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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