When Dayton Moore was hired as general manager and David Glass decided it was okay to spend a little money, most of us were sure that the Royals were on the road back to respectability.
Bolstered by a "better than it really was" September, the Royals won more games in 2008 than they had since 2003 and finished out of last place for the first time since that magical '03 run, too.
There were legitimate thoughts of contending in 2009 from some, and certainly expectations of finishing around .500 from most.
A few of you sage commenters out there correctly projected that the Royals' 2008 campaign was skewed by an 18-8 September and forecasted a three or four game decline.
Did anyone expect the 2009 Kansas City Royals to be battling the Washington Nationals for title of the worst team in baseball?
Well, welcome to the last week in August, where the Royals are just three-and-a-half games out of having to negotiate with Bryce Harper next June.
This Royals team has managed to dig into rock bottom in spectacular fashion.
They traded their best setup man, Ramon Ramirez, for Coco Crisp, who gave the team six good weeks and is now out until midseason of 2010.
They traded their next best setup man, Leo Nunez, for a designated hitter in Mike Jacobs who might not be better than a guy the team already had in AAA (Kila Kaaihue) and has all of six more home runs than the team's leadoff hitter.
This is an organization that pinned its hopes on a second year shortstop in Mike Aviles, who, even before being injured, was a prime candidate for at least some regression.
The backup plan? Why Tony Pena Jr., of course!
When Aviles did finally go down (and drew the ire of the organization for hiding his injury and trying to play through it—hell, if Tony Pena Jr. was MY backup, I'd figure I needed to play at all costs, too) the organization panicked into trading an underachieving, yet high on potential pitching prospect for an overpaid, under-ranged shortstop long on reputation and short on production.
Along the way, the Royals have coddled their star closer to the point of making him irrelevant.
It should be noted that Trey Hillman has at last opted to salvage a few games by going outside the box and using Joakim Soria for multiple two-inning saves.
Yet, they also overused their staff leader, Gil Meche, to the point that he is a shell of the pitcher he had been the previous two seasons.
The fall back to baseball's laughingstock has included posting a sub-500 record in games started by the league's best pitcher (Zack Greinke), sending down third baseman Alex Gordon just last week after rushing him through his rehab from injury, (they had 30 days to play him in the minors and instead opted to bring him back two weeks early) and carrying 13 pitchers and three catchers on their 25-man roster.
This past weekend, the Royals suffered a sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, a team with no more money than the Royals, who happened to draft and develop the heart of their batting order.
We saw two different right fielders (Josh Anderson and Willie Bloomquist) misplay the team out of a victory and multiple bullpen meltdowns, highlighted by Kyle Farnsworth's actual incarnation on the mound.
All the while, this organization seems to be sailing serenely forward as if all is going according to plan.
They have used just 17 pitchers this season: none of them rookies, four of them (Jamey Wright, Horacio Ramirez, Sidney Ponson, and Bruce Chen) vagabond veterans. In fact, not one player has made his major league debut for the Royals this season.
This is an organization that seems to almost be afraid to "find out" about players.
They don't want to play speedy Josh Anderson in centerfield because "Kaufmann Stadium has a lot of area to cover." They don't want to give Brayan Pena three months to prove or disprove he can be a starting catcher because they want Miguel Olivo's "slug" in the lineup.
A call-up of Kila Kaaihue or Jordan Parraz (before he got hurt...again) would have necessitated exposing one of the teams' eight relievers to waivers.
Gasp! The horror!
Submarining reliever Chris Hayes or fireballing reliever Carlos Rosa or Chris Nicoll, Jason Godin, Victor Marte, or even Brandon Duckworth or Lenny DiNardo might help this wretched assembly of ineffectiveness that Kansas City calls a bullpen.
Instead, the Royals stay with the same group. I'm sure if Doug Waechter had not been injured, all would have been solved.
Trust me, I tried to "trust the process." I thought Ramirez for Crisp was a reasonable gamble, and even was not abhorred by the Nunez-for-Jacbos deal.
I was not against Gil Meche throwing 132 pitches—remember the last batter was a 10 pitch plate appearance—although the idea of tossing him 121 pitches after he claimed a dead arm on July 1 remains a criminal offense.
I believed in Juan Cruz, and thought he and Ron Mahay would be a capable setup tandem.
Well, I was wrong, but I'm willing to admit that.
By mid-June, I was thinking about changes that could be made to improve this team, if not for 2009, at least for 2010. It is easy for me to admit mistakes, given that my quotes don't get published in the newspaper and I don't have to sign the checks for said mistakes.
I get that it is hard, maybe counterproductive, for Dayton Moore and crew to say "Hey, we screwed up, we'll have to start over again."
My concern, however, is that they truly don't believe they have done anything wrong: That, if not for injuries, the Royals would be in contention.
That is the only reasoning I can see for this organization's complete lack of substantial movement, outside of acquiring Betancourt, as the season crumbled around them.
Die hard Royals fans know baseball and they continue to show up season after season. They follow the draft with great anticipation and many can name 30 or more of the players in the minor leagues.
They care, period.
The casual fans may have rightfully packed it in. The ones that remain, going to games, devouring every morsel of Royals' coverage, writing and commenting on blogs and forums: They get it. They know baseball, good and bad, and they know when they are being laughed at.
Thank you, Dayton Moore, David Glass, and Trey Hillman, you have led us back...all the way to 2004.
I bet Ruben Mateo and Abraham Nunez are waiting by the phone right now.