We all know how it works. The grizzled veteran heads into one more spring training. He knows that he's a year or three past his prime, but dammit, he still wants one more good year in the sun. Meanwhile, the highly touted rookie shows up ready to give it his all. It's going to be a battle for their careers - and may the best man win.
Well, that's how it's supposed to work. But it doesn't - at least not if you're part of the Kansas City Royals. There's precious little competition for spots with the Royals, except maybe if you're a potential fifth starting pitcher or a bullpen arm.
Third base was once the pride of Kansas City. We all remember George Brett, but let's not forget that he took over from Paul Schaal, a pretty decent third sacker in his own right - and when Kevin Seitzer made the bigs, it was time for George to move to first base. George took the spot from Schaal, and Seitz took it from Brett. That's how things once worked in Kansas City, and the result was nearly 20 years of excellence at one of the most important spots on the diamond.
That ended with a groan after the 2004 season. Randa had controlled the Hot Corner in Kauffman for six seasons and had established himself as a competent-to-pretty-damn-good hitter and a good glove man. Randa was coming off a .287/.343/.408 campaign with a 95 OPS+; admittedly not his best season but one that Royals fans would pine for many times over the following decade. GM Allard ("The Genius") Baird decided that we couldn't afford Joe - and besides, he had a fine prospect who was the centerpiece of the Carlos Beltran trade - Mark Teahen. So, without Teahen ever having swung a bat in a Major League game, third base was gift wrapped and handed to him.
Thus gifted, Teahen responded with a rookie season of .246/.309/.376 with an OPS+ of 82. (Randa split the season between Cincinnati and San Diego, posting a .276/.335/.452 with an OPS+ of 108.) That wasn't great, but at least Teahen did have a strong sophomore season in 2006 of .290/.357/.517, OPS+ of 122. That kind of season seems almost mythical now. How did Royals' management respond to this? Simple - they moved Teahen to right field to make way for another phenom - Alex Gordon.
Nowadays, it's easy to forget how truly awful Gordon was offensively for the first few years of his career - so let's remember. In his rookie season, Gordon went ,247/.314/.411 for an OPS+ of 90. The displaced Teahen posted a .285/.353/.410 season for an OPS+ of 101. Like Teahen, Gordon improved significantly in his second year, going .260/.351/.432 for a 109 OPS+. That season proved to be fool's gold, as 2009 saw Gordon collapse so badly that he spent most of the season in Omaha.
When Gordon was sent down, Teahen was plugged back in at third. The featured player in Moneyball wouldn't recapture his 2006 glories, but still put up a nicely competent line of .271/.325/.408 with an OPS+ of 94.
2010 was a transitional year. Gordon again would spend a lot of time in his hometown of Omaha. Teahen was gone, taking a part-time role with the White Sox. This left it to Alberto Callaspo to handle third base until he was traded late in the season to the Angels for Sean O'Sullivan and Will Smith. Thought Alberto was more of a middle infielder - and hit like it - he didn't do too badly, hitting .275/.308/.410, for an OPS+ of 95. Big changes were afoot, however. Another phenom was coming up - Mike Moustakas - and to clear the spot for him, Gordon was handed an outfielder's glove and pointed toward Left Field.
The Moose was Loose in 2011....well, he was here anyway. In 365 PA's, he put up a .263/.309/.367 line, OPS+ of 86. Meanwhile, in Left Field, Gordon blossomed into the hitter we always thought he could be, and has been since. Like Teahen and Gordon before him, he improved in his sophomore year - to a .242/.296/.412, OPS+ of 91. We didn't think it was possible, but 2013 saw a regression to .233/.287/.364, OPS 76+, and this year he has explored new dimensions of suck, at .158/.228/342, OPS+ of 55. To this point, the Royals doggedly refuse to send Moose down, even though everyone who has ever seen a Royals game knows that's what needs to be done.
What does all this mean? Well, first, it means that the Royals management has been utterly committed to NOT playing the best player in the organization at any given time. Clearly, Gordon would/could not have beaten Teahen out for the position in 2008 any more than Teahen could have taken the spot from Randa in 2005. Moustakas couldn't have outplayed either Gordon or Callaspo - so the management cleared the way.
Gift wrapping positions for phenoms hasn't worked. Period. It's sent a message to everyone that performance at a spot is less important than status within the organization, and it shows. The current whine from Dayton Moore is that "We don't have any alternatives at third base." Well, first of all, that's Moore's fault - he has been very dedicated at removing any competition for Moustakas. But second, that's not true at all. Alex Gordon is still in the organization and would be a fine substitute. And we probably do have options in a corner outfield spot (or could fine one more easily).
It's time to take the pacifier out of Moustaka's mouth, put our best nine on the field for a change, and really make a run at winning ballgames. It's long past time to worry about affecting a player's mentality or career. Let's try to win some damn games for a change.