ANAHEIM CA - JULY 02: Jose Guillen #6 of the Kansas City Royals reacts as he returns to the dugout after his out against the Los Angeles Angels during the eighth inning at Angel Stadium on July 2 2010 in Anaheim California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The 2008 Royals were perhaps Dayton Moore's first team that he could fully call his own. Not that he necessarily would have wanted to, especially in retrospect. In 2008, the Royals would go 75-87, which seemed encouraging at the time.
In 2006 the Royals lost 100 games, and in the process of doing so, fired their General Manager. Eventually, they hired Dayton Moore. As new GMs tend to do, Moore was aggressive in tearing down the bad roster he inherited. In the 2005-06 off-season, Moore made his first, and perhaps still, signature move, signing Gil Meche. The trades continued the next year, as did the roster churn more generally, including another big move, the Jose Guillen signing. Moore outfitted his 2008 squad with his first managerial hire as well.
Four years ago was and wasn't that long ago. But as the Royal roster continues to change, the 2008 Royals recede further and further away. So whatever happened to those 2008 Royals? Here's a look at the Opening Day lineup:
Manager: Trey Hillman - Moore went all the way to Japan to hire Hillman, who had toiled in the Yankee organization before heading to Japan for a chance to manage at a (somewhat) hire level. A baseball traditionalist and an outspoken man of faith, Hillman was a seemingly good fit with the Moore regime. A hire like Hillman was always going to walk the tightrope when it came to fan and media perception and by mid-2009 many had soured on Hillman as a man in over his head. Hillman would be fired 35 games into the 2010 season and is considered to be at least partially responsible for the downfall of 2008's Opening Day starter Gil Meche. Hillman is currently a bench coach with the Dodgers.
Starting Pitcher: Gil Meche - By ERA+ and WAR Meche had the second best year of his career in 2008, topped only by 2007, his first with the Royals. In 2008, Meche would make 34 starts, posting a 3.98 ERA that was 10% better than average. It was his last season as a regular, full-season, player. Meche made 23 starts in 2009, and by 2010 he was a reliever. In 2011 he retired a year early. The Royals ended up paying $44 million dollars for two good seasons and one ok one.
Moving down the batting order of the Opening Day lineup...
Centerfielder: David DeJesus - 2008 was one of the best season's of DeJesus's career, especially at the plate. DDJ hit .307/.366/.452 for a 118 OPS+. (Though the defensive stats liked him more in other seasons.) Between 2007-09 DeJesus played nearly every day and solidified himself as a one of the most under-rated players in the game. DeJesus was rumored to be on the trading block in 2009, and wasn't. He was rumored to be on the trading block in 2010, then got injured. Before the 2011 season DDJ was traded, finally, to Oakland for Vin Mazarro, and Justin Marks. DDJ is now a Cub and his career is at a crossroads. On Opening Day, DDJ was replaced by Joey Gathright in the 3rd inning.
Second Base: Mark Grudzielanek - One of Allard Baird's last major signings, Grudz mysteriously spent three seasons with the Royals, semi-ending a very good career. From 2006-08 Grudz hit .300/.339/.412, and even at age 38 in 2008, Grudz was just about league exactly league average, hitting .299/.345/.399, not bad for a second baseman. On Opening Day 2008, Grudz was PRed for by Esteban German.
Third Base: Alex Gordon - Gordon was a holdover from the Baird Era, but has played his entire Major League career under Moore's direction. Gordon struggled as a rookie in 2007, but nevertheless showed the power and OBP potential that would eventually blossom in 2011. In 2008 Gordon had the second best year (to date) of his career, before beginning two years in the wilderness due to injury and organizational biases.
Right Field: Jose Guillen - The late 2000s were when Dayton Moore made his bizarre transition from acquiring ex-Braves in large proportion to acquiring ex-Mariners in large proportion. The Royals signed Jose Guillen to a big three-year $36 million dollar contract to be the [insert cliche here] in the middle of the order. Guillen was a below average hitter and bad defender for the Royals. 2008 was his "good" year with the squad, hitting .264/.300/.438 in 153 games. Anytime you can pay $12 million dollars to a 95 OPS+, you do it. Guillen was traded to the Giants in 2010 for cash and minor leaguer Kevin Pucetas, who is now in the Nationals organization.