Kansas City Royals: Manager Hillman Fired, Changes Abound
Whether you love or hate Trey Hillman, and the onslaught of hate he has absorbed, one thing is certain: a change was necessary.
Hillman's preachings of fundamentals and smart play fell on deaf ears.
Maybe that was due to his delivery. Maybe his lack of professional experience hurt. Maybe he was done in by the talent he possessed.
No matter. Hillman's team was 55 games below .500 in his first 359 games, and showed no signs of improvement.
His inconsistencies poked at an already agitated fan base while his calm demeanor led many to believe there was little urgency.
Last Thursday, a teary-eyed Dayton Moore finally made the move to end the manager's tenure. Hillman was replaced by Ned Yost.
Will this move make a difference? Maybe.
Sometimes performance is dependant upon administration.
Yost made a great first move by firing third base coach Dave Owen. The decision might save a number of games for the Royals from here on out. A team that struggles to score runs simply cannot run themselves out of innings. 'Windmill Dave' struggled to make the right decision on every close play.
Additionally, Yost's decision to make Joakim Soria a ninth inning only closer could provide more clearly defined roles in the bullpen, and could help keep Royal arms healthy. Hillman often wore relievers out.
There certainly should be changes abound in this organization, and none too soon. The following are a few less likely moves I think the Royals could, and should, make to improve in 2010 and beyond:
TRADE JOSE GUILLEN TO SEATTLE
Guillen has played for nine different ball clubs in his career, and only the Seattle Mariners had something nice to say about him.
In a September 2007 article on the Seattle Mariners website, they went so far as to say:
Guillen's impact goes much deeper than any box score could show. He breaks up potential double plays with hard slides, takes an extra base when most runners wouldn't, and makes opposing runners be cautious because of his cannon-like arm.
He also has been a great teammate.
This has not been the player Royals fans have grown accustomed to during Guillen's 3 year/$36 million contract.
The Mariners have a soft spot for Guillen, and nothing makes the heart grow fonder than absence and offensive ineptness.
Now may be a perfect time to get some return on the veteran.
Seattle is in desperate needs of offense, Guillen is in desperate need of a new contract and the Royals are in desperate need to purge an aging ballplayer, with no future on the club, in favor of playing prospects.
This seems like the perfect storm.
TRADE FOR ATLANTA'S NATE McLOUTH
The pipeline that General Manager Dayton Moore has developed with his former employer, the Atlanta Braves, is no secret. Unfortunately, few diamonds have been located in the ATL scrap heap.
This may change.
Jordan Schafer, whose 2009 rookie campaign was derailed due to a left wrist injury, is currently healthy and performing in AAA. The Braves have expressed interest in calling up the 23-year-old center fielder, which would make McLouth expendable.
The Royals need a center fielder, that's no secret. Rick Ankiel is a high upside stopgap that has a next to zero chance of being rostered next season*. The franchise still has hope for Derrick Robinson, but Robinson isn't exactly traveling on the Mike Leake Expressway .
* Ankiel has a $6 million mutual option for 2011. It is likely that he either A) has a great year and another more competitive team signs him to a $6 million+ contract or B) he is a bust and is not worth $6 million to the Royals.
Basically, if he is worth the money to the Royals there will probably be another, more competitive suitor.
McLouth is currently flirting with the Mendoza line while showing few signs of power. But a change in scenery can often help a slumping player with proven ability (much like the switch from Hillman to Yost led to the team's moderately improved play).
In 2008, McLouth's last full season in one location, he batted .276 (.853 OPS) with 26 HR, 94 RBI, 113 R and 23 SB.
He also made the All Star team and won a gold glove that season. That top-20 outfielder production could come from a player about to be a cast-off at age 28.
At this point, his acquisition would be affordable with tremendous upside and much more potential benefit than the Ankiel deal. The Royals should pursue this option.
LESS LINEUP FLUXUATION
The lack of defining roles has hurt the Royals over the years.
Was Mark Teahen a third baseman? Was he a second baseman? Was he a left fielder?
Is David DeJesus a contact hitter batting leadoff? Or is he the team's most competent hitter batting in the three hole?
Is Jose Guillen a lineup cornerstone? Or is he an all-or-nothing, takes-what-he-can-get contributor?
All these decisions are made when setting the daily lineup. When DeJesus hits third, he should be thought of as a run producing bat. However, he has shuffled between first and third on the lineup so often that his role has been blurred. This is not David's fault.
DeJesus should NEVER be slotted as the third hitter on any professional lineup card. The position should be reserved for one of the team's two best hitters.
The Royals need to be clear about what type of production they expect out of their talent, and the best first step in doing this is through generating a consistent lineup day-in and day-out.
Given our current roster, here is the lineup I would love to see Ned Yost regularly deploy:
SS Mike Aviles
3B Alberto Callaspo
1B/DH Billy Butler
CF David DeJesus (or Rick Ankiel )
DH/1B Kila Ka'aihue
C Jason Kendall (or Brayan Pena)
2B Chris Getz
Podsednik's speed (AKA 1-0) will be better utilized batting first rather than second. Aviles' bat control and table setting abilities will be better suited coming out of the second slot. Callaspo and Butler are the teams best hitters, and given Butler's power advantage he should be batting fourth.
DeJesus can be am RBI man and a table setter out of the five hole. Callaspo/Butler will often be on base, giving him the ability to drive in runs. In bases empty chances, it would be his job to get on for Guillen/Ka'aihue (the second power part of the lineup).
Kendall gets the eight hole because Getz has game changing speed and can provide a second leadoff-type hitter out of the nine hole.
ENTER THE BRAYAN PENA ERA
Jason Kendall's has predictably cooled off after his hot start. Yet the front office continues to praise Kendall, which is an indictment in and of itself. Kansas City's sports writing laureate, Joe Posnanski, wrote the following synopsis of the situation:
The Royals seem absolutely thrilled with what they're getting from Jason Kendall. No, I'm serious -- they're beyond thrilled. Yes, Kendall is slugging .341. Yes, after a pretty hot start (for getting on base, anyway) he is hitting .233/.329/.286 the last month or so. Yes, he has committed six errors and has thrown out 26 percent of attempted base stealers, which is a lower percentage than cast off Miguel Olivo threw out last year. Yes, according to the Dewan numbers, he has cost the Royals two runs defensively. Yes, the Royals ERA is at the moment dead last in the American League -- it's worse than last season though teams so far have scored markedly fewer runs this year. And, finally, yes, the Royals are on pace to lose 100 games.
...And we're not even in the thick of the Kansas City summer, which would wear down any 36-year-old catcher's body.
Keeping in step with the "youth movement" and improving from within the organization, General Manager Dayton Moore needs to pass down orders to increase Brayan Pena's playing time.
In order to obtain maximum value out of Kendall's 2 year/$6 million contract, the Royals need to utilize his value as a mentor/coach.
Posnanski goes on to sight "Kendall's winning approach to baseball, his intensity for the game, his leadership" as reasons the Royals are so high on him.
Couldn't he provide many of these same elements from the dugout, or in a part time role? Those sound like managerial traits.
No matter if you are on or off the Pena bandwagon, something needs to be done before humid, stagnant, 100 degree weather inhabits Kauffman Stadium and the team is forced to insert a less-than-prepared catcher in place of a declining, worn down option.
TAKE SOME LATE SEASON CHANCES
If, and when, the Royals are out of playoff contention in late August and September, prospects should get some Big League PT. Contract issues aside, I would like to see if certain players can make the jump sooner than later.
Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow are the leading candidates among starting pitchers. And if Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer continue to hit, I would like to see them receive a call as well. Jordan Parraz, David Lough and Derrick Robinson should also be considered.
At the very least, give Kila Ka'aihue some playing time.
Why not see what these guys can do? It will help with 2011 scouting evaluations and give direction as to where money and attention would best be spent.
Maybe someone will excel in their opportunity and fill a hole the Royals would otherwise have to solidify through free agency.
Worst case scenario, the team loses a couple insignificant ball games and crosses a few names off their "future starts" list.
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