Royals Must Get Worse Before They Get Better

After shedding many veterans since last spring, the Royals are counting on Billy Butler to anchor their weak lineup. Are they heading in the right direction, though?

The good news about the Royals' 2010 season is that they lost 95 games.

Which was fewer than they lost in 2009, when they lost 97 games.

The good news about the Royals' 2011 season is that they're probably going to lose more than 95 games. Maybe more than 100.

That's good news? Yes. In baseball, sometimes you have to get worse before you get better. It's been a long time since the Royals have acknowledged this; not coincidentally -- and with the exception of four bizarre months in 2003 -- it's been a long time since the Royals were anything but an American League laughingstock.

People who haven't followed the Royals over the last decade or so will argue the Royals haven't been trying to win; that they've just been sucking up all those revenue-sharing dollars and owner David Glass has been buying spare yachts and what not.

Well, I don't believe that's ever been true. I believe the Royals have lost money in some seasons, made money in some seasons, and essentially broken even over the years. In fact, it's easy to go back and make a list of outlays the Royals should not have made. The problem has never been that the Royals don't spend enough money. It's often been that the couldn't spend enough to get good, but tried anyway.

For the moment at least, that practice seems to finally have ended. Instead of spending silly money on ho-hum veterans, the Royals have actually been shedding those players.

Last summer, general manager Dayton Moore traded Alberto Callaspo, Scott Podsednik, Jose Guillen, Rick Ankiel, Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth. With the exception of Callaspo, none of those guy should ever have been Royals in the first place. Better late than never, though.

This winter, Moore traded Yuniesky Betancourt, David DeJesus and Zack Greinke. These, too, were probably necessary moves as the Royals target 2012 (or '13) as their first shot at being truly competitive since 1994.

This year, though? It's going to be ugly.

Before he got hurt last summer, DeJesus was the best player in the Royals' lineup. Greinke went from winning the Cy Young Award in 2009 to posting a 10-14, 4.17 campaign last season. Still, he was the Royals' best starting pitcher.

Among the Royals' good players in 2010, only Joakim Soria, Billy Butler, and Mike Aviles return in 2011. Plus Bruce Chen and Wilson Betemit, if you want to count them (but you probably shouldn't, as both are due for major regressions this season).

How bad might this rotation be?

Luke Hochevar - Kyle Davies - Vin Mazzaro - Jeff Francis - Bruce Chen

Hochever might have some upside and Francis might bounce back, but the sparkling performances will be rare.

Meanwhile the Royals' lineup -- featuring newcomers Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera -- will probably contain just one hitter (Billy Butler) who figures to finish the season ranked among the better hitters at his position.

Add it all up, and there's just no reason to think these Royals can possibly compete for anything but fourth place.

But that's perfectly all right. These Royals are essentially buying time until the next Royals arrive, and the next Royals are a pretty impressive bunch. Thanks to skillful drafting and aggressive spending, Dayton Moore has built what's unanimously regarded as the game's top farm system, with three outstanding hitting prospects and five excellent pitching prospects.

None of those players are ready to help the big club right now, but they should begin to arrive late this summer, and they should begin making a real difference at some point in 2012, with 2013 the first season in which we might have to take the Royals seriously.

Make no mistake - 2011 is going to be ugly. But sometimes you have to get worse before you get better.

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