We were all so excited two months ago.
The anti-Kyle Davies sentiment has taken hold to an extent that I haven't quite seen with other Dayton Moore darlings. The Royals Authority piece about him being the worst starter ever gained a certain amount of traction earlier this season, and as the bad starts piled up, a lot of stored animus came out. Fans are sick of this guy and that anger is connected to frustration with the front office.
Kyle Davies is one to be afraid of at the symbolic level. He's always supposedly had good stuff, which the Royals have always supposedly seen. He's an old friend of Dayton's from his glory days as an Atlanta minor league guy and he's a formerly somewhat well regarded prospect. He was given every opportunity to succeed. Nevertheless, the whole package of the well-scouted, well-regarded southern hero failed to materialize into much of a useful pitcher, though he's had some moments of mediocrity. In Davies, we see an extreme case of the stubbornness (or is it patience?) that the front office has shown with it's chosen favorites. To the extent to which this is all entertainment, the weekly Kyle Davies start is a sitcom that just won't introduce new characters, write new material, or get better in any way. It's being forced to watch the same three episodes of, oh, I dunno, Sister Kate, on repeat for five years.
That front office built up a nice pile of fan goodwill after the winter and spring just passed, one filled with glowing stories about the best farm system. Finally, Dayton Moore's pre and post Royal narratives connected: the Braves scouting guru had made the Royal farm system to the great ones of yore. However, it hasn't gone quite so lovely this season, and the hype has probably made the performances of Moose, Hosmer and Duffy appear worse than they've actually been.
I discount the enthusiasm that existed when the Royals were 15-10 (or whatever it was). I don't mean to be dismissive, because this is sports and think whatever they want to be happy, but we see the same reaction every year from a certain percentage of fans. It might only last through the first week of spring training, or the first week of the regular season, but it will always be there. The Royals just need to be vaguely around .500 and people will say/write/call the radio host and say things like, "I don't care what the predictions were, this team looks good out there!" and "They don't have to win the division, I'll be happy with a .500 ballclub that plays hard, and that's what it looks like we've got!"
Beyond that surface, base, optimism that sprouts up and dies with every sports team everywhere every season, there was a broader and deeper level of excitement about the direction of the Royals this April. There was so much talk about the farm system that it crossed over to the mainstream level, hitting a wider audience that has never been to Baseball America's website or pulled up B-R.com. (Prospect hype is becoming more mainstream generally, developing along a similar trajectory to major NCAA recruiting chatter.) The Royal prospects were everywhere, and the message kept getting spread and validated. Even the harshest Dayton Moore critics seemed to take the position of, "well, now he's built this strong system, he deserves a chance to win with it."
All spring, even as we've published some agnostic pieces on the whole matter, I've been kicking around a post titled "These Are Exciting Times." And that was the whole idea really: it's an exciting time to be a Royals fan. I never wrote it, in part because it was pointless fluff and in part because it was never necessary. I may have been my usual negative and bitter self, but every week there was another story, another Rany post, another glowing profile in whereever about whomever.
Kyle Davies is resonating with people because he's been a Royal for so damn long now. He's been handed start after start since 2007 and our collective patience has worn out. The lineup for his first start as a Royal, a 16-8 loss to the Yankees includes the detritus of Moore's first rebuild/time filling/whatever the hell he was doing from 2006-10: Mark Grudzielanek, Tony Pena, Ross Gload, Joey Gathright (the Royals are going to be about DEFENSE!), John Bale, etc.
2011, after a nice April, is not going well. Not for the Major League team, and not, importantly, for the minor league prospects. I wouldn't say things are going poorly, but it just isn't another 2010, when just about everything went right for everyone that mattered.
The Royal front office, going back to last season, made a risky public relations move. They said the Royals were going to contend in 2012. Or it was going to begin then, or something. (We've already seen the date start to get pushed back a little.) This made 2010 and 2011 awkward, but finally it was a firm date. All April I heard and read how the Royals would be a .500 team (in true talent) by the end of 2011, and ready to compete in a weak AL Central by 2012.
I don't know if true backlash is possible in this baseball market. Dayton Moore was handed a blank check of goodwill upon being hired. Everyone was ready to blame the owner, the system, the economics of baseball for any failures. Allard Baird was written off as a joke, the Royals were portrayed as one of the worst franchise in sports, with no prospects ever. Nevermind that for years and years the best players on the team remained Baird Era guys, you literally could not badmouth the past enough. If Baseball America ranked the Royals as having the 10th bets system in the game, or somesuch, it was to be celebrated as an extreme accomplishment. It was the best situation imaginable in which to be hired.
But that isn't the case anymore. The fans got a whiff of expectation and they're also starting to notice that Dayton Moore has been on the job for a long time. The dates change, but each year its the same: the random veteran non-serious fans love in February and hate in July. Mike Jacobs, Dick Ankiel, Jason Kendall, etc etc. Its funny how we'll spend so much time arguing and counter-arguing about Melky or Francoeur, when we all know damn well how this ends. And then we do the same thing next year. I can't wait to see who the Royals sign next to get the "ok, he's not that good but he's not awful and he's cheap" tag of approval.
I can't imagine Dayton Moore being fired right now. But the Davies situation is inching him closer. Closer to a scenario in which 2011 continues to be frustrating, followed by a normal but frustrating 76 win team in 2012. There hasn't been pressure yet in Kansas City, but there will be next season.