It was the same dream again.
It was October 27th, 1985. The World Series was tied 3-3 and we were sitting in the club house in Kauffman and Dick Howser was pacing. Bret Saberhagen was sitting next to me rubbing his arm. His had his Royals hat on but only a white t-shirt, no uniform. He looked at Howser and said: "Skip, I can't lift it."
Howser looked at me and said, "Well, looks like you're getting the pill for game seven. You ready?"
Then I wake up in a cold sweat. Alas, it was only a dream and in reality, Bret Saberhagen capped off one of the most historical MLB post-seasons ever. The Kansas City Royals not only won the World Series, something they haven't even been able to sniff since 1985, but they became the only team to ever come back from 3-1 deficits in both the Championship Series AND the World Series in the same post-season. That accomplishment remains to this day, the Red Sox storied post-season history doesn't even approach that feat!
That being said, the 2008 Kansas City Royals bring to mind that 1985 team. Why would a team with a meager 75-87 record bring back memories of a World Series Championship team that won 91 games? Several reasons.
2008 finished with some really great positive markers being passed. First and perhaps the most positive one is the 2008 Royals had the best record in September of any Royals team since 1985. This allows the team to accomplish a serious goal: not finish in last! I know, it sound small but remember Bill Murray in What About Bob? -- baby steps. OK, you want something more substantial? Two 13+ game winners! How many sub-.500 teams have starters with the numbers Greinke and Meche put together? None. Meche won 14 games with a 3.98 ERA and threw 210 innings. And Greinke? He won 13, 3.47 ERA and 202 innings under his belt. I think you have to consider how many teams in baseball today have two starters that log 200+ innings a year and can still hand the ball over to a Mariano Rivera-like closer like Joakim Soria? Very few, and those teams win a lot of ball games.
What this means to Royals fans is that we have a solid 1-2 punch in the rotation and the bullpen was solid. No, we aren't post-season ready yet but the Royals are well on their way. We certainly need more consistency out of starters 3-5. Bannister started out like a fireball in 2008, but then fizzled like a sparkler on the 4th of July during a rain storm. He needs to find that form again. That coupled with a healthy Luke Hochevar and the Royals will have one of the better pitching staffs in baseball.
Offense? Nothing but promise. Jose Guillen paid off after his cold start this season and there is no reason to think he won't hit closer to 30 home runs next season. And young guys like Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Mike Aviles hold nothing but upside. Pictures of George Brett, Frank White and Willie Wilson flash through my mind when I think of the combination of speed and power that this line up potentially has.
So what do the 2009 Royals need to do to win you ask? Good question, glad you asked. I think they are already on their way. The addition of Kevin Seitzer to the coaching staff adds a brilliant hitting mind to the mix and should help stabilize Gordon, Butler and Teahan's bats. No one will argue that Teahan's 2008 was a disappointment, but Seitzer should be able to bring him around if Hillman can pick a position for him and leave him there. There is no question that the Royals need some help up the middle. They need to do something at 2B/SS. They have Aviles but need the other piece to the puzzle. They will need to address that and at least one mid rotation starter this off-season if they hope to overcome the White Sox and Twins in 2009.
The free agent market can be a tough one to navigate for a team on a budget like the Royals. But I have some ideas that might help. Go out and spend some money on a starter... get someone who can log 200 innings and the bullpen will continue to perform. Don't spend the money on a middle infielder. Here's the idea: Leave Aviles at SS, he is doing a great job. Shift Teahan from the outfield to 2B and field Guillen, DeJesus and a combination of Maier/German/Butler in the outfield. As for 1B, it's still covered by Gload/Shealy/Butler. And German can pop into 2B here and there, as well. All of this without spending a dime. I know this raises Butler's position question again, he's too good to not play in the same place everyday. But I think for 2009, it will work and other things are going to shake out and the options for Billy Butler will present themselves.
Here are some guys I think would fit the Kansas City Royals mold for 2009:
Bartolo Colon - He showed he can still pitch, can he log 200 innings? Maybe.
Jon Lieber - Won't throw 200 innings, but he should be a bargain and a good #5.
Carl Pavano - Should come relatively cheap considering his recent history and has the potential to throw 150ish innings and win a few games.
Randy Wolf - He might command a decent salary but should respond well to the low-pressure KC setting and get you near 200 innings.
Freddy Garcia - I don't know where his mind is but he showed he still has something left in the tank...if he returns to a shadow of his old self he'll get near 200 innings and a low ERA.
I know, all of these guy have injury issues. But, reality is that KC is not going to sign Burnett, Lackey or Martinez. And they all were hurt too. Each one of the people on my list represent a bit of a risk but if the price is right, it is worth it. And they could bring the experience and presence the Royals sorely need.