I don't think any Kansas City Royals' fan needs to be reminded that this was supposed to be the breakout season when the seeds of our minor league player development program were expected to take root and make some major progress toward changing what manager Ned Yost calls the "losing culture" that the Royals have been stuck in for far too many years, he says.
Yost was actually being kind by not putting an exact number to the Royals' lengthy and, without pulling any punches, embarrassing string of losing ways. Are you ready for this? Only once in the last 19 years has Kansas City won more games than it has lost over an entire season. Were it not for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have not had a winning record in the last 19 seasons, and a somewhat surprising 83-79 winning record for KC in 2003 under first-year manager Tony Pena, the Royals would own the mark for the longest active streak in professional sports for non-winning seasons.
The Royals are currently 46-63 and in their familiar last place in the AL Central division race. At this point in what has turned out to be another frustrating and extremely disappointing season for the Royals and their fans, the 2012 team isn't any better than last year's last-place squad. After 109 games a year ago, Kansas City was in exactly the same position it was a year ago - same place in the standings and with the same won-lost record.
If that isn't depressing enough, as the non-waiver trade deadline past a week ago and we entered the dog-days portion of the 2012 schedule, we had general manager Dayton Moore informing us that the Royals probably won't achieve their competitive team goals before the 2014 season. Oh yeah? That's not what you told us two years ago. Come to think of it, that wasn't the message this time last year, either.
So what gives? Why all of the back pedaling by Royals' management all of a sudden? In short, because they over estimated their timing and, as Moore and others are now owning up to with somewhat of a red face, the ability to transform top-quality minor league talent into instant major league stars. I'm not suggesting that they missed the mark with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Greg Holland and others who have advanced from the Royals' Class-AAA Omaha affiliate to the big league club, but I do believe everyone had a higher expectation of how they would be performing after a couple of seasons in The Show.
Everyone who follows the Royals with any regularity is all too aware that the virtual void that exits in front-line starting pitching is the Royals biggest problem and Job No. 1 in terms of turning around the fortunes of the losing culture to which Yost astutely alludes, which has become a deep-seated cancer on this ball club. I mean, come on. Our No. 1 starter, Luke Hochevar, who has no better than a 7-9 record on the season and an ERA over five, wouldn't be any better than a No. 4 starter on most major-league teams.
The fans know it, the Royals certainly know it, but no one appears to be able to do anything about it. The principal reason being: owner David Glass refuses to spend the money - although he is up a couple hundred-million dollars in value from his original investment in the team - to assemble the right talent to fill the Royals' most pressing needs. Aside from that, however, Kansas City has nothing to offer in comparable trade value to acquire a couple of so-called stoppers in the starting rotation without giving away some of the promising young talent around whom the organization wants to build and hopefully sustain success in the coming years.
And then, even if you were able to get some All-Star quality starting pitching to come here, your chances of keeping them under contract for any extended period are very unlikely given the ultra-conservative financial position of the Glass family and the revenue-limiting opportunities afforded small-market teams like the Royals.
That's pretty much the catch-22 in which the Royals find themselves. Kansas City is a fairly decent offensive team, at least insofar as getting runners on base (fourth best in the AL with a team batting average of .267). We just aren't able to score enough runs (fourth worst in the AL and 21st out of the 30 MLB teams) with the amount of runners we have on base, and the pitching ERA of the full staff is the fifth worst in the major leagues. There's not really a lot of hope if you can't outscore your opponents and your starters can rarely make it out of the fifth inning. The Royals have used 24 pitchers since the start of the 2012 season.
There are only three paths for Dayton Moore and the Royals' management to take if they want to majorly upgrade the starting pitching: Trade for it, acquire it through the free-agent market (both of which require larger payroll investments than the Royals are willing to pay) or develop the talent inside the organization (i.e., through the farm system). And guess what? None of those approaches seems to be working for the Royals today.
The Royals have been active over the last week in making roster moves. They traded a starting pitcher (Jonathan Sanchez, acquired from San Francisco last winter in exchange for, yikes, Melky Cabrera) and released two other players and the first-base coach. None of whom probably deserved to be here in the first place. Will anyone really miss Sanchez, lefty reliever Jose Mijares, Yuniesky Bettancourt or even coach Doug Sisson?
And for crying out loud, what was all the jibber jabber that filled the sports radio air waves on Monday over the decision to designate Betancourt for assignment. He was only brought back to KC (from Milwaukee to whom he was traded in the 2010 Zack Grenike deal) to fill in on the infield in a utility role. He wasn't all that good when he was here the first time and he was only hitting .228 in 57 games in his second stopover with the Royals.
Yet, if you listened to some of the fan criticism on the sports talk shows on Monday you might have thought the Royals were giving up on one of their core players. All right, if the Royals new before Sunday's game with Texas that they would be making this move, you could easily question why Betancourt was in the lineup starting at third base. But it really doesn't matter or change anything. Apparently, it was selfish attitude to place himself ahead of the team in demanding more playing time that didn't fit the mold of what manager Yost and GM Moore what moving forward with this team. And if that was the real reason, and not Betancourt's performance on the field, then I've got to agree that it was probably past time for the 30-year-old reserve infielder to go.
What it all boils down to, in my view, is that the Royals are going to have to make some very difficult decisions real soon regarding some of the promising young talent they are counting on. There is no way they are going to be able to significantly upgrade the pitching rotation if they aren't willing to move at least one or more of the youngsters who still have great promise while they still have high trade value.
A conservative grow-your-own approach isn't necessarily working now, and it won't get the Royals where they want to go in the future.
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