...you just kinda wasted my precious time, but don't think twice, it's all right.
(From "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
I didn't intend to take a month off, but one thing about buying a house and moving--it has a way of putting the rest of your life on hold. At the same time, the Royals haven't exactly been an inspiration to write about lately. But in the last week or so, as they've found new lows on and off the field, the frustration level has been building. I don't know what we did as Royals fans before the internet came along to let us publicly vent. Let's rant...
It's tough to take this franchise seriously anymore. They say one thing and do another. They don't seem to have a clue on how to construct a decent roster. And then they don't seem to have any idea how to avoid alienating fans.
I liked the trades for Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs when they happened. And since Crisp is out for the year and probably was hurt when he did play this year, it's tough to make a final judgement on that deal (certainly, the Red Sox look like they got the better of it, but I still think it was a good trade since you can't predict season-ending injuries). But the Jacobs trade...I was wrong. He hasn't hit enough homers to make up for his lack of defense or on-base percentage. I'm sick of the Royals talking about the importance of OBP and then acquiring players who never walk. Everyone knew when the trade happened that Jacobs would not have a good OBP or walk total, yet he is second on the team (behind Crisp) with 25 walks. By comparison, Joe Mauer has 32 walks even though he's only played 56 games! With Crisp out, Jacobs is the only Royal on pace for 50 walks. As a team, the Royals are 13th in the AL in walks (shame on you, Seattle, for being behind the Royals in this category). Of course, they're last in on-base percentage. It's no wonder they can't score runs.
For the short term, the Royals are probably stuck in this mess. They could attempt to trade Jacobs and bring Kila Ka'aihue up from Omaha--he already has 60 walks in 78 games for Omaha. It's unlikely they'd get much for Jacobs, but it looks like time to move on from this experiment. Kila probably wouldn't walk as much at the major league level, but he would be an improvement.
Other options might include bringing up outfielder Scott Thorman (.296/.373./577 in 53 games for the O-Royals) or letting utility infielder Tug Hulett play a little more (he had a .388 OBP in 46 games at Omaha but has only 14 major league plate appearances this year). Thorman is 27, so it's not like he's a hot prospect, but he could help.
Hulett is a symptom of another Royals' problem, the inability to construct a roster of 25 useful players. Right now, the Royals are carrying 3 utility infielders, and two of them are sorry excuses for big league hitters: Tony Pena Jr. and Luis Hernandez. This doesn't count Willie Bloomquist, who has played every position except pitcher and catcher in his 8 big-league seasons. TPJ is following up his epic OPS+ of 7 last year with a -32 this year (remember, a 100 OPS+ is league average). Somehow, Hernandez has been slightly better, posting a sterling OPS+ of 19 this year. There is no reason for a major league club to carry both of these guys and a guy like Hulett, who actually has a -62 OPS+ (I'm cutting him a break because he only has 14 plate appearances). Pena in particular has shown he cannot hit at the major league level.
Yet if you look at the roster on the Royals' website, there are only 3 outfielders listed. This is another reason to bring Thorman up or otherwise change the roster. Bloomquist is not a good hitter, but compared to Pena and Hernandez, he's freaking awesome. Put him at shortstop for the rest of this year, cut Pena, and choose between Hulett and Hernandez for your middle infield backup.
I know injuries have really affected this team. I'm sure Dayton Moore did not have this roster in mind at the start of the season. And I know building an entire organization takes time, so the Royals do not have the depth they would like at Omaha or in AA ball at Northwest Arkansas. But there is no reason Trey Hillman should have to pinch-hit for Pena with Hernandez, then hit for Hernandez with Hulett, as he did in a game this week. There is no reason he should have to have a lineup where Hernandez hits 7th, Mitch Maier (75 OPS+) hits 8th, and Pena hits 9th, as he did Saturday night. This isn't a defense of Hillman; I don't believe he's done a good job managing the pieces he's been given. But the pieces he's been given signal an organizational failure, in my opinion.
Finally, the Royals seem to be trying to aggravate the fans they have left. This has been an incredibly frustrating season to be a Royals fan, in part because they were 18-11 at one point (seems like years ago now). But I think it's even worse because many of the Royals' problems are so fundamental. Anybody who has played baseball or softball, or just been a fan for years, probably feels like they can avoid getting doubled off first on a routine fly ball, or catch a grounder hit at them, or not swing at sliders in the dirt over and over. Yet the Royals seem to have trouble with all of these fundamentals and more, like bunting.
It will take an organizational refocus to fix these problems, and it will not be a quick fix most likely. But the Royals can and need to look for defensive players in the coming trade season and beyond. It appears the Royals have good enough pitching to keep them in games; better defensive play will give them a better chance to win more of those games.
I've been a Royals fan for more than 25 years now. I don't know how to stop being one. But this season has been so aggravating that it is tempting to spend more time reading or going to movies or almost anything to avoid sitting through another loss where the starting pitcher does well, the offense stinks, a couple of defensive lapses lead to some cheap runs, and the bullpen gives up a couple of runs on their own, leading to a 5-1 loss. This can't go on like this, and I'll be interested to see how the organization goes about fixing it.