The 2009 Kansas City Royals baseball season got underway with much fanfare, due in large part to completed renovations to Kauffman Stadium that made it suitable for well, royalty.
The stadium’s concourses and concessions were brought up to today’s standards, and there were so many new amenities that any Royals fan would have a hard time taking advantage of them in a single homestand.
The question last season was, “Could the team on the field show everyone they were worthy of playing in such a fantastic ballpark?”
Through the first month and a half of the season, the answer to that question for many was in the affirmative.
The Royals' young players were playing well and the team was riding high atop the AL Central. For the first time in a long time, Royals fans thought they had won the lottery with a great new stadium and a hungry young team on their way to a pennant for the first time in 24 years.
Then, in classic Royals form, it all came crashing down. Injuries decimated the Royals' roster and the team fell back into last place in the division, finishing the season with a miserable 65-97 record.
The lone bright spots for the team last season were pitcher Zack Greinke, who won the AL Cy Young in spite of horrendous run support all season, and the emergence of young first baseman Billy Butler who had a breakout season at the plate.
So now, with the 2009 season in the rearview mirror, it is General Manager Dayton Moore’s responsibility to find a few players who can help this team contend in 2010.
By far, Moore’s best move this offseason was a trade that sent outfielder Mark Teahen to the White Sox for second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields.
Fields has yet to reach his full potential and likely will be a player off the bench for the Royals. Getz, on the other hand, should improve the team’s league-worst defense and provide solid numbers offensively.
After the Teahen trade, however, Moore’s moves this offseason have been puzzling. In fact, his other moves have probably been better-suited to building a roster for the Royals’ AAA affiliate in Omaha, rather than the big league club in Kansas City.
He signed catcher Jason Kendall to a two-year $6 million deal. Over the past three seasons, the 35 year-old Kendall has hit just .240, averaging two homers and 38 RBI a season.
Last year’s starting catcher Miguel Olivo, by contrast, hit .249 with 23 homers and 65 RBI for the Royals last season. However, rather than re-signing Olivo, who made $2.7 million with the Royals last season, Moore opted for Kendall.
Based strictly on production, it’s difficult to see why Moore would opt for a declining Kendall, especially when Olivo has emerged in Kansas City as the type of hitter many thought he could be, and he likely would have re-signed for the same deal Kendall signed for.
Another puzzling signing this offseason was the one-year deal Moore gave to 27 year-old outfielder Brian Anderson.
Anderson, who was once one of the mostly highly touted prospects in the country coming out of the University of Arizona, has been an underachiever as a professional. Over the course of three seasons, the Chicago White Sox provided Anderson every opportunity to become the team’s starting centerfielder, but his talent never caught up to expectations. He was traded to the Red Sox last season and served as a reserve off the bench.
Anderson's one-year deal is for just $750,000, and he is expected to challenge Mitch Maier for the starting centerfielder job with the Royals. A career .227 hitter, the Royals are likely in trouble if Anderson is playing everyday.
Moore also signed a few other former top prospects that have underachieved in their careers, reaching minor league deals with pitchers Phillip Humber, Bryan Bullington, and Josh Rupe.
In case you haven't figured it out, Moore’s modus operandi is one of acquiring reclamation projects, not known commodities in free agency.
Since becoming the Royals’ GM in 2006, Moore has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t go after big name players who consistently produce and stay healthy year after year.
Rather, Moore chooses to spend less money and gamble on players who are oft-injured or inconsistent enough that it makes them cheaper to sign. He gambles that somehow that player will realize their potential as a Royal.
Unfortunately for Moore, his gambles don't often pay off. This "home run or strikeout" mentality in free agency has yet to lead the team back into contention, and is one of the things most frustrating for fans when it comes to Moore.
Arguably, the single gamble that has paid off for Moore was the acquisition of starting pitcher Gil Meche. In his first two seasons as a Royal, Meche stayed healthy and threw 426 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA.
But even the acquisition of Meche came back to bite Moore in 2009, when Meche made $11.4 million.
Meche broke down last season, battling shoulder and back injuries that eventually shut him down in August. Meche finished the season with just 23 starts, going 6-10 with a 5.09 ERA, by far his worst season as a Royal.
Three other signature signings by Moore have yielded far worse results. The signing two years ago of outfielder Jose Guillen, and last year's signings of outfielder Coco Crisp and first baseman Mike Jacobs have been complete failures for Moore.
All three players had shown flashes of success during their careers, but none of them had done it on a consistent enough basis to truly justify Moore signing one, let alone all three, of them.
For just over $21 million in 2009, the Royals got just 49 games out of Crisp, 81 out of Guillen, and 128 from Jacobs. Combined they hit just 31 home runs, drive in 115 runs, score 106 runs, and steal 14 bases.
By contrast, this year’s hottest free agent Jason Bay, who is commanding around $16 million, hit 36 homers with 119 RBI, 103 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases for Boston in 2009.
It could be argued that the Royals could save money and get better production by signing only Jason Bay this offseason. Moore could sign him, put a bow on him, and bring him to Kansas City for $17 million, and say, “Merry Christmas, Kansas City!”
Of course, Moore is not going to go after Bay, even though that kind of move would surely provide a boost to Royals’ season ticket sales.
A gamble on Bay or fellow outfielder Matt Holliday are as close to a sure thing as one gets in the crapshoot that is free agency these days, but neither are economically viable for the Royals. Even if somehow Moore was able to find the money to sign one of these guys, if they didn’t lead the Royals to a pennant, it would be the end of Moore in Kansas City.
Here are a couple of players that Moore should target to help this team in 2010. Neither will likely generate the buzz in Kansas City that a big signing would, but for what they’ll cost, it’s entirely possible that Moore could sign both of them and put the Royals in a position to win the AL Central:
Byrd is a career .279 hitter, plays centerfield, and should produce along the lines of current Royal David Dejesus. After struggling earlier in his career in Philadelphia and Washington, Byrd has shown during the past three seasons in Texas that he can get on base and provide 15-20 home runs.
2009 salary: $3,060,000.
The 37 year old Anderson is definitely on the backside of his career, but he can help this team in 2010. While he no longer is going to play 150 games, he is a great option for platooning in right field with Guillen and serving as the Royals DH. Most importantly, Anderson epitomizes what it is to be a professional, and is a fantastic situational hitter. Both attributes are precisely what this team of young players is in dire need of, and Anderson could help Manager Trey Hillman and Hitting Coach Kevin Seitzer finally get through to guys like Alex Gordon, who strikeout way too much.
2009 salary: $2,500,000.