Losing teams like the Royals need to exploit their only advantage
Something good happened for the Kansas City Royals the other day -- or anyway, it feels to me like something good. I've written here that the biggest reason that
Still, I suppose what bothered me most about the Trey Hillman Era is I never really liked what the Royals were doing. I wrote about the frustration of a fan whose view of sports clashes with his team, but in this case I mean something bigger than that. No, I never really understood the small stuff either. Just this year, the first inning sacrifice bunt by a No. 3 hitter (
I'm talking about the bigger picture stuff. I never quite followed the Royals play for success. The play seemed to be to win as many games as possible, which, sure, sounds sensible enough. But for the Royals, at this point in their development, I think that's a terrible idea. Ask yourself this question again: What ADVANTAGE do bad, small market teams have over the talented and rich teams? They have less talent and less money. They are less appealing to good free agents and the most talented players internationally. So what advantage do the Kansas City Royals have over, say, the Boston Red Sox? The easy answer is "none" but I don't think it's the right answer. In the Army -- and I have been lucky enough to see it in the classrooms -- they spend countless hours studying the "advantages" smaller, less equipped armies have over the powerful U.S. Those smaller armies may be more mobile. They may have better communication lines. They may be more committed. And so on.
It seems to me (and I've written this before) that the powerful advantage for the Royals and the like is simply this: time. That is what the Royals have that the Red Sox and Yankees and Phillies and Cardinals do not. The Royals have the luxury of time. Those teams have to win NOW, or bad things are going to happen. Ownership spends a lot of money, fans pay a fortune for tickets, expectations are heightened, and they better win. When they don't win, there's intense pressure. People get fired. Players get released. Headlines scream. When those teams don't win, there are consequences. Everyone's watching.
Having to win now creates a certain intensity but it can also spark mistakes. It can cause teams to overvalue a player who seems JUST PERFECT for the team. It can cause teams to be impatient -- either with prospects or slumping players. Win Now can spark bad trades, bad signings, short-sighted moves. Consider Seattle. Hey, I know, I was one of those people who loved what Seattle was doing in the off-season, bringing in
But I will say that just a few days before the season began I was having a conversation with
The Royals -- and other teams like the Pirates, Orioles, Cleveland, the Nationals and so on -- should know they're not going to win right away. My suspicion, though, is that the Royals have not known this. My suspicion is that they have done an extremely poor job of self-evaluation. For instance they really seemed to believe that last year's disastrous season was, in large part, a function of bad luck and injuries. They really seemed to believe that had
A few fans feel that way too ... I hear from them quite a lot. But fans can be somewhere between optimistic and unrealistic. Teams cannot. My guess, based on what the Royals did during the offseason, is that they actually believed they were not far away from being a .500 or so ball club. They signed a handful of veteran players --
I haven't liked any of it. It seems to me that the Royals must take advantage of the one advantage they have -- time. How do they do that? Well, the big thing is to know that while, sure, you want to win, the goal must be bigger than that. You are building a team to win down the road. Everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- must be pointed in that direction. Every break you take, every move you make, every smile you fake, every bond you break should have 2011 and 2012 and 2013 in consideration. And with time, you can do things. If you have some young and reasonably talented players, you can give them opportunities to learn and grow at the Major League level. If you have prospects you are not quite sure about you can FIND OUT what they have inside.
In the Royals case, I think it's unconscionable that they have not at least tried to figure out what they have with first base prospect
Now, I don't know if Ka'aihue can play. I really don't. I'm not saying he's a big league hitter -- I simply don't know. A lot of people think his bat is too slow. He might be a left-handed, more patient version of
But they're not going to win now. So what the heck is Kila Ka'aihue doing back in Omaha? Play the guy already. Maybe it becomes rapidly clear that he cannot play. Maybe it becomes clear that he can make the adjustment and he becomes a high OBP guy with some power, exactly what the Royals do not have. Either way, the Royals owe it to themselves to find out. But, no, they're trying to win now and squandering the one edge they actually have. They absurdly signed Jose Guillen to a $36 million contract three years ago and he has never played well enough for them to deal him away, and so they feel forced to play him at DH every single day because they don't want to release him and they don't want his sorry attitude to flare up as it would if he was sitting on the bench. So they play him, an absolute dead end choice. Guillen can't play the field anymore, and he goes into preposterous month-long slumps when he can't hit at all, and he has no future with the team. Still, they play him. And Ka'aihue rots in Omaha.
So after all this, you want me to tell you the good thing I noticed. Well, It has to do with new manager
This takes a tremendous amount of confidence on a manager's part -- let's face it, there's a reason managers end up playing these annoying "scrappy" players that drive the Baseball Think Factory posters to distraction. They honestly believe these guys will not make mistakes. And by not making mistakes, they will help the team win (or, more directly, help the team not lose). Sure, you can show the managers a million statistics that will prove otherwise -- take Jason Kendall -- but you're not going to convince most baseball managers of it. They don't want to play young players. Young players make mistakes. And mistakes cost a manager his job.
But Yost has a history of playing young guys. And the other day, late in the game, with the Royals up, he showed his strength as a manager. He basically left
I love this. I don't love it because I think it will work -- like with Kila, I have no idea if it will work. But this is exactly what I think the Royals should be doing. Developing players who actually matter in the future. Challenging them. Sticking with them. Luke Hochevar was the first pick in the draft, and the Royals think he has the stuff to be a very good pitcher. OK, fine, they owe it to themselves to do everything they can to make that happen. That's more important than a win or two in a lost season. That's more important than getting Rick Ankiel at-bats. There are some of the things the Royals should know by year's end:
1. Is Luke Hochevar going to be a high quality starter?
2. Is Kila Ka'aihue a viable option as a designated hitter/first baseman?
3. Does Alex Gordon have a future on this team as an every day player?
5. Is a healthy Mike Aviles good enough to be a
And so on. With third baseman
But it seems to me that if they are going to be about developing young players, they actually have to DEVELOP YOUNG PLAYERS. No, nobody wants to go through another 90-100 loss season. But the Royals are going to lose those games anyway. The question is: What will they get out of all those losses? What will they get out of this season? What I liked about Ned Yost's move the other day is that while, sure, he wanted to win the game, what he wants much more is a future Luke Hochevar who can finish the job.