The 2009 Royals season ended in a most appropriate way this afternoon, with Luke Hochevar puking up seven runs in three innings to help the Boys in Blue get absolutely pounded, 13-4. Final record, 65-97, just short of yet another 100-loss season. The so-called “Monsters of September” eked out one win in their last six games, and had to allow room in the cellar for their friends in Cleveland. Forty years ago, a collection of expansion draft castoffs managed to win 69 games, so we’re behind where we were in 1969 (but to be fair, exactly even with our record from a year later).
Unlike last year, there is no “wait until next year” vibe around this club. The Royals are as far from contention in 2010 as I am from going up on the next NASA flight. To contend in 2010 would require wholesale change, and you can only make that kind of wholesale change by either radically improving the quality of your players, or radically improving the performance of your existing players. The Royals are likely to do neither.
As Bob Dutton chronicled in the Star a few days ago, the Royals are far too budget-locked to be able to take on additional payroll – and of course, much of our existing payroll is spent on stiffs like Jose Guillen and Yuniesky Betancourt. Those who would clamor for David Glass to pump an additional $30M or so into the payroll would be well advised to remember how GMDM has spent money when he’s had it.
Radical change in performance from existing players? I wouldn’t count on it. Although we have plenty of players with plenty of room for improvement, the likelihood of them actually doing so is unlikely. In fact, the Royals’ best hope for improvement probably lies in players who have already made big steps forward, like Billy Butler and Alberto Callaspo. While that improvement is welcome, it won’t turn this team into a winner while we’re running Alex Gordon, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Mitch Maier out there every day.
In the past, Royals fans could always hang onto hope for what might happen when great prospects matured and made it to the major leagues. Five years ago, we were talking about the team we’d field when Butler, Gordon, Maier, Shane Costa, Chris Lubanski, and others hit their stride. The bloom is certainly off that rose, isn’t it? And beyond a few promising types like the fragile Jordan Parraz and Jeff Bianchi, what do we have to look forward to?
On March 25, I created a list of “10 Reasons Why the Royals Will Only Win 69 Games This Year.” At the time, it was unthinkable to me that the Royals could actually be WORSE than 69 game winners; it was actually a joke list. Unfortunately, the joke’s on me. Just for the hell of it, let’s look back at those reasons.
1. Zacko Goes Wacko. I felt that a complete collapse by Grienke would be necessary for the Royals to be THIS bad. Obviously, I was wrong.
2. Complete Rotational Collapse. Well, there’s one for URF. Outside of Grienke, the rotation was awful. Bannister (7-12, 4.73) was actually the BEST of a group that included Hochevar (7-13, 6.55), Meche (6-10, 5.09), and Davies (8-9, 5.27). And that’s not counting Ponson, Chen, DiNardo, etc.
3. Alex Regresses Again. Good grief, did he. You could write this year off to injuries, but the truth is that Alex sucked for every moment he was on the field this year, offensively and defensively. That’s two for URF.
4. Aviles Regresses to the Mean. Dammit. We’d have been better off if I’d been right on this one; instead, he was injured for the season, and all the questions about him still exist. That’s three.
5. Jacobs Lives Down to Expectations. I’m starting to think I jinxed the team. Jacobs was awful; 19 homers and a .698 OPS meant that he dragged the team down every moment he was on the field.
6. Billy is Another Draft Bust. Here’s what is weird – I couldn’t conceive of the Royals being this bad if Billy Butler finally came of age. Well, Billy posted a .301/.362/.492 loop with 21 dingers and 51 doubles, and the Royals were worse than my wildest nightmares.
7. Jose Remains Jose. Well, I was wrong about this one; Jose wasn’t Jose. He caused no controversy off the field and no achievement on it. His .242./.314/.367 season was easily the worst of his career, and like Jacobs and Gordon, he was a liability every moment he took the field.
What’s more incredible was that this was the list. I couldn’t even think of the Biblically bad bullpen, the incredible ineptness of Trey Hillman, the Royals’ major league worst injury record, defense that made the Bad News Bears look like Gold Glovers, and the rest of the crap that happened this year.
The Royals end this year with more questions than answers and more liabilities than assets. Worse, most of the liabilities are locked in for 2010. Over the next few days, I’m going to do that most sophomoric of blogger’s efforts – grading each individual player, and suggesting what might be done with them for 2010. Not, of course, that the Royals would actually listen, but what the hell – it’s an exercise and in any case, this offseason definitely should be more fun than the season itself. It can’t help but be.