Royals' Latest Plan Won't Work Either
by Jim Callis
January 19, 2006
CHICAGO—Once upon a time, Kansas City had a baseball team that wasn't
an embarrassment. No, seriously.
The Royals were the model all expansion franchises wanted to emulate.
They climbed above .500 in just their third season (1971) and won seven
division titles in a 10-year span, reaching the World Series in 1980
and winning it all in 1985.
They haven't been back to the playoffs since, and now they're a complete
laughingstock. The Royals have matched or set a franchise record for
losses in five of the last seven years, upping the ante to 106 in 2005.
Locals wondering how hapless the old Kansas City Athletics must have
been now know first-hand.
The Royals' cynical business approach has made them look worse. Annually
receiving eight-figure revenue-sharing payments from Major League Baseball,
they have chosen to pocket the money as profit rather than beefing up
one of the game's lowest payrolls.
Not this offseason, though. During a two-week stretch in December,
Kansas City signed seven free agents:
Elmer Dessens, two years, $3.4 million.
Scott Elarton, two years, $8 million.
Mark Grudzielanek, one year, $4 million.
Doug Mientkiewicz, one year, $1.85 million.
Paul Bako, one year, $700,000.
Reggie Sanders, two years, $10 million.
Joe Mays, one year, $1 million.
The Royals, who also traded for Mark Redman (2006 salary: $4.5 million)
in December, can't be accused of just hoarding revenue-sharing dollars
any longer. They also can't be accused of doing anything that matters.
Signing third-tier free-agent leftovers may make the Royals better
than if they went with the players already on hand, but only marginally
so. Just as a pig in a dress is still a pig, a last-place club with
Elarton and Grudzielanek is still a last-place club.
Losing 86 or 96 games this year, rather than 106, won't revive baseball
in Kansas City. It won't improve the Royals' attendance problems after
they ranked 29th among the 30 teams in 2005. And now they've cut off
the opportunity for a few of their most promising youngsters to show
what they can do.
Perennial Futures Gamer Justin Huber hit .326 with 23 homers in the
minors last year, but he's blocked at first base by Mientkiewicz and
at DH by Mike Sweeney. Andres Blanco, Ruben Gotay and Donnie Murphy
didn't show much in their stints at second base for Kansas City in 2005,
but all once were highly regarded by the organization. If the Royals
ever contend again, they're more likely to be part of that future than
Kansas City also may have delayed the arrival of its only two blue-chip
prospects. If the Royals decide to stick with Mark Teahen at third base,
Alex Gordon would move to the outfield, which is more crowded after
Sanders signed the biggest free-agent contract of general manager Allard
Baird's tenure. Either Gordon would have to wait, or dynamic athlete
Chip Ambres would lose the chance to show what he could do and Emil
Brown (a lesser version of Sanders, albeit a cheaper one) would head
to the bench.
Left fielder Billy Butler faces the same obstacles. Actually, most
scouts think he's destined for first base or DH--where Sweeney, Mientkiewicz
and Huber will be looking for at-bats.
Creative Approach Needed
There's no easy solution for the Royals, who have a terrible big league
team and a thin farm system with little behind Gordon, Butler and Huber.
No GM in baseball--not Billy Beane or John Schuerholz or anyone else--could
turn this franchise around quickly.
But they're doing exactly what they shouldn't be doing, spending excess
cash just for the sake of spending it. They might as well just burn
it, for all the good it's going to do.
The only way to rebuild the Royals, who can't attract premium free
agents and don't have the money to sign them, is via the farm system.
Instead of throwing money at Dessens and Sanders, they should be pouring
it into the draft and international signings.
Kansas City has the No. 1 overall pick in June, which will cost them
a bonus of upwards of $4 million. But the Royals should keep their wallet
open after that. The club that spent less than slot money on its top
choices in 2003 and 2004, and a bargain-basement $1,000 for each of
its fifth- through ninth-round choices in 2003, needs to be more creative.
The Royals dropped $2 million total in rounds two through 10 in the
2005 draft. They need to up that to $10 million or more. Take three
or four players considered to be first-round talents and give them first-round
money. Instead of selecting Justin Bristow in the 22nd round last year
but not meeting his price tag to divert him from Auburn, lock him up.
Adhering to MLB's slotting system isn't doing Kansas City any good.
The draft doesn't offer any sure things, as the Royals know all too
well after spending $4.15 million on Colt Griffin and Roscoe Crosby
in 2001. But aggressively trying to get better, even if it results in
some spectacular flameouts, is preferable to dying a slow, miserable
You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to