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Unpacking the Bell Hire

Umm... OK. Well that was certainly anti-climactic of our Royals. As the day has worn on the hire's had a curious emptying effect, much like how one feels shortly after an exasperated sigh. "Ohh, well, at least Allard can sorta focus on the draft now, I guess" is essentially the most positive response I can muster. The temptation regarding the Bell hiring is to lambast the Royals: its the seemingly causeless hire of a generic retread with no real track record of doing anything other than always being around. As Rob and Rany recently pointed out, the Front Office's stated focus on hiring a manager with experience, beyond being unjustified on its own grounds, doesn't really jive with how Royal's managers have done in the last fifteen years, as Pena, Muser and Boone all de-proved as their managerial experience grew.

Clearly, the logic is likely something like: young, green team needs old, wise manager. Fair enough, but just because you can guess at a justification doesn't mean its necessarily worth pursuing. Nevertheless, as I've written before, I'm not terribly concerned about who manages the Royals because a) in general its a job that only influences the margins of the performance spectrum and b) the Royals talent base is so utterly meager, the only real goal is not being the worst team ever. As long as Bell watches Greinke's workload (which I suspect is an organizational decree anyway) he can do whatever he wants during his inevitably short-lived reign as Royals skipper.

My own sneaking suspicion is that Bell was, first and foremost, a cheap hire. Basically, two teams got worse under his supposed watch, and no matter how many baseball cliches he can spout per minute, even in a highly endogamous community like baseball, that gets noticed. Bell's passable, and his only baggage is that he hasn't shown that he is particularly good at his new job. Fair enough, hasn't stopped anyone before; let everyone dangle a few quotes about his work building a young team in Cleveland (a team that doesn't appear quite as good as its been expected to be by the way) and we'll have a easy 60 minute presser and take a few pictures.

Still, even the silly explanations and justifications are lame AND hollow. The Bell-as-teacher motif is vaguely passable, but Bell's claim that he's been wronged in the past is insane.

"The problem in Detroit is we just weren't patient enough with it," Bell said. "I'm very impatient with impatience ... and this is going to take some time."

Bell was fired by the Tigers during the 1998 season as the team sat with a 52-85 record. In theory, the Tigers were going places in 1997, when they had won 79 games in a bad division. Bell's claim that the Tigers were a young team that never got a chance is simply incorrect, the 1999 was very similar to the '98 version, and was also bad, going 69-92.

The problem here is that the assumption, made not just be Bell, but by nearly everyone, is that the development path taken by the early 90's Braves or the mid 90's Indians is the inevitable growth arc of a team. Basically, to borrow from Field of Dreams, "if you imagine it, it will come". Except, in fact, the historical standings in the almanac are littered with young, sorta talented teams that never made it to actual success. (See the 1996 Twins, the 1997 Pirates or, gasp, the 2000 Royals.) Either the vaunted stars never became stars, or the young players that did develop just never quite had enough help. Buddy Bell seems to think that the late 1990s Tigers were going places, but in point of fact, it was this very belief that directly produced one of the worst teams EVER, the 2003 Tigers.

Of course, that very Tigers team has been an increasingly present spectre haunting this current Royals team, drawing nearer with each 6-loss week.

And so it goes. The youth movement rolls on, but only because it is the only real, or imagined option. Management, mainstream analysts and many fans continue to bemoan the Royals' unfair small-market status, forgetting that membership in the AL Central is in many ways a more clever "correction" to this "problem" than the Seligeans could have ever consciously imagined. Despite a lot much better than those handed out to its coastal brethern, the Royals actually can win, at least in theory. However, it is not immediately clear that Glass has any true interest in this happening, or that, sadly, Allard is capable of making it happen. As Joe Sheehan wrote today at Baseball Prospectus, "can you think of any reason why the Kansas City Royals should continue to exist?"

One of the nicest developments of the last half-decade has been Baird's real improvement as a GM, but this is not a resume building moment. Either Allard isn't allowed to do much more than scrounge for scraps, or he's simply lost the plot. I'm not sure which is worse.