I know, I know...as Royals fans, a number of you just read that headline and shouted something like "I've been a fan forever, and I'm done being patient!" There is a pretty good chance you might have used an expletive or two in there also. Hey, I feel your pain.
Since the strike prematurely ended the 1994 season, Kansas City has contended just once, and even then it was based upon some aberrational seasons from the likes of Angel Berroa, Ken Harvey, Darrell May, and Mike MacDougal. Since 2003, the Royals have endured more eleven-plus game losing streaks than the rest of baseball combined!
Yes, if the word 'patience' makes your blood boil, I do understand. Perhaps more than anything, the organization's uneven use of patience has left its fan base with very little of that trait.
They continue to wait for Tony Pena Jr. to hit, despite the fact that he has posted exactly one on-base percentage north of .310 in seven professional seasons. Yet, they had no inclination to find out about the abilities of Jeff Keppinger, who is currently hitting .324 for the Reds.
The Royals gave Matt Diaz all of 89 at-bats back in 2005, only to watch him hit .327 and then .338 in the next two seasons for Atlanta. Those kinds of things stick with you for a while.
Now, under Dayton Moore, the Royals have been much more savvy. Ownership has gotten on board by opening up the purse, and basically staying out of the way. The veteran-favoring Buddy Bell has been replaced by the new age Trey Hillman as manager. Will Moore/Hillman be the team to lead the Royals back to the type organization they once were?
If Kansas City is finally going to emerge from the abyss, they will indeed need to be patient. Fans and media members are quick to decide who can play and who cannot. They will be even quicker to tell you who is going to be a star, and just as quickly dismiss the same player as a 'disappointment'.
Well, when it comes to patience Royals' fans, here are some names you need to keep in mind:
B.J. Upton: One of the reasons the Rays are playing so well, Upton is currently hitting .305/.410/.437 after a very good 2007 line of .300/.386/.508. How many remember, however, that Upton came up in 2004 and hit .258/.324/.409 in 159 at-bats? Or that he returned to the majors in 2006, and managed a paltry line of .246/.302/.291 in 175 at-bats? With 334 major league at-bats, Upton looked like a low average, low on-base hitter with little power, only to turn into a budding superstar in 2008.
Carl Crawford: Speaking of the Rays, here's another guy. Crawford has led the league in stolen bases four times and in triples three times. He has slugged .450 in each of the last four seasons, increasing his batting average AND on-base percentage in each of those years, too. Yet, his career line after 889 major league at-bats was just .274/.304/.364. Those are Angel Berroa-like numbers.
Justin Morneau: Having already killed the Royals twice this season, Morneau was the AL MVP in 2006 and remains one of the more feared power hitters in the AL Central. It would have been easy to give up on Morneau, however, given that after 386 at-bats of seasoning in the majors, he managed just a .239/.304/.437 line in his first season of regular duty in 2005.
Andruw Jones: Sure, he was a World-Series hero as a rookie, but he also hit just .217 that year. Jones followed that up with a 1997 line of .231/.329/.416, which makes the Royals' struggling Mark Teahen look like a freaking All Star.
I could go on and on. Chase Utley hit .239 in 2003, followed by just .266 with a .308 on-base percentage the next year. Troy Tulowitzki hit just .240/.318/.296 in Colorado during his first 96 at-bats at the end of the 2006 season. Mark Teixeria put up a modest batting line of .259/.331/.480 in his rookie season, and Aramis Ramirez pretty much had just one above average season between 1998 and 2003 before blossoming with Cubs in 2004.
So, Royals fans, while patience is not easy, we might need to summon whatever we have left. Alex Gordon, in just his third professional season, is not yet a superstar...YET being the operative term.
Billy Butler, sent back to Omaha to regain his stroke and confidence, has the track record to warrant plenty of chances. Maybe he is not the next Manny Ramirez, but he might well be the next Aramis Ramirez. Mark Teahen, whose power has disappeared, could well blossom into a more athletic Raul Ibanez.
If those three players develop over the next season or so into what I just described, then the Royals will almost certainly contend. They will do so without having to part with any of the fine pitching they currently possess. Heck, they will not even have to part with big money to sign that 'impact' bat we all crave at this moment.
Still, patience is not the only component. As mentioned above, Tony Pena Jr. doesn't have the track record to warrant continued patience, and no one fields well enough to justify hitting .150. The Royals need to pick a center fielder, be it speedster Joey Gathright or the solid David DeJesus, and give up on the idea that either can hold down a corner outfield spot.
They need to find out if current AAA-stars Mike Aviles, Mitch Maier, and Shane Costa (not to mention current roster member Alberto Callaspo) can hit in the majors. From all those parts, they need to pick the two they want to keep and try to make a move to improve their middle infield. While we all love Mark Grudzielanek, who seems to be playing better than ever, he really will not be around when the Royals contend—even if that contention is just next year.
The Royals have spent the past four seasons marking time. They have been patient with some, rushed to judgment on others. They have traded to get better and made trades for the future. Off the top of my head, I can name eight position players who have spent time in the majors over the last three years, still remain in the system, and no one is yet sure whether they can play or not.
That is where the shrewd part of the equation comes in: the ingredient that makes 'patient' organizations like the Twins look so smart. This summer, more than any other, Dayton Moore and the Royals need to trade the right combination of veterans and prospects for a player or two who will really bolster this team in the near future. They need to determine which of their many unknown talents are major leaguers, and which are just AAA-type players.
It is a long way out of a deep hole for the Royals, but the right combination of patience and shrewd moves will make the climb much easier.