The Surprisingly Long Afterlife of the 2000 Royals

We're over a decade passed since the summer of 2000. While, historically speaking, 2000 seems quite far off (Bush v Gore, a drastically different internet that had little to no video but a still extant Napster, Apple was returning to relevance with the iMac, North Dakota was not yet a state, etc) in the sports timeline it's a different world. The Patriots were a hard-luck franchise, as were the Red Sox, as were the White Sox and Phillies. Alex Rodriguez was still a Mariner. Stars from the 1980s, such as Harold Baines, Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Orel Hershiser, and Roger Clemens were all still playing. The 1990s Braves, Yankees, and Indians were all still mostly in place.

For the Royals, 2000 was an exciting and frustrating year. The Royals won 77 games, which is still their second highest win total since 1994, bested only by 83 wins in 2003. Thanks to a strong lineup and the K's reinvention as an offensive park, the Royals scored 879 runs, the fifth highest total in the AL. The Royals were considered a promising young team: they had legitimate stars like Mike Sweeney, Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon, as well as offensive contributors like Mark Quinn and Joe Randa. Gregg Zaun was an on-base machine. Of course, every player just named was an offensive player. The Royals were 13th in the AL in runs allowed. Jeff Suppan and Mac Suzuki made 62 starts combined and after that it was pure randomness. All told, 12 pitchers started a game, including long-forgotten obscurities like Brett Laxton and Chris Fussell. By Royals standards, the bullpen wasn't awful, but you can't really say it was great either. Compared to the legendary 1999 bullpen, the 2000 offering was a breath of fresh air.

Because the 2000 Royals had a number of very good players, more than a few of them were still playing in the Major Leagues in 2010. You'll be able to guess some of the names, while a few others should surprise you:

Johnny Damon: 2000 was Damon's last full year with the Royals and one of the very best years of his career. Damon hit .327/.382/.495, with 46 steals. The next year, Damon was traded to Oakland and the rest is well-recorded. Since 2000, Damon traded out wives, became extremely famous with both the Red Sox and Yankees, dramatically changed his appearance more than once and somewhat randomly ended up in Detroit. Damon is currently a free agent, and it isn't a given that he'll be back in 2011. However, the Yankees and Rays are reportedly interested in signing him.

Mike Sweeney: Unlike the others in this post, Sweeney remained a Royal until 2007. After breaking out in 1999, Sweeney solidified his status as a star player in 2000, hitting .333/.407/.523. After leaving the Royals, Sweeney has looked just about done three times, yet in each instance he has rebounded. In 2010, Sweeney received a courtesy invite to Seattle's Spring Training, then hit .500 for two weeks and won a roster spot. Sweeney then somehow posted a .806 OPS in limited duty and earned a courtesy trade to the Phillies. Sweeney singled in his only post-season at bat, which came against the Reds in the NLDS. You would think that Sweeney will retire, but then again, we've been saying that since 2008.

Carlos Beltran: In 2000, Carlos Beltran was a 23 year old struggling with injuries and failure at the Major League level. After hitting .293/.337/.454 in 1999 (in 156 games), Beltran hit just .247/.309/.366 in 2000. Beltran rebounded in 2001, beginning a very good stretch of production. The Royals had a good offense in 2000, and had Beltran been his usual self that year, the team might have flirted with .500. In 2011, Beltran will play out the final year of his contract with the Mets. We are all very old.

 

Gregg Zaun: The Royals were Zaun's fourth organization when he joined the team in 2000, and he was just getting started. Departing the Royals as a free agent after the 2001 signing, Zaun then made his way to Houston, Colorado, Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa, and finally Milwaukee. Zaun isn't done either, as he's supposedly close to being signed by the Padres. Zaun hit .274/.390/.410 for the 2000 Royals, starting 65 games at catcher. Zaun hit even better in 2001 (.320/.377/.536) yet the Royals weren't interested in bringing him back.

Jeff Suppan: Between 1998 and 2002 Jeff Suppan made 133 starts for the Royals, still the most he's made for any of his six career employers. Suppan allowed 36 home runs in 33 starts for the 2000 Royals, posting a 4.94 ERA .For 2000 however, that was still slightly above average. Suppan's numbers are so similar throughout his Royal career, it's difficult to say what his best season was. Perhaps that was 2001, when the HR problem was downgraded to moderate. Suppan has done two stints with both Boston and St. Louis, so we can't rule out a return to the Royals one of these years.

Chad Durbin: This one still shocks and amuses me (which is also how the Maltese Army subdues an enemy). At some point during the Phillies becoming an annoying East Coast Monolith I discovered that Chad Durbin was a part of their bullpen. Durbin was just another failed Royal pitching prospect on the 2000 team, a 22 year old kid taking his lumps. In 16 starts, Durbin was dusted for an 8.21 ERA. In 2001, he wouldn't be that bad (4.93) but after a 2002 implosion, he was done in KC. As late as 2007 Durbin was still starting, but in 2008 he landed as a bullpen arm in Philly. Durbin earned 2.1 million last season, nearly doubling his career earnings. Durbin is currently a free agent.

Miguel Batista: I had no memory of Batista as a Royal. For about five years, he's been firmly in the "he's still pitching?" category when you see him randomly in a box score. 2000 was his only season with the Royals, and in 14 games (nine starts) he posted a 7.74 ERA. In typical Royals fashion, he mysteriously became an effective pitcher the hour he flew out of KC the last time, turning into a semi-prominent member of those Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling/Other Old Dudes Arizona teams. By 2010, he was in Washington, turning in a fluky 3.70 ERA in 82 innings. Heading into 2011, Batista has signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals.

Tim Byrdak: Byrdak is the most surprising survivor of the 2000 Royals. In 2000 Byrdak looked like he was just about done as a professional baseball player. In his age 26 season, he was awful in his brief 6.1 inning stint with the Royals. Given that he'd also been one of the worst relievers in baseball in 33 games the year before, there seemed no reason to believe Byrdak had a future. Byrdak left the organization, and spent the next four seasons bouncing around the minors. He reemerged with the 2005 Orioles and somehow (he was terrible again in 2006) earned his "Veteran Reliever" union card. Byrdak become a fixture on the recently bad Houston teams and earned $1.6 million in 2010. He is currently a free agent. Do you think Jesse Chavez will be on a Major League roster in 2020? That's Byrdak.

 

Guys who came close: Quite a lot of this team was out of baseball by 2005. Obviously, the list of guys who lasted longer begins with Jermaine Dye, who went from being an established regular in 2009 to quasi-retired in 2010. Dye's .951 OPS in 2000, along with his pre-injury defense, probably means he was likely never a better player... Dan Reichert was pitching in the minor leagues as last as 2009(!)... So was Dee Brown, actually. Dee made his last Major League appearance in 2007 and played a full season at AAA in 2009... Jay Witasick hung around until 2007, enjoying a significant MLB career... After playing his final Major League game in 2002, Mark Quinn spent another four years bouncing around the minors, playing his last game in 2006... Kris Wilson somehow ended up on the 2006 Yankees... Brian Meadows pitched in the Majors until 2006.

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