Search

3 Kansas City Royals Will Juan Gonzalez be able to put this mostly anonymous team over the top?

April 05, 2004
April 05, 2004

Table of Contents
April 5, 2004

Baseball Preview 2004

3 Kansas City Royals Will Juan Gonzalez be able to put this mostly anonymous team over the top?

On the morning that position players reported to Surprise, Ariz.,
Tony Pena bounced around the Royals' camp as if he'd gulped from
the fountain of youth, shaking hands and slapping backs, cackling
and chirping, suffused as always with optimism. Gray T-shirts he
had designed lay draped over each player's chair in the
clubhouse. The newest of Pena's inexhaustible supply of
motivational tools, they carried the words, OCTOBER JUNTOS
PODEMOS (TOGETHER WE CAN). That might sound like Little League,
but the Royals, whom Pena transformed from scufflers to
contenders, buy it. "He's charismatic, upbeat, positive," says
second baseman Desi Relaford. "Honestly, he was probably the
biggest factor in turning the organization around last year."

This is an article from the April 5, 2004 issue

Coaxed and prodded by Pena, Kansas City spent most of 2003 in
first place, and only a September stumble kept the Royals from
becoming the first club to make the playoffs after a 100-loss
season. "Last year we had no expectations," says Pena, who was
named AL Manager of the Year. "This year, the belief is there.
Today, we worked out for four straight hours and you didn't see
anybody complaining."

Behind Pena's sunniness lies the realization that things could
have turned out much worse last year. Opponents outscored the
Royals 867-836, a run differential that, according to Bill
James's formula, should yield a 78-84 record. But Kansas City
batted .304 with runners in scoring position, compared with .274
overall, and the Royals exploited their division's mediocrity,
going 27-11 against Detroit and Cleveland, 56-68 against the rest
of the majors. "Coming back with the same ball club was not going
to cut it," says general manager Allard Baird.

Faced with the prospect of substantial turnover--the Royals'
September roster included 15 free agents--Baird took advantage of
the declining price of mid-level veteran talent. For the most
part, he went after complementary players rather than stars and
signed them to one-or two-year deals. To repair a bullpen that
finished last in the AL with a 5.54 ERA, Baird re-signed
late-season pickups Curtis Leskanic, a rejuvenated flamethrower
who struck out 8.5 batters per nine innings, to a one-year, $1.38
million deal (he made $2.8 million last season), and Scott
Sullivan (two years, $5 million), a workhorse against whom
opponents hit .205. "We targeted these guys not so much for the
name," Baird says, "but for how they would fit in on this ball
club."

Kansas City's final acquisition of the winter was a prominent
name nonetheless. Rightfielder Juan Gonzalez, a two-time MVP,
signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal (he made $12 million with
the Rangers last season) in January after the free-agent market
for outfielders had bottomed out. At his finest Gonzalez has been
an elite offensive player, at his worst injury-prone, selfish and
sullen. (Gonzalez didn't get off to a good start with his new
team, reporting to camp two days late, though his 22 pieces of
luggage made it on time.) The Royals believe Pena and
centerfielder Carlos Beltran, a fellow Puerto Rican who spent
time working out with Gonzalez over the winter, will make
Gonzalez feel more comfortable.

Despite adding a marquee player, the Royals retain their
anonymity. The club's best starter last season was Darrell May, a
31-year-old finesse lefthander Baird plucked from the Yomiuri
Giants two winters ago. Baird scouted May in Japan and liked his
precision and deceptiveness and his willingness to throw breaking
balls when behind in the count. May was an economical option (he
signed for two years, $4.95 million), and he was ready to return
Stateside after four years in Japan. He struggled in 2002 and the
early part of last season, fighting a torn groin muscle and
bouncing between the bullpen and the starting rotation before
stabilizing as a starter and leading the club in innings
(210 1/3) and ERA (3.77). "I felt like my back was against the
wall," May says. "It was either going to happen now, or I might
not have any more chances."

A similar urgency should accompany Kansas City's optimism.
Beltran is probably in his last season as a Royal, but the Twins
and the White Sox have regressed. A better chance for Kansas City
to win the division is unlikely to present itself anytime
soon. --D.G.H.

COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES ROYAL BARGAIN? A two-time MVP, Gonzalez signed for $4.5 million, but he must stay healthy for K.C. to have a shot.COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES GOBBLE

IN FACT

Juan Gonzalez was one of two players in 2003 with 10 more HRs
(24) than walks (14). Javy Lopez (43, 33) was the other.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Royals

"They sneaked up on people last year, which they won't do this
year. Tony Pena does an outstanding job. He brings a lot of
energy. He's the kind of manager you need today.... The rotation
looks as if it'll have four lefthanders until Kevin Appier comes
back in April.... Jeremy Affeldt has been throwing the ball
exceptionally well and hasn't had any of the blister problems
that plagued him last year.... Jimmy Gobble will have a good
year. He has the ability to change speeds and locate his
pitches.... Mike MacDougal will break down. His delivery is so
violent, and he's such a narrow guy and is not very strong....
The meat of their lineup compares with anybody's in the league,
with Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Juan Gonzalez and Ken Harvey.
They can put up numbers in a hurry.... Gonzalez needs days off
from playing outfield, but I don't know when he's going to get
them as a DH, because Harvey and Sweeney can only DH and play
first base.... The team will be competitive in the division. It's
got a good chance of winning 85 games, and that may be enough."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

SS Berroa
CF Beltran
DH Sweeney
RF Gonzalez
3B Randa
C Santiago
LF Guiel
1B Harvey
2B Relaford

ANGEL BERROA
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 90 .287 17 73 21

CARLOS BELTRAN
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 5 .307 26 100 41

JUAN GONZALEZ [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 93 .294 24 70 1

JOE RANDA
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 130 .291 16 72 1

BENITO SANTIAGO [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 207 .279 11 56 0

AARON GUIEL
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 210 .277 15 52 3

KEN HARVEY
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 196 .266 13 64 2

DESI RELAFORD
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 247 .254 8 59 20

BENCH

MATT STAIRS [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 211 .292 20 57 0

TONY GRAFFANINO [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 271 .260 7 23 8

DESIGNATED HITTER

MIKE SWEENEY
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 137 .293 16 83 3

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Brian Anderson 83 14 11 6.3 1.29 3.78
LH Darrell May 76 10 8 6.4 1.19 3.77
LH Jeremy Affeldt 100 7 6 5.2 1.30 3.93
LH Jimmy Gobble 150 4 5 5.9 1.35 4.61
RH Kevin Appier 122 8 9 4.9 1.46 5.40

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Mike MacDougal 91 3 5 27 1.50 4.08
RH Curtis Leskanic 174 5 0 2 1.27 2.22
RH Scott Sullivan 230 6 0 0 1.25 3.66
[New acquisition]

2003 RECORD
83-79
third in AL Central

MANAGER
Tony Pena
third season with Kansas City

New acquisition
R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)