two of my younger brothers, who root for teams that I'm going to discuss in this post. But I'm really just fishing for some comments from readers in general, and a little increased activity on my site after months of being stagnant.

I'm wondering which team(s), or fans of a particular team, you most dislike, and why? Everyone is more than welcome to share their thoughts and opinions. Yes, even fans of the teams discussed in this post, or others. And, if you hate the Royals, for whatever reason, I'd sure love to know why.

For me, there are just three teams that stand out above the rest when it comes to a dislike for particular franchises, and surprisingly, none of them are in the American League Central (although the White Sox were close).

Among fans of small market teams, I think there's a natural tendency to dislike teams that have overwhelmingly large payrolls. Obviously, the New York Yankees top that list, with the Boston Red Sox a close second.

When Gil Meche signed as a free agent with the Royals in December of 2006, his five-year, $55 million contract equaled former Royal Mike Sweeney's deal for the largest in Kansas City's history. Zack Greinke's recent four-year, $38 million package now ranks as the second-largest in terms of overall dollar value. But those pale in comparison to what the Yankees have been able to do.

This offseason, New York signed C.C. Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million deal, then added A.J. Burnett for five years and $82.5 million, and still had enough in the coiffers to ink Mark Teixeira to an eight-year contract for $180 million. And, keep in mind that Alex Rodriguez signed on the dotted line for 10 years and $275 million prior to the 2008 campaign. That's sick, and it's a primary reason behind my hatred of the Yankees, which happens to be my brother Brian's favorite team.

The Red Sox didn't make any major splashes in the free agent market this winter, and Boston owner John Henry has even been calling for a salary cap after the Yankees' recent spending spree. But, even with a lower projected payroll for 2009, Boston still ranked second in 2008 by distributing $147.1 million in salary to its players.

By contrast, Kansas City is getting set to increase its 2009 payroll to an all-time high of somewhere around $74 million -- yes, that's about half of what Boston spent last year, and a third of the $222.5 million the Yankees dealt out in 2008.

In my opinion, the ability to spend money like that creates an arrogance and an "East Coast is best" mentality that just oozes from fans of either of those two organizations. They often scoff at the notion that teams like Kansas City should even be able to be on the same field as their teams.

It's a cockiness and bully mentality that is fed by the fat wallets of their team owners, who have endless cash to spend thanks to lucrative television deals with YES (Yankees) and NESN (Red Sox), as well as top-grossing merchandise and licensing profits due to the enormous population located along the East Coast.

And it just drives me crazy, when listening to MLB Home Plate on XM Radio, to hear seemingly endless talk about either of those teams. Man, it'd sure be nice if I could hear something more than just the occasional brief mention of the Royals. I think, as much as anything, this stokes the hatred I feel for the Yankees and the Red Sox. Well, that, and the fact that Reggie Jackson acted like an ass when I asked him for an autograph at the College World Series a few years ago.

Granted, with 26 World Championships and a rich history -- wow, that word fits so well -- fans of the Bronx Bombers have obvious reasons to gloat. Red Sox Nation seems to always be competing with, but chasing, its rivals from New York. Sorry, Boston, but seven titles will always keep you in that chasing mode -- not that seven titles is anything to turn your nose up at.

With that in mind, though, and knowing that the Yankees are about to make their 2009 debut in a sparkling new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium, it really makes you wonder if venerable old Fenway Park's days are numbered.

Okay, okay...enough about the East Coast. I think my disdain is quite evident.

For most Royals fans, you simply have to look across the state of Missouri to find another rather obvious choice -- those, Redbirds, of St. Louis. Even though they play in the National League, I think, more than any other team, I feel a sense of satisfaction when the Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals.

My brother Matt (NOT pictured...thank God) is a die-hard fan of the Cards -- even though I have a picture of him from elementary school wearing his Royals jacket -- and he will assuredly be e-mailing me after reading this post. We go back and forth all the time, although there is a prevailing brotherly respect to our debates, which probably wouldn't exist if either of us was talking smack about our teams to just any other fan.

Obviously, I love to bring up the 1985 World Series anytime Royals-Cardinals is discussed. Of course, he automatically claims that series should have an asterisk by it due to Don Denkinger's call during Game 6. But I always respond to that by saying that if the Cardinals really deserved that World Championship, then they should have been able to come back and be more competetive in Game 7. And we all know that Kansas City then went on to kick the crap out of St. Louis by a score of 11-0, and celebrated the organization's greatest triumph.

The thing that I really dislike about many Cardinals fans, though, is their sense of arrogance. I can deal with my brother's pride in the Cardinals, but if you talk to an everyday fan of the Redbirds, they'll probably claim that they're the best fans in baseball, and that they're also the most knowledgeable crowd in the game.

For the most part, I think those claims by St. Louis fans are in comparison to fans of the other team in the Show Me State, which is why it bugs me. Cardinals versus Cubs is probably always going to be more of a rivalry to fans in the Gateway City, but I think their second love is to hate the Royals.

So, I truly enjoyed it last year when the Royals went to St. Louis and swept all three games at Busch Stadium. God, it would have been so fun to have been wearing all of my Royals gear, and sitting among the throng of red-clad St. Louisans as the young Royals won by scores of 2-1, 3-2, and 4-1. Imagine how cool it would've been to have been waving a broom back and forth as Joakim Soria recorded his third save in three days to finish the sweep! And, of course, Kansas City won last year's series against the Cards, four games to two, so Matt owed me some beers in our annual friendly wager.

There is no arguing the fact that Cardinals fans are loyal, and Busch Stadium is almost always full. But would those fans keep coming out to the ballpark if they had had to suffer through what Royals fans have had to put up with for the past decade-and-a-half? I don't think so. In fact, I think Busch Stadium would be about as empty as Kauffman Stadium has been in recent years if the tables were turned.

St. Louis fans I run into (like this guy) always love to bring up the Royals' struggles over the past 15-20 years. I'm just waiting for the day when the Cardinals head into a similar tailspin that lasts at least a few years, so I can make a comment or two about the dwindling attendance at Cardinals games, and about how mismanaged that franchise is. Kansas City's change in ownership, and Allard Baird, gave Cardinals fans great joy and satisfaction for years and years.

I want to feel arrogant and cocky again. I want to be able to respond with confidence to comments made by fans on the East Coast or across the state. I'm hoping Dayton Moore and David Glass are successful in restoring that sense of pride in being a fan of the Kansas City Royals.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kyle Davies is Key for Royals in 2009

I'm shelving the dream of Orlando Hudson-to-the-Royals for now, as it seems more and more likely that David Glass has really put a stop to Kansas City's offseason spending. I know, it's easy for me to sit here at the computer and figure out ways to spend Glass's money, but it just seems like adding Hudson, even at a "bargain" cost somewhere between $4 and 5 million, is not likely to happen. Dammit.

So, let's take a look at a player who's already in the fold for the 2009 season: right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Davies. I think the performance of Davies in Kansas City's rotation this season will go a long way toward determining whether this is a great season -- with the potential to reach the playoffs -- or simply another slight improvement for the franchise.

Davies is coming off a 2008 season in which he recorded career-best totals for wins (9), ERA (4.06), ERA+ (105), and WHIP (1.45) after being called up from Class AAA Omaha in late May. He finished with a record of 9-7, making 21 starts, and allowing 121 hits in 113 innings pitched.

In his second season working with Royals pitching coach Bob McClure, the 25-year old Davies finished with 71 strikeouts and 43 walks for a K/BB ratio of 1.65, the best of his career. And his 4.06 ERA was lower than the league average (4.27) for the first time in his four-year career at the Major League level.

Davies seemed to put things together late in the 2008 season, as he combined to go 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA in five September starts. In those games, he allowed just 22 hits in 31.2 innings, holding batters to a line of .198/.246/.270 with 24 strikeouts and just seven walks. His WHIP was a solid 0.92 during that span, and he surrendered just one home run.

I'm sure there are those who will try to attribute Davies' impressive September numbers to the fact that many teams utilize players called up from the Minor Leagues late in the season. But if he can start the 2009 season with the type of confident mindset he honed during those late-season starts, Davies could be the type of #3 starter the Royals have been hoping for.

Davies was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves with the 29th pick (135th overall) in the 4th Round of the 2001 amateur draft.* A native of Stockbridge, Ga., Davies was acquired by Kansas City in a deal that sent closer Octavio Dotel to Atlanta at the trade deadline on July 31, 2007.

*The Royals had selected catcher John Draper with the ninth pick in that same round. In five Minor League seasons, none higher than Class AA, Draper batted .245/.311/.323 with just 12 home runs and 226 strikeouts in 1,357 at bats. With the fourth pick of the fifth round that year, just five spots before the Royals selected, the Phillies drafted a guy named Ryan Howard out of Missouri State. Thanks, Allard.

Davies always showed promise as a Minor Leaguer, combining to go 18-6 with a 2.97 ERA during 2004-07 in Atlanta's farm system prior to the trade to the Royals. Overall, in eight Minor League seasons (including time in Omaha during 2008), Davies owns a mark of 42-22 with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. In 595 innings pitched, he has allowed just 498 hits, while fanning 576 batters and walking just 215.

But he's had his struggles facing Major League batters. In parts of three seasons with Atlanta, Davies was 14-21 with a 6.15 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP.

Nevertheless, Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore knew what he was getting in Davies, and figured it was worth the risk -- and a little criticism from some Royals fans -- despite Davies' failure to stick around for long in the Major Leagues.

"He's a young pitcher who's trying to establish himself," Moore said after the trade. "I don't pay much attention to young pitchers' statistics. If you did, John Smoltz and Tommy Glavine never would have gotten off the ground."

Since coming to Kansas City, Davies' numbers have improved somewhat, resulting in a combined record of 12-14 over the past two years with a 4.86 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP.

That doesn't seem like much of a jump, but it's his numbers during most of the 2008 season that have Royals fans hoping for something great from the guy who spent this offseason doing construction work for his father's company.

He began last season at Class AAA Omaha, where he posted an impressive record of 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. After his recall to the Royals, Davies got off to a sizzling start by going 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA over his first four starts in Kansas City.

He then ran into a rough stretch of three starts -- versus San Francisco, St. Louis, and Baltimore -- in which he went 0-1 with an 11.57 ERA. Take away those three games last season, and Davies was 9-6 with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP.

Let me repeat that for everyone. Other than three straight bad outings between June 22 and July 3 last season, Kyle Davies had a 3.20 earned run average for the rest of the season, totaling 101.1 innings pitched.

That's not a bad sample size, and those are the kind of numbers that can hush the naysayers who think that Davies only pitched well in September last season. They're also the kind of numbers that could make him a very effective No. 3 starter for the Royals.

If Davies can continue to improve, and Kansas City gets the type of performances it expects from its top two starting pitchers -- Gil Meche and Zack Greinke -- then I'd argue this team can compete for the American League Central crown in 2009.

Kyle Davies Photo Credit: Gail Burton/AP

Saturday, February 14, 2009

True Love: Valentine's Day and Baseball

It's Valentine's Day, and I awoke this morning to a nice exchange of cards, kisses, and candy with my wife. Yes, love is in the air, and I'm fortunate to have a strong marriage, with lots to smile about.

But, with apologies to St. Valentine, and to my wife, something else has made my smile even more radiant today, and it stems from my other love -- the Kansas City Royals.

Yes, pitchers and catchers report, and baseballs were in the air! What a wonderful thought that is. And, for the Royals, most of the rest of the team is already in camp in Surprise, Ariz.

So, it's time to start preparing to play ball, and to find reasons for optimism no matter what team you follow. It's time for Bob Dutton's V-logs, and for daily (or weekly) trips to In-N-Out for Sam Mellinger as he posts entertaining updates on his Ball Star blog. Best of all, I won't have to wait a week between stories about the Royals on the Kansas City Star's web site, or on Rany Jazayerli's blog.

For the first time in years, the Royals will have depth at most positions. Sure, there are still question marks, primarily on the right side of the infield and in the bullpen. But the backups should be known quantities rather than career Minor Leaguers who cause Kansas City fans to roll their eyes and have serious doubts about the team's potential.

Without a doubt in my mind, Dayton Moore's plan is beginning to pay dividends. When I listen to XM Radio's MLB channel, in those rare moments when they talk about the Royals instead of the Yankees, Red Sox, or some other East Coast team, I hear mostly positive comments. Some are even predicting that Kansas City could be a sleeper pick to be 2009's version of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sure, that could be stretching things a bit, but it sure is fun to think of the possibilities. And before Moore took over as General Manager for the Royals, no one in their right mind would have been able to make such a preseason prediction.

There's even talk circulating today, based on a report in Buster Olney's blog, that Kansas City is considering ways to be able to fit free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson into the payroll. Now that, my friends, would put the Kansas City Royals on the map.

The downside to that signing is that it would cost the Royals their second-round pick in this year's draft. But if it takes Kansas City from being a sleeper pick to contend in the A.L. Central, to all of a sudden being considered a leading candidate for the division crown, then it's certainly worth trying to make it a reality, isn't it?

The payroll is already being stretched at a time when many teams are trying to make cuts due to the depressed economy. Moore has said that, in order for the Royals to extend their payroll to the $80-85 million range, the team needs to be able to draw between 2 million and 2.4 million fans to Kauffman Stadium.

The renovations, designed to create the feel of a new stadium, should already be reason enough for increased attendance figures in 2009. So why would it not make sense to take a bit of a gamble, and sign a guy like Hudson in order to put together a team that is truly capable of making a run for the playoffs. I mean, you have to spend money to make money, right?

With Hudson at second base, the Royals' defense would improve dramatically. Hudson won Gold Gloves for his defense as Toronto's second baseman in 2005, and for Arizona in both 2006 and 2007. Offensively, the 31-year old Hudson has batted .282/.346/.433 during his seven-year career, while averaging 26 doubles, six triples, 10 home runs, 60 runs scored, and 53 runs batted in per season. And his OPS+ the past three seasons has been 102, 106, and 108.

Today is the official start to what can be a dream season for the Royals. In my mind, every Royals' season begins as what could be a dream season, but most people seem to think that Kansas City's best chances to reach the playoffs will come in 2010 or later. But why not now? Most of the pieces seem to be in place. Is Hudson among the final pieces to a playoff puzzle the Royals haven't been able to solve since 1985?

It's fun to dream, isn't it?

Orlando Hudson Photo Credit: Washington Times
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