While it would be inaccurate to call the 2009 Royals the worst team in history, you can make a very real argument that they might well be the most disappointing squad to wear blue.
While other teams can lay claim to this title (1986, 2004 come to mind and I remember 1979 being pretty upsetting, too), perhaps what makes this group move to the top of the list is managment's stubborn insistence that "everything is okay."
Trades? Yuniesky Betancourt is all we needed to do.
Shake-ups? Nope, can't take at-bats away from Willie Bloomqusit and Miguel Olivo.
The trust is, everything is NOT okay. Sure, this team has been struck by a bevy of injuries, but they hardly can fully explain this team's drop to next to last in baseball. Simply put, this team, as constructed, is not good enough.
Keep in mind, I say that coming from a rather optimistic perspective generally. I am a David DeJesus fan, believe Alex Gordon will still develop, and think maybe, just maybe, next year might be the year Mark Teahen reverts to 2006 form. Heck, I watch Ramon Colon take the mound and find myself saying, "you know, he might just develop into a pretty good setup guy."
My optimism is waning, at least for today. Especially after conducting the research we are about to delve into. Using OPS+, where 100 is considered league average, and limiting our research only to players with 200 or more plate appearances this season, let's compare the Royals' outfielders to the rest of the league.
Currently, the Royals trot out David DeJesus in left with an OPS+ of 97, Mark Teahen in right with an OPS+ of 99, and Willie Bloomquist in center with a stunning, gritty OPS+ of 74. You can throw in Mitch Maier's 83, the same mark posted by Jose Guillen. Yes, MITCH MAIER has an OPS+ equal to that of Jose Guillen.
If you think that is somewhat sub-standard, you are right. In fact, the Royals are the only team in the league without at least one outfielder above 100 and most teams have at least two. Let's run down the rest of the league.
You knew Nick Markakis was good (OPS+ 116), but did you realize that Luke Scott, Nolan Reimold, and Adam Jones all had above average numbers? Scott, who plays some first base, has an OPS+ of 122, Reimold's is 108, and Adam Jones (who you probably also knew as good) is posting a 109 mark. It would be a lot easier to trust the process if that was the Royals' outfield, wouldn't it?
Jason Bay has a robust 128 OPS+ and is going to get paid like it at the end of the year. For whatever reason, I have looked for reasons to dislike J.D. Drew his enitre career, but there he is with 100 games played and a 109 OPS+.
Jacoby Ellsbury has 53 steals in 61 attempts, which has to be considered when you see that his OPS+ is just 90. Factoring in age, speed and the fact that Ellsbury is a true centerfielder and I doubt that the Red Sox could find an everyday spot for any Royal outfielder.
Jermaine Dye remains a man with a 119 OPS+, but the rest of the Sox outfield is really not that amazing. Scott Podsednik and Carlos Quentin both have 91 OPS+: that's a pretty good year for a guy like Podsednik and pretty awful for Quentin.
Two hundred and ten plate appearances for Brian Anderson (66 OPS+) was enough to send Kenny Williams out on a $60 million scavenger hunt for Alex Rios and his rather boring 92 OPS+. Chicago is the poster child for the theory that DeJesus and Teahen are good enough if Gordon and Butler turn into mashers.
Any one who thought Shin-Soo Choo would have a better mark than Grady Sizemore gets a gold star. Right now, Choo's 125 OPS+ is well above the dead on average of 100 that Sizemore carries (my kingdom for a player whose "off" year is league average!). Ben Francisco is holding his own with a 95.
Speaking of off-years and league average, Curtis Granderson has an OPS+ of 108 and no one thinks he's playing very well. Marcus Thames checks in with a 107, and the disappointing Magglio Ordonez has just an 88 OPS+. You can throw Clete Thomas into the mix too, with an OPS+ of 92. I really do believe Jim Leyland is a genius, by the way.
Ever wonder why the Angels always have winning records? Check out this string of outfielders: Vlad Guerroro (112), Bobby Abreu (122), Torii Hunter (139) and Juan Rivera (122). Hmm...Abreu for $5 million or Jose Guillen for $12 million?
It's bad enough that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau lead the A.L. in OPS+, but then you add an outfield of Jason Kubel (149), Michael Cuddyer (123), and Denard Span (108). No wonder Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez don't get to play everyday.
Oh what money can buy: Damon (127), Matsui (126), Swisher (122), and you can throw in Melky Cabrera (95 OPS+) and Brett Gardner (98). Yes, the Yankees' fifth best hitting outfielder would be the Royals' best.
The A's had 10 players with 200 or more plate appearances, but three of them have been traded. Among that group was Matt Holliday (124 OPS+), leaving an outfield of Rajai Davis with a 116 OPS+, Jack Cust (96, and I'm using the term "outfielder" loosely here), and Ryan Sweeney (91). Kansas City stacks up pretty decently against this group, but then they aren't contending, either.
I remember back in the Octavio Dotel trade sweepstake a resounding pooh-pooh of the idea of trading Dotel for Franklin Gutierrez. Thank goodness Kansas City didn't trade for a center fielder with an OPS+ of 111! He's joined by Ichiro's 127 OPS+ and, for lack of any other candidates with the required plate appearances, Ken Griffey Jr. and his 94 mark.
The Rays' outfield is not as good as you might have thought, at least by this statistical measurement. Carl Crawford has an excellent 119 OPS+, but Gabe Gross is just a tick above average with a 104 and B.J. Upton's 73 OPS+ puts him closer to Willie Bloomquist than league average. Again, if Alex Gordon was Evan Longoria....oh, nevermind.
Nelson Cruz passed through waivers last spring and now has an OPS+ of 127. He is joined by by David Murphy (106), Marlon Byrd (105), and a guy named Josh Hamilton with a disappointing OPS+ of "just" 94. You can make yourself feel worse and put Andruw Jones and his mark of 116 into the mix.
With the departure of Rios, the Blue Jays have only two outfielders with more than 200 plate appearances: One they like, and one they wish would just go away. Adam Lind might be one of the better players no one has heard of with his OPS+ of 133, while Vernon Wells and his OPS+ of 83 might be one of the least productive "big" names this side of Jose Guillen.
This entire discussion pretty much leads us back to where we started. Guys like DeJesus and Teahen can be everyday players on good teams (or at least some good teams) if they have the proper surrounding cast.
Billy Butler is making strides to be an impact bat, but Alex Gordon's 2009 season is basically just a lost year. Without mashers in the middle of the lineup, the likes of DeJesus and Teahen and for GODSSAKE WILLIE BLOOMQUIST cannot make you a winning team.
So, Mr. Moore, this offseason are you going to "trust the process" or make the moves necessary to get the Royals out of the cellar and turn them into the perennial contender you promised.
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