If you have ever seen the movie The Princess Bride, consider yourself lucky. Within the movie, there is a scene in which the characters Vizzini and Westley (the hero) engage in a battle of wits where Westley must choose to drink from two glasses of wine: one glass of wine is poisoned with iocane powder; and one is not. The the loser drinks the one with the poison and dies. In that scene, Vizzini (thinking he has outsmarted Westley and chosen the glass of wine without poison) tells Westley he has “fallen victim to one of the classic blunders.” The first of the “classic blunders” is to never get involved in a land war in Asia. Another is to never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. In the end, Vizzini chooses a glass that has poison in it (they both had the poison) and dies.
So what does this have to do with the Kansas City Royals? Unfortunately, a lot. A “classic blunder” is a mistake having dire consequences which is made despite history indicating that the choice will not work. At this time, the Royals need to heed the “never get involved in a land war in Asia” advice. What are the Royals in immediate danger of doing? Repeating the course followed by the 2000 Kansas City Royals. Here’s a quick snapshot of that team:
C-Greg Zaun (Age 29)
1B- Mike Sweeny (26)
2B-Carlos Febles (24*)
SS- Rey Sanchez (32)
3B- Joe Randa (30)
LF- Johnny Damon (26)
CF- Carlos Beltran (23)
RF- Jermaine Dye (26)
DH- Mark Quinn (26)
Look at those names and look at how young this starting lineup was! Only 2 guys at 30 or older and an average age of 26.8. This lineup scored runs like nobody’s business. Mike Sweeney had 144 RBI, two others broke 100 and two more had more than 70. This was all with Carlos Beltran missing 64 games and having a “sophomore jinx” season after winning the AL Rookie of the Year award.
You know what everyone else remembers about that team? They somehow amazingly won 77 games despite having one of the worst bullpens anyone had ever seen and basically NO pitching to speak of (Jose Rosado started 5 games and essentially ended his career by having rotator cuff surgery). Here is their rotation and back end of the bullpen:
Chad Durbin/Jay Witasick
Jerry Spradlin (setup)
Jose Santiago (setup)
Ricky Bottalico (closer)
If you remember this season, then congratulations and please accept my condolences. I remember it vividly. Sweeney set a record for driving in Damon the most times any one hitter had driven in another player in MLB history. The offense was amazing, exciting, and full of young and affordable players. The pitching was amazingly bad and what few leads the starters were able to cling to were swiftly surrendered by the bullpen. Ricky Bottalico and Jerry Spradlin were an absolute disaster. But man…..those hitters……so young, so good, so much potential……….all the Royals needed was some pitching…..
Sound familiar Royals fans? At the conclusion of the 2011 season, you could make a pretty good analogy between the 2000 Royals and the Royals as they were at the end of the season. After the 2000 season, new-on-the-job GM Allard Baird proceeded to trade Johnny Damon on the premise that the club could not afford to keep Damon long term anyway, so they might as well get some pitching in exchange. He obtained Roberto Hernandez, Angel Berroa, and A.J. Hinch in exchange for Damon and 2B Mark Ellis.
Hindsight showed that this was not a good trade. Hernandez was barely serviceable, averaging 27 saves in his two seasons in KC while the team lost 97 games in 2001 and 100 games in 2002 for the first time in franchise history. Hinch was mostly irrelevant and Berroa’s career highlight was winning the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year award before morphing into the poster boy for everything wrong with the franchise when he was released in 2007. Damon and Ellis? Both went on to long and productive careers-Damon’s being much more notable than Ellis, although Ellis has been a decent major leaguer as well.
And now here the Royals sit at the All-Star Break in 2012 with numerous comparisons to that 2000 squad. Their impressive offense from 2011 returns mostly the same players:
C- Salvadore Perez (22)- injured early and missed 60 games-seems to have picked up where he left off last season)
1B- Eric Hosmer (22)- got off to a rough start after a superb rookie season (see, Beltran)
2B- Yuni Betancourt/Chris Getz/Johnny Giovatella (30/28/24)- unsettled revolving door
SS- Alcides Escobar (25)- not one iota of disappointment here
3B- Mike Moustakas (23)- See, Escobar
LF- Alex Gordon (28)- struggled compared to 2011 but appears back in 2011 form (minus HRs)
RF- Jeff Francoeur (28)- Disappointing season at plate thus far
DH- Billy Butler (26)- Justifiable All-Star who has lived up to billing
This lineup has an average age of 25.6 (including Yuni) and has struggled to score runs. Really, it comes down to 2011 star Melky Cabrera’s departure (traded for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez) and slow starts and/or inconsistency from Hosmer, Gordon, and Frenchy. Escobar and Moose are improved from last season and Butler is improved if anything. There is still no production from 2B.
Unlike 2000, the bullpen is solid despite losing Joakim Soria to injury. Here is the rotation, using the pitchers with the most starts thus far:
Bruce F-ing Chen
So…..yeah not so good. The Royals traded a productive outfielder who hit well for a risky pitcher that isn’t working out very well. Eerily familiar? Here is where the “land war in Asia” comes in: the Royals and Dayton Moore had better tread carefully here because Moore has already made the mistake once with Cabrera. Dayton MUST resist any temptation to trade any hitter not named Frenchy (or any of the 2B) for a starting pitcher.
When you step back and take a look at the 2012 squad v. the 2000 squad you can draw many similarities. A stable of young and talented homegrown position players, a couple of potential superstars, an All-Star DH and an All-Star caliber corner outfielder. A major hole in the pitching staff that is costing the team wins. The 2000 team finished a disappointing 8 games under .500 after higher expectations. The 2012 team has already lost 12 in a row and is 10 games under .500 at the All-Star Break.
Fans are screaming for the GM to make ANOTHER trade to get an upgrade to the starting pitching. Cabrera for Sanchez was one such trade and it has been disastrous. You might have heard that Cabrera was the MVP of the All-Star Game. Be careful, folks. Let’s not go starting yet another land war in Asia.
If there is potential to avoid just that, it is the fact that these Royals are younger overall than the 2000 team when it comes to fielders. They have not quite blossomed into the offensive force of the 2000 team, but many see the potential for it and attribute this season’s struggles to injuries and young players’ natural adaptation to the major leagues. One other thing comes to mind when you talk about the Royals organization 12 years ago versus today: the Royals had absolutely NOTHING in the minor leagues to supplement their 2000 roster (Ken Harvey was it).
In contrast, these Royals do have some established pitchers and/or pitching prospects who will return to health for 2013 (Duffy, John Lamb, Paulino, Soria) and Wil Myers knocking on the door to the major leagues. There might be a minor trade or somewhat significant free agency signing that can help this starting rotation in the immediate future in the hopes of putting together a contending team in 2013 but time seems to be the best cure at this point.
Royals fans can only hope that the 2012 season thus far is merely growing pains and unfortunately timing/bad luck with injuries across the board. Another disastrous, panic-move type of trade cannot be in the works that will be comparable to Cabrera-Sanchez or Damon-Hernandez or the Royals may be in serious trouble (and Dayton Moore, as well). As badly as the Royals need to add some starting pitchers who are of average quality or better, they don’t need to start yet another land war in Asia to do so. With all that Royals fans put up with in the past 15 years, they don’t want to end up like Vizzini once again.