I analyze Gil Meche starts as much, maybe more than starts by Zack Greinke. Gil Meche is my favorite Royal right now and let me tell you, whoever that was wearing his jersey yesterday was NOT Gil Meche.
Actually, it was Gil Meche, but not the Gil Meche we have known for the past two seasons. It strikes me that Meche is simply out of sync: kind of like you get on a bad day on the golf course. You know your swing is wrong, but you can't get it fixed.
My guess is that over the course of worrying about his back, he is pitching with greater fatigue because of it that Meche has messed up his mechanics. I hope that is all that it is and not yet another closely guarded secret injury (Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman apparently have gone to the Kansas State Football School of Injury Non-Disclosure seminar). Just one simple thought (hand placement, foot landing, pressure on your big toe—I don't know, but Bob McClure surely does) might be all it takes for Meche to get back in the groove, assuming he really is healthy.
At any rate, the Royals wake up on the first morning after Memorial Day one game below .500, four games out of first in the AL Central, having lost 12 of their last 16 ballgames.
Do you find it interesting, by the way, that Brian Bannister has won as many starts in that stretch than the rest of the rotation combined?
Chances are that had I told you the Royals would be where they are right now, back on March 31, you would have taken that in a heartbeat. The problem is that the Royals surged out to an 18-11 start, got many fans all excited about something called the playoffs—which, as Royals fans, we are either totally unfamiliar with or have almost totally forgotten what they were.
It all begs the question: play for this year or next?
If you really believe the Royals can make a run at the playoffs in 2009, then you have to ask yourself a very simple question: is this team for real or just playing somewhat decently in a bad division? Basically, can you add to the current Royals squad to make a run at the post-season in 2009 and THEN take that same squad and make a run at the 2010 post-season as well?
If you answered yes, then one would be prudent to go out and offer a Dan Cortes for Jack Wilson (that is an entirely speculative statement based upon nothing. I don't know if Cortes is enough or if Wilson is really a good example, but it is a decent talking point).
In Wilson, the Royals would get quality above average defense at shortstop and at least some offense—although Jack is no run producing dynamo. Should you really believe you can make a run, the Royals probably need to overpay to get another bat.
I would hope, for one, that preferably gets Jose Guillen out of right field
Now, to do that means the Royals would have to eat a bunch of salary, give up some real prospects AND gamble that whomever you bring in (Matt Holliday?) both produces and can be locked up long term. Big gambles that if they turn into Juan Gonzalez could once again cripple the team's chances for the next couple of years.
Given that I now look at the Detroit Tigers and see a formidable opponent—frankly, if Dontrelle Willis is really back and Zumaya, too, I can see them simply running away from the entire division—the above scenarios, or derivations thereof, simply are too problematic.
The saner course of action would seem to be that the Royals grind along as is, which is probably good enough to stay within a few game either way of the .500 mark. Most of us thought this was a 77 to 84 win team and they really have done nothing to change that so far.
Teams that end up around .500 seldom do so by playing .500 ball all year. They are more likely to win six in a row, then lose 12 of 16, and come back to string together another five or six wins. It can make your stomach hurt and your hair fall out, but it is how .500 teams behave.
Now, if you are willing to muddle through 2009, better than some teams not as good as some others, then you assess your team and make some decisions. This is a bad defensive team and right now, it doesn't hit well enough. The pitching is probably okay, with bullpen arms to help as high as AA and a bunch of starting arms in A ball. At minimum, your pitching is good enough to address other issues.
The obvious place to look at with a critical eye is right field. Trading Jose Guillen for Jeff Franceour is not a good deal. Trading him for Gorkys Hernandez might be. Without a doubt, the Royals would have to eat some salary (something they seldom do) and I'm not sure if Guillen on his own is enough to get a decent prospect back anyway, but it is a starting point.
Maybe a good move would be that when Alex Gordon comes back, the Royals could try to move Mark Teahen at the deadline. Maybe another team jumps at one of the two catchers in John Buck or Miguel Olivo.
Whatever the deal, those are all moves you could make that would not significantly change the makeup of the Royals in 2010 and 2011 and hopefully make them better in those years. The risk is relatively low (Jose Guillen is not going to get any quicker, Mark Teahen might be okay, but never great, and Buck and Olivo are no all-stars), and even if you do have to package in some prospects, the Royals seem to have enough intriguing arms to move a couple and still have a good stock to push through the system.
If I were the GM, I would at least kick the tires on this plan of action.
The final possible move is a little more sinister and certainly a public relations nightmare at a time when interest in the Royals is starting to pick up. If your the Royals, you only resort to this option if you truly believe that Billy Butler and Alex Gordon will never become more than decent No. 6 and No. 7 hitters. If you believe that Mike Aviles is done, that Alberto Callaspo is a .285 hitter instead of a .325 hitter and David DeJesus is in decline.
If you believe all of that, or a fair portion thereof, then you get bold and make big, bold moves.
You work up a package around a Gordon or Butler, probably one that includes Cortes and others, and get big time, high risk/high reward, prospects in return. The Royals won't and probably should not do this, but it is something to consider if this team finds itself 10 games under .500 and sinking fast in July. As much as the Royals seem to have improved, the possibility remains that this current group may simply not be good enough.
I think from reading the above, you can get a pretty clear idea of the option I advocate, but to be honest, I cannot really rule out playing for this year, either, and even looking past next year to further into the future.