This is Part Three of my 2006 season preview. Today, I’ll examine the state of the once-proud Kansas City Royals. Yesterday, I looked at the troubles of the Major League Baseball-owned Washington Nationals. Tomorrow, I’ll look at baseball’s worst team, and it’s not one from Florida.
Kansas City used to be a great baseball town. From 1975 through 1989, the Royals were always competitive in the AL West. In fact, they captured their one and only World Series title in 1985.
But the heydays of George Bret, Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Liebrandt, and Dan Quisenberry have long since passed by the Royals. And this year, it is the Royals and not the deconstructed and rebuilt Florida Marlins or the work-in-progress Tampa Bay Devil Rays that stand to be the worst team in baseball.
In 2005, the Royals were nothing short of a disaster. They stumbled their way to a 56-106 record, finishing fifth for the third time in five years and topping the century mark in losses for the second straight season. Offensively, Mike Sweeney lead the team with an .864 OPS and Zach Greinke’s astronomical 5.80 ERA was the lowest qualifying ERA on the team. While the young Ambiorix Burgos and Andrew Sisco showed some promise out of the bullpen, the Royals, outscored by over 200 runs, had little to celebrate.
Heading into the off-season, the Royals knew they had to make some changes. They certainly made some changes, but are they really for the better? I don’t think so.
The 2006 Royals will welcome a plethora of new faces. Among them are Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Reggie Sanders, Scott Elarton, Joe Mays, and Elmer Dessens. These players – all largely a bunch of career role players – may lend a veteran presence to a directionless team, but right now, they are blocking younger players from gaining valuable experience.
In Grudzielanek and Mientkiewicz, the Royals get two players who shouldn’t really be starting. Grudzielanek, 35, has a career line of .294/.330/.391. Mientkiewicz, 31, has a career line of .268/.359/.405. Once a prized prospect in the Twins organization, he’s topped .300 just twice in his career and has faced injury-laden seasons the last few years.
Meanwhile, Scott Elarton and Joe Mays inspire little confidence. The two combined for 337.2 innings last season, striking out just 162 while giving up a combined total of 55 home runs. Elarton, the projected number one starter, threw to an ERA of 4.61 on a good fielding Indians team and Mays threw to an ERA of 5.65 on the Twins. As they know won’t get to start against the Royals, they stand to see a marked decrease in performance this season.
Furthermore, their true projected number one starter, Zach Greinke, left the team in Spring Training amidst some murky circumstances. Some reports say that Greinke, pitching on the hapless Royals, simply lost the will to pitch. As a cerebral hurler, he couldn’t deal with the team with no plan. Other reports say he simply broke down mentally. While the Royals still say the 22-year-old will be back, they have proceeded without him.
On top of the Greinke fiasco is the Runlevys Hernandez mess. Hernandez was placed on the DL because he is out of shape and doesn’t have the stamina for the season. While personal irresponsibility is hardly an excuse for the disabled list, Hernandez is still supposed to be a part of what now amounts to a four-man rotation.
With aging veterans installed in the outfield (Reggie Sanders) and infield (Dougie M, Mark Grudzielanek), the Royals are blocking the paths for three of their top prospects: Justin Huber, Donnie Murphy and Billy Butler. The Royals would be better off letting these rookies get their feet wet than they are by giving up outs and plate appearances to veterans who won’t really produce.
So as 2006 dawns in Kansas City, the Royals, a team with no plan, will have a clogged lineup. This team will make a lot of outs and give up a lot of runs. It will be another long year in Kansas City as that 1985 World Championship fades into the past.