This morning, over oatmeal and blueberry pancakes, Royals Review breakfasted with longtime blogger Royals Review at the Royals Review Midwestern-Eastern Headquarters on South Bass Island in Lake Erie.
The last time we did this the 2007 season was just getting started. What has changed since then?
Interesting question. My sense is you should have saved this one for last, since it really gets to the heart of much of my angst at the moment. Since the start of that season, some nice things have happened, specifically with the pitching staff. We've discovered that Joakim Soria and Brian Bannister can be significant contributors, we've seen Zack Greinke not only return to baseball, but become an above-average pitcher and, although it is early I suppose, we've seen Dayton Moore show some good skill in putting together bullpens. Oh, and the Meche signing turned out OK, although I really don't enjoy actually watching Meche pitch. So there has been some positive development, and beneath the surface the minor league system is slowly getting better. On the other hand, I didn't really like Ross Gload and Joey Gathright fourteen months ago, and through all the ups and downs, I still don't. I didn't think Tony Pena Jr. was very good then, and I don't now. Worse, I'm probably less excited about David DeJesus and Mark Teahen and John Buck than I was then. Alex Gordon is still decidedly not setting the league afire, and Billy Butler didn't either.
So overall, it feels like we've hit another lull. If you think of getting to the playoffs as a cross-country drive -- let's say New York to Los Angeles -- then really all that's happened is that we think we have a car that will make it. Currently, we're still somewhere in Pennslyvania. Eastern Pennslyvania.
How far is this car going to make it?
I would say not past the boundaries of the Royals Radio Network. I think we die in the Rockies.
Why don't you trust Dayton Moore?
Why should I? I'm not trying to be difficult. I just...
You already mentioned the Bannister trade, and the snagging of Soria, and the Meche deal. And look at how well Miguel Olivo is doing, and Ramon Ramirez and on and on.
Yes, we now have two #3 starters, a three-innings a week closer, and a good option at catcher.
You do understand how bad the Royals were when he took over?
No, I just blogged about them for three years without noticing that. To go back the main point -- whether or not I trust Dayton Moore -- let's simply ask ourselves "why?" Why should I trust him, or to put it less creepily, why should I trust him to get the Royals into the post-season? Here's the information that I have to work with: a) "baseball people" love him, in this category we can include somewhat useful nuggets like the dalliance with the Red Sox (positive) and the anonymous quotes in Jayon Stark articles (not so much) then we have b) a handful of good moves he's made. That's it. For the Royals to reach the playoffs, he doesn't just have to be a good GM, he has to be a great one. And I just don't see how anyone can truly say that is a certain thing. As a fan, you have to have a certain amount of trust and I think your life is easier if you have in the back of your head that you've got a smart guy running things, but how can we say that now?
Well, would you rather have Allard back?
No, but that isn't the issue. In the last few days, I've started to think about this in a different way... maybe from a more psychological perspective. Think about it this way, lets say you have wanted to be a wedding planner for years. Years. You've worked in the industry, you've served as an assistant and you've been around weddings for a long time. But you've never been the guy. Then, you get hired to handle a major wedding. Major.
So those first few decisions you make are probably going to be inspired, even brilliant. Years ago you discovered this cool little florist no one knew about, and you discovered this way of folding invitations that no one else was doing and you met a wonderful flower girl at another wedding, and within a week, you've made all those moves. The wedding industry is impressed and your clients are giddy. The only problem is, you're now out of ideas, and the material you have to work with, in this case, your clients and their preferences, are actually really really lame. Everyone still loves the paper fold you suggested, but now you're starting to get push-back from the familes about what you've setup as the dinner at the reception. Eager and confident, maybe over-confident, you've set the menu as lamb and goose. You keep explaining to people that this is very traditional, but...
I don't quite follow.
My point is, Dayton's first few moves were bound to be brilliant. They were probably the result of years of dreaming and observation. Who knows when he first noticed something about Brian Bannister or when he first made a little mental note about Soria. It's like why so many first albums and first novels are so much better than the next one, because the band spent ten years making the first album and ten months making the second. The bad thing, and what I think gets overlooked, is that Dayton's first flurry of moves also had some major misses: TPJ, Joey Gathright, extending Gload, extending Grudz, etc. There's also been a predictable reluctance to admit that some moves haven't worked, or even, more frighteningly, a blindness to failures. As in the Pena situation.
Where do you put Hillman in this wedding analogy?
Oh, he's the lamb and goose at the reception, or at least part of that.
Well, lamb and goose, as long as there are some good sides and an open bar, might actually be kinda fun. It's certainly different, at least superficially. On the other hand, goose isn't much different from chicken, and lamb, isn't much different from beef. I am not a fan of Hillman, no. But honestly, he's just a guy. The baserunning silliness looks like it's slowing down, which is good, but the bullpen management remains uninspiring. As I wrote at the time of the hiring, the important thing is not so much what Hillman does in-game, but rather, what his philosophy reflects about what Dayton thinks is important, or what Dayton wants. Playing Whiteyball with this roster is stupid, but its even stupider if Dayton decides that what he needs to do is reshape the roster to fit Hillman's wishes.
You don't want Whiteyball?
No. Not unless the K goes back to artificial turf, along with half the other ballparks. Here's the thing: everyone gets a little silly about this stuff. Show me a team that supposedly won because of being small-ball-tastic and great on the basepaths and I'll show you a team that had a Top 5 pitching staff. It's really that simple. But for some reason there's this impulse to over-value the offensive side of the equation with those teams, even though that isn't how they are winning. It also works in reverse: since I live in Cleveland now, I just finished watching a four game set between the Tigers and Tribe. I couldn't tell you how many times I heard the Cleveland TV and radio guys go on about how bad the Tiger offense has been and how inconsistent and stationary they are. Here's the thing: the Tigers are losing because their pitching has collapsed. It isn't even really complicated, but extreme power lineups always operate on a short-leash with the baseball media.
I wanted to ask you about another player that you somewhat dismissed before. David DeJesus is hitting .296/.352/.429, why aren't you excited about him anymore?
Because he has already done that. He was a tick better in 2006 (.295/.364/.446). David is a tough guy for me to appreciate at this point, even though two years ago I really loved his game. It's hard coming to the realization that people are who they are and that they won't be getting better. But you're right, he's nicely bounced back. Which is more than can be said for Teahen, who's a similar case.
Do you have a favorite Royal?
No, not really. I don't think you really follow the game that way when you are an adult. I do have guys that I kinda have an extra-non-fandom of, but I still root for them because they are Royals. I like Jimmy Gobble because he's been around for so long and because I can remember writing about him on my first blog, back in 2004. I like Soria because he's awesome.
What about Alex Gordon?
Would it be impolite to say I'm disappointed? In over 800 big league PAs he's a .253/.322/.408 hitter. He is 24 years old, so he's right on the hinge between still being young and being in his prime. Look at his comparables on his baseball-reference page and tell me how I should feel. Whatever it is that we expected he'd be... we may have to give up those dreams. Fortunately, this is an experience that most of us should be familiar with.
What is one move you would make, or that, you wish Dayton would make?
I get asked that a lot, often as a kind of rebuke to my criticisms, but I don't really think it matters what I think. You should ask Jim Hendry that question. The Royals aren't one-move away, they're 20 moves away.
How do you feel about this season so far?
The Royals are 25-40 and have the second worst record in baseball now, which wasn't what I expected. I don't think anyone is happy about whats happened in the last month and a half. The question is: what is the relevant information before us?
What do you mean?
First, is the record relevant? Now most of us predicted -- myself included -- that the Royals would be something like an 78-80 win team. There was actually a frightening consensus about this, at least among Royals people. Well... it doesn't look like that is going to happen. If people viewed this season as an incremental step towards contention, I'd have to say, so far, that looks wrong. There's one line of thought that argues that you have to be a 80 win team before you can be a 90 win team, and if the Royals haven't even reached that level yet, then we're still very far from anything interesting. If the Royals end up winning 70 games instead of 80, we'll have to decide how meaningful that is, which in many ways goes to the second point. Namely, the players. Now you could say, look at the Rays, they seem to have skipped the 78 win step and could easily be a contender deep into the season and for years to come. What worries me, and has worried me since last season, is that the Royals are not overflowing with guys who figure to get much better. I don't think Banny is getting better. I don't think Meche is getting better. I don't think Buck/Teahen/Gload/DeJesus/Gathright/Guillen/Olivo are getting better. So that leaves us waiting on Gordon and Butler and a few pitchers to be named later to carry the Royals to contention in 2009 and 2010. I don't know if that can happen.
So was this your expectation?
It depends on how closely you focus the microscope. Individually, obviously the expectations are all over the place, and those change constantly anyway. Guillen was a disappointment in April, a hero in June, etc. I am more disappointed in the offense more than anything else, which I thought would be mediocre. The pitching is mediocre, despite an early tease that it would be incredible. It isn't and it hasn't been since tax day. We're slowly morphing back into the same old Royals, a team that truly has no strength.
Do you think the Royals can compete in 2009?
They should be competing now! A .500 team would be in... I'm not going to look this up... second-place in this division? But no, I don't know about 2009. Then again, the division has taken such a bizarre turn with Detroit and Cleveland faltering, it's hard to say. One of the things you have to fight against is an expectation that every team follows an inevitable arch to contention. Lots of teams don't. They just stay bad for years and years. They cycle through players, have a few youth movements, get slightly better, then fall back again. I always point to the late-90s Twins, who got all the way back to just short of .500, then collapsed again and had to completely start over. There first attempt at building through the system wasn't good enough, and by the time the won the division again (when it was much much weaker, I should add) basically Brade Radke was the only guy who was still around.
I have a user-submitted question about makes you more upset, Justin Huber or Jenna Fischer's ex-husband?
Both had happy endings. In a way, Huber's sojourn to San Diego has been a blessing, I get to follow Padres games now.
So many of your responses seem to be negative. Did I pick a bad time to interview you?
Maybe, considering last night's disaster. You have to remember though, I am probably a very negative and pessimistic person. That's really just my temperament with most things I 'd say.
How is Royals Review going?
Do you mean you? Or me personally? Or the website?
Umm... the website I guess. Royals Review is a greybeard now.
It's never been better. That being said, this could be a contentious summer if the team keeps playing poorly. It's pretty amazing, and terrifying, to think that RR celebrated its third birthday this May, not that I celebrated or anything. Most blogs die just because people realize no one is reading them, which can be very painful, not because it's an inherently challenging thing to do. The site pretty much runs itself now, thanks to the size and strength of the community. I hated the new site layout and design at first, but have come to love it, which is predictable I guess. And beyond that, you always want to write more and better, or wish that you had. That stays constant.
Do you think the auto-interview went well?
That I cannot say. Thank you for having me.