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The Day the Universe Changed

Anyone remember that old science show? Hosted by James Burke... well, today was the Royals version. Lets run through the story:

KANSAS CITY -- Christmas arrived a few days early for the Royals.

No doubt, although I consider this more of a Good Friday myself.

They signed four free agents -- pitcher Scott Elarton, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz and catcher Paul Bako -- general manager Allard Baird announced Friday morning.

This might be the best Paul Bako has ever looked. He should walk around with Doug Mientkiewicz all the time.

Elarton, who signed a two-year contract, figures to be in the starting rotation. Grudzielanek, who signed a one-year deal with a club option for 2007, is expected to be the regular second baseman.

OK. OK. Maybe not the end of the world. Elarton's shown an ability to pitch a full season three out of four seasons. I love the way the Royals sell this guy:

Elarton, a right-hander who turns 30 on Feb. 23, was 11-9 with a 4.61 ERA in 31 starts last season for the Indians. He worked 181 2/3 innings and gave up 32 home runs.

He gives the Royals a second veteran for the rotation with left-hander Mark Redman, acquired in a trade from the Pirates.

Elarton, an imposing 6-foot-8, had his best year in 2000 when he went 17-7 for the Houston Astros. He has also pitched for the Rockies and has a Major League record of 50-47.

Yea. And until his mini-Renaissance in late 2004, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball, carrying around an ERA the fluctuated between 7 and 9 for the better part of 50 starts. I'm excited about getting another flyball pitcher!! And, he did string together a nice run in Cleveland.

Whats the old saw about free agents? Pay of the outlier, get the regression to the mean.

Mientkiewicz is likely to share time with Matt Stairs and perhaps Mike Sweeney at first base. Bako will be the backup to starting catcher John Buck. Mientkiewicz and Bako each got one-year contracts.

I'd DH him. Then he can keep his veteran presence in the dugout for the optimal amount of time. I guess a Minky-Stairs platoon could be worse. Like handing the job to Grimace Harvey. Its hard to complain about a one-year deal, though. As much as I'd like to.

The signings filled four gaps in one fell swoop for Baird. However, his search for a slugging outfielder continues.

Lets not get ahead of ourselves, he probably won't be that sluggardly of a slugger. We've established a pretty liberal definition of adequate the last few seasons at the OF corner. I do think theres about a 98% chance he'll be over 30.... The Youth Movement rolls on...

To clear space on the 40-man roster, the Royals designated for assignment pitchers Shawn Camp and Chris Demaria, outfielder Matt Diaz and injured first baseman Ken Harvey.

Not exactly a repeat of the A-rod-Manny trade from two years ago, seeing these dudes cycle through. I've had periods of believing in Shawn Camp, and Demaria and Diaz haven't been given a proper opportunity to fail yet, all of which means their possible good-bye could be a sad  one. And Ken Harvey,he was an All-Star!!

Bids for other starting pitchers, including Paul Byrd, who signed with the Indians, had fallen short.

Not sure what this has to do with anything. We also fell short in the Furcal sweepstakes, if you look at it broadly. And fell just short of having a winning season... If the Royals had hit a grand slam in just 40 or so more games, they could have won 85 games and been right there.

Grudzielanek, 35, was the Cardinals' regular second baseman last year and batted .294 in 131 games with eight homers and 59 RBIs.

He'll move ahead of Esteban German, obtained in a trade from the Rangers at the Winter Meetings. The Royals were looking for an everyday player who could step in while Andres Blanco, Donnie Murphy and Ruben Gotay continue their Minor League development.

Grudzielanek, who also played for the Expos, Dodgers and Cubs before his one year with the Cardinals, has had four seasons over the .300 mark. His career average is .287.

Its funny how much better a guy started to look once his horrible Dodgers contract expired during his last Cub season. Would you say Grudz is the centerpiece of this deal? Perhaps. The guy is 35, but .294/.334/.407 isn't without its merits, despite the risk that he'll collapse to .260/.304/.370. He'll likely outperform the host of various Royals' "2nd base prospects" at the plate in '06, although I'm not sold on his glovework at this point.


Mientkiewicz, 31, is a left-handed batter who had a .240 average in 87 games for the Mets. His 66 hits included 11 homers.

Good information. I wonder if the Royals knew this. 11 homers is actually kinda surprising, maybe he can be peak-level Ken Harvey.

The Royals were seeking a good fielding first baseman and Mientkiewicz won a Gold Glove in 2001. His addition brings up two questions: How much will Stairs play? And will Sweeney become a full-time designated hitter?

Mientkiewicz spent most of his years with the Twins, hitting .300 in 2003 and .306 in '01. He has batted .268 in his career.

Like I said. I'd prefer Minky as a full-time DH. He and Bell can talk shop.

Bako, 33, played only 13 games last season for the Dodgers before suffering a season-ending knee injury while running to third base.

After a deal with free agent catcher Todd Pratt fell through, the Royals settled on Bako to back up and tutor Buck.

Bako has batted .239 in 530 games for his previous seven clubs.

I love thinking about this tutoring process: "here, heres what you do to not hit for average and power at the same time, IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE, HITTING 8TH". Amazingly, we might have found the certified vet' backup catcher that one might mistake for the horror of John Buck. Did you know Bako has hit one home run since the 2002 season ended. Not a bad run, especially since he got a ton of playing time during that period. I refuse to believe Bako will be any better than some street level minor league scrub. To make myself better I'll tell myself "he calls a great game" and "he's a good clubhouse guy". When the data fails, I like to turn to unprovable dictums that, even if they were true, wouldn't actually matter much.

Last season, Camp worked 29 times in relief for the Royals with a 1-4 record and a 6.43 ERA. Demaria was 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA after a quick rise through the system.

Diaz hit .281 with one homer and nine RBIs in 34 games. Harvey, a 2004 All-Star, missed most of last season with back problems and recently underwent surgery to repair an Achilles tendon tear.

Nice run down of the Royals we lost, or will possibly lose. How awesome will it look in 20 years if Ken Harvey shows up on All-Star videos, after possibly getting 200 big league at bats after his appearance?

But it was a merry day for the Royals. Santa already has delivered a big portion of Baird's wish list.

I guess. 2006: Attempting to be a Major League baseball team!

Plus we get to think about an interesting philosophical question: do four underwhelming signings underwhelm more than the sum of their parts?