During the last presidential election cycle, the Royals were terrible. They had holes at multiple positions around the diamond, in the rotation, and in the bullpen. Giving playing time to youngsters was not only acceptable, but eagerly anticipated. Hope springs eternal in Prospect Land.
This year, it's a little different. And by just a little I mean that Forza 6 is 'just a little different' than QWOP and that Chris Young is 'just a little taller' than Tim Collins. The Royals have been to two World Series, won one of them, and in a slightly different universe are winners of two in a row following Salvador Perez' legendary walk-off home run against Madison Bumgarner--you know, the one in which Perez cartwheeled around the basepaths while singing the Venezuelan national anthem.
The current Royals' situation is so much better for an avalanche of reasons because, you know, winning is better than decades-long embarrassment at the entire organization. But it also has unintended consequences. The flexibility that low stakes and low win counts afforded is replaced by pride and unwillingness to try out prospects just because.
So when we pontificate that the Royals should play Paulo Orlando or Jarrod Dyson over an underperforming Alex Rios, or when we beg Ned Yost to remove Omar Infante in favor of Christian Colon, there is no hope at the end of that particular tunnel. But not for the third, fourth, and possibly fifth outfielders on this 2016 Royals team. For them, 2016 is a throwback.
The Royals acquired one elite outfielder for a corner spot, that person being the illustrious Alexander Gordon. They also put a not-insignificant amount of cash into the pitching staff, including mid-size multi-year deals for Joakim Soria and Chris Young as well as a somewhat controversial signing of Ian Kennedy for the second-largest contract in Kansas City Royals history.
Perhaps limited by the hitherto unmatched spending spree and perhaps encouraged by Paulo Orlando's 2015, the Royals decided to try out a platoon with Dyson and Orlando in 2016. They repeatedly expressed interest in giving Dyson a legitimate chance to start as the right fielder for the defending champs.
In the first Spring Training game, Dyson strained his oblique. It is a Grade II strain and will sideline him for six weeks.
Now, let's not panic. Dyson didn't break his hand or do anything ridiculously drastic, and injuries in Spring Training are always preferable to injuries in the regular season. If Dyson keeps to that six-week schedule, he will miss all of eight games, realistically closer to five considering Orlando would have started some of those games anyway even if Dyson were healthy. We'll probably forget about this in August, and we'll definitely forget about it in October if Dyson is starting a game in the playoffs.
But this is no doubt an opening, and it is fascinating for no other reason than the inevitable jockeying for spots that will occur, the kind of jockeying among amateur players that is more likely to happen on the 2006 Royals than the 2016 Royals.
The Royals have an almost comical collection of AAAA-type outfielders. They have lefties Rey Fuentes and Travis Snider. They have righties Jose Martinez, Brett Eibner, and Whit Merrifield. Bubba Starling might become an option midseason. Mitch Maier is on staff and not dead, so there is a non-zero chance he is also an option in an apocalyptic scenario.
Ned tells me Bubba Starling has as good of a chance as anyone to fill the Dyson spot. Experience won't be factor.— kevin kietzman (@kkwhb) March 3, 2016
Even barring injuries, Dyson and Orlando are no sure things. Both have limited offensive skillsets that may diminish in higher usages, and both are on the wrong side of 30.
This isn't necessarily a good or bad thing for the Royals. But it is certainly interesting. The third, fourth, and fifth outfield slots, as of March, are going to be filled by a combination of players with either no Major League experience or players who have never in their career held a starting job. It's high risk, high reward.
It's also so very fun. Bring on the competition, guys. Hope, baseball, and competition are in the Spring air.