There is no regular season game in baseball more watched, attended and therefore dissected than Opening Day. For most baseball writers, the story the next day writes itself. If your team wins, then you write about how it’s important to get off to a good start. If your team loses, then you write about how the season is a marathon and not a sprint. Both statements are equally true, so the stories are fine for most teams. However, what happened yesterday was for Royals fans just another in a long line of disappointing games. I know that the baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint, but it seems this marathon has been going on for decades and at some point it has to end.
As Royals fans we can curse our lot in life. We can blame the fact that the team is in one of the smallest markets in baseball. We can blame the fact that the team is at a disadvantage because of the way baseballs revenue system is structured. Yes, those things have an effect, but they are not the sole cause of the current state of Royals baseball.
I am sure by now most if not all people reading this blog know what happened yesterday. If not, then you can check out a great graph of the game here. Greinke was Greinke and held the Tigers to only 2 runs in 6 innings. However in the 7th, the bullpen came in and gave up 6 runs which effectively destroyed the Royals chances to win and dashed thousands of fans hopes for a decent season.
But it didn’t have to be this way. When SABR Trey was running out the bullpen parade yesterday, I was thinking to myself about the 2009 offseason. It was in that offseason that Dayton Moore made two extremely short-sighted and ill-fated moves which compounded into more problems in 2010. In 2009 the Royals traded Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez for Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp respectively. Nunez and Ramirez were young bullpen arms who were very good, cheap and under team control for a few more years. In 2008, both guys had sub 3.00 ERAs in a combined 116 appearances. Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp amounted to rent-a-players who were neither young nor cheap. In a way the moves symbolize everything that I think the current front office is doing wrong.
The Royals seem to value tenure over talent. Somehow the Royals expected Crisp’s experience in the Big Leagues to somehow translate into wins on the field for the Royals and overcome the potential loss of one of the best young relievers in baseball. This tenure over talent mantra is manifesting itself again in the 2010 ballclub. It was apparent when Mitch Maier, who has been one of the hottest hitters this spring, was on the bench in favor of Ankiel and Podsednik. It also showed up when Kendall was signed, started Opening Day and was even at bat in a crucial late game situation.
The Royals also seem to ignore metrics in favor of intangibles and avoid playing their best players. Those poor trades in 2009 showed clearly that the Royals were not really evaluating the talent they were receiving. Mike Jacobs was a strikeout machine who hit with some power but couldn’t reach 1st base if he had to. The current Royals roster is again filled with guys who can’t get on base and they don’t seem to mind. They seem to think a guys gritty determination or his veteran leadership can somehow overcome his inability to actually do things during the game to help his team win. Again, this problem wasn’t just evident in the Mike Jacobs acquisition. In 2010, the Royals got Mike Jacobs pt 2 in Rick Ankiel and promised him center field. He is probably the 4th best center fielder on the team and like Jacobs he can’t get on base. Either the Royals don’t care or they are unable to properly analyze the situation. It was also obvious yesterday when Kila Ka’aihue was unavailable to pinch hit because he was on his way to Omaha.
The last thing that those moves symbolized to me was that the front office doesn’t understand exactly how damaging a couple of poor moves can be. Destroying the bullpen meant the Royals had to go out into the free agent market and pick up Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth. They had to spend a pretty penny to get those guys and are hamstrung financially in 2010 when both guys are still on the roster. Crisp and Jacobs are both gone, which meant they also had to be replaced this year. In the meantime the bullpen in 2009 was a complete disaster and from the looks of yesterdays game might be so again in 2010.
It was still only one game. There are 161 more this season and maybe I am overreacting. Maybe if the Royals had Nunez and Ramirez yesterday, they still would have lost that game. I know it’s easy to use hindsight to judge the decisions made by Dayton Moore. There were some positives coming from the game yesterday and I still have some hope that this team can have a decent season. It is just frustrating to see a bullpen come into the game and destroy what could have been an amazing Opening Day, and think to myself “It didn’t need to be this way.”
Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)