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tk13
09-19-2004, 01:30 AM
http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/sports/baseball/mlb/kansas_city_royals/9701614.htm

Woes aside, Baird still hopeful
JOE POSNANSKI

Every decision seemed to make sense. He signed Juan Gonzalez, a two-time MVP coming off a destructive half-season with Texas. He re-signed reliever Curtis Leskanic, who had been nothing less than dominant in his short stint with the Royals. He signed pitcher Brian Anderson, off his best season, and third baseman Joe Randa, solid as they come, and Matt Stairs, the best fourth outfielder on the board.

He signed catcher Benito Santiago, who was old but certainly figured to be better than light-hitting, slower-than-a-glacier Brent Mayne. Scott Sullivan had always gotten outs. Tony Graffanino could play every infield position.

Yes, Royals general manager Allard Baird looked like he was on an absolute roll.

He could never have guessed that every single move he made — every last one — would backfire like a 1973 Pinto.

“Juan Gonzalez was a bad signing,” Baird says, a fairly inarguable point since Gonzalez's injury, once listed as “day-to-day” has now kept him out for 119 days. The Royals paid him $4 million for 127 at bats, or, more to the point, $800,000 per homer.

“Curtis Leskanic was a bad signing,” Baird continues. Again, tough to quibble. Leskanic's 8.03 ERA and his three blown saves in a time when the Royals desperately needed every victory they could get would suggest that Leskanic did not work out quite the way Baird and the Royals had hoped. They released him.

“I'm at fault,” Baird says. “I made poor signings. I put this team together. I thought we were doing the right things. I thought we had a chance to win. But we have not, and it's my responsibility. Everybody underachieved. If three or four guys struggle, well, you overcome that. But when it's everybody — starting pitching, bullpen, offense, defense — well, what do you do?” He shrugs. He knows the answer. You do exactly what the Royals are doing. You lose 100 games. You finish last. You have the most disappointing season in Royals history.

“If you want a headline,” Baird says, “that's it: ‘Everybody underachieved.' ”

***

Allard Baird can't fully explain why his Royals went in the tank.

He has some ideas, of course.

1. Baird thinks the team came out of spring training flat. “We did not have a good spring training,” he says. “We did not prepare well. (Manager) Tony Peña will tell you that. Last year, everyone really concentrated on the fundamentals, and we obviously had that great start. This year, for whatever reason, that did not happen.”

Bad fundamentals? You decide. The Royals have allowed the most unearned runs in the American League. They have walked fewer times than any team in the American League except Anaheim. They have the worst stolen-base percentage in all of baseball. Only Cleveland and Colorado have blown a higher percentage of save chances.

2. Baird says that after the bad start, the players “tried too hard.” This is the only acceptable way of saying they panicked and fell apart. “Suddenly, everybody wanted to hit three-run homers with nobody on base and try to strike out guys with one pitch,” Baird says. “It's hard to fault a player who is giving everything he has.”

It may be hard to fault those players … but it's harder to blame anyone else. It was a team flop. Veterans like Anderson, Darrell May, Sullivan and even Mike Sweeney all had their worst years. Younger players the Royals hoped would emerge — like Angel Berroa, Jimmy Gobble and Aaron Guiel — went backward. And the free agents who were supposed to help push the Royals over the top, as pointed out, all disappointed.

3. After Baird announced that he was going to start listening to trade offers, he says the team did not respond well. “Suddenly, everybody started looking inward,” Baird says. “They were like, ‘Will I be here? How will this affect me?' That's human nature. But it's hard to perform when that's how you're thinking.”

The Royals were 21-36 after losing a dreadful doubleheader to Montreal at home. That's when Baird decided it was time to start thinking seriously about next year. He knew that if he was going to get anything decent in a trade for Carlos Beltran, he would have to move fast.

Ten days later, he traded reliever Jason Grimsley. Four days after that, he traded Beltran. The Royals utterly collapsed. They lost 12 of their next 13, finishing the streak with back-to-back-to-back shutout losses in Minnesota.

Things never really got a lot better after that.

***

Of course, Allard Baird doesn't really like to talk about why everything went wrong. He believes some good things came out of this season, even if it's hard to see through the fog of all those miserable losses.

“When you're in last place, nobody really wants to hear that you've improved or that the future looks bright,” Baird says. “But I really believe that.”

Baird is right about one thing: Nobody wants to hear that now. The Royals are about to set a franchise record for losses. Nothing went right. Baird's choices turned out to be disastrous, Tony Peña's 2003 magic disintegrated and the most complete Royals player ever perhaps, Carlos Beltran, is gone. Nobody, except perhaps one loony columnist, will be picking this team to win many games next year.

But Baird does want fans to know that some good things happened. So we pass it along.

Good thing: The Royals traded Grimsley for Denny Bautista. Why is that good? Because Bautista throws 98 mph, has devastating breaking stuff and his cousin, a guy named Pedro Martinez, is teaching him how to pitch. Bautista struggles now with his control and command, but here's what Baird says: “He has some of the best stuff I've ever seen. If we can get him to harness his stuff — and that's our job — he can be as dominating as anybody.”

Good thing: Runelvys Hernandez is way ahead of schedule. Hernandez was the best starter in the American League the first month of last season before he had the famed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Several Royals officials were privately worried that Hernandez might not be the type to recover quickly, but everyone has been blown away by how hard he has worked and how far he has come. They now have him penciled in for Opening Day 2005.

Good thing: Zack Greinke has arrived. He's 20. He throws 95 mph. He also throws 52 mph. He's a little bit cocky, a little bit modest, a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, a little bit flaky, and in the last month and a half he's 6-2 with a 3.46 ERA. In fact, take the whole season minus one unfortunate outing in Baltimore, and Greinke is 8-9 with a 3.69 ERA, which would place him seventh in the AL ERA race. The Royals have found their ace.

Good thing: The Royals finally are getting young. They've talked about it for years, but kept signing Chuck Knoblauchs. Now, catcher John Buck is 24 (“He can hit 20 homers next year and he can really catch,” Baird says). Shortstop Angel Berroa is 26 (“He'll be fine, lots of players struggle in their second year. In the last couple of weeks, you've seen it: He will be a terrific player.”). Center fielder David DeJesus is 24 (“He's a good leadoff hitter and an above average center fielder. He's not Beltran, but who is? There's only one Barry Bonds and only one Carlos Beltran.”).

Closer Jeremy Affeldt is 25 and in his last six outings, he has given up two hits, no runs and struck out 10. Third base prospect Mark Teahen just turned 23 and though he might not make the team on opening day, the Royals feel sure he's close and he's a star in the making. Of course, you know Greinke's 20, Bautista's 24, Hernandez is 26, Ken Harvey's 26 — the list goes on and on.

“We've really never strayed from the plan,” Baird says. “It's taken us a while, but we've always believed the only way for the Kansas City Royals to win is to have talented pitchers and position players, and have them come up at the same time. We think we have them now.”

***

Allard Baird is pretty realistic. He knows fans are way down on the Royals. He knows nobody at the moment wants to hear that the minor-league system is stocked with talented players or that the Royals might finally be building a good young pitching staff or that he and Peña intend to turn next year's spring training into something like a football training camp, with video study and classroom work and more fundamental work than any Royals team has ever had.

He knows that right now people are just mad.

He knows many of them want him fired.

“I understand that, believe me,” he says. “And, believe it or not, I really do appreciate that kind of passion. People care. They're mad at the team. They're mad at me. They should be. Nobody wants to hear me promise that great things are coming. But I really do believe we have the makings of something good here. It's up to us to prove it.” Baird says this off-season he wants to find a corner outfielder with power; someone who can do what he had hoped Juan Gonzalez would do. He hopes to find a third baseman who can fill in until Teahen's ready. He hopes to make this team better.

“But in the end, it will come down to the young players we have,” Baird says. “They have the talent. We know that. Now, we have to help them become good ballplayers. If they do, we have a chance to be a very good baseball team.”

And if they don't? “Then I'm wrong,” he says. “And I'll take the hits for that.”

Sure-Oz
09-21-2004, 10:12 AM
Nice article!

Demonpenz
09-22-2004, 06:05 PM
God how awesome will we be next year

Crush
10-13-2004, 08:16 AM
The Royals may suck, but they'll always have a special place in my heart.

BiStateNo
10-18-2004, 11:19 PM
Hi Guys! This is my first post here for the Royals and I have a question that I would dearly love to have answered. So, here goes:

We give Carl Peterson "holy hell" for his decisions concerning the Chiefs (Of which 99% of tyhe complaints are justified, IMO), yet Allard Baird gets a pass. I don't get it. I guess what I mean is just look at the playoffs...How many of "our" guys are playing for teams that are in the post season?

It's just my opinion but I believe that until Baird is gone, we have no chance of EVER fielding a "competitive team"...and I hear every so often about "what a genius" Baird is....Hmmmm....OK....

tk13
10-19-2004, 01:48 AM
Hi Guys! This is my first post here for the Royals and I have a question that I would dearly love to have answered. So, here goes:

We give Carl Peterson "holy hell" for his decisions concerning the Chiefs (Of which 99% of tyhe complaints are justified, IMO), yet Allard Baird gets a pass. I don't get it. I guess what I mean is just look at the playoffs...How many of "our" guys are playing for teams that are in the post season?

It's just my opinion but I believe that until Baird is gone, we have no chance of EVER fielding a "competitive team"...and I hear every so often about "what a genius" Baird is....Hmmmm....OK....
Yeah, but look at how those guys played for "us"... Jeff Suppan sucked. I don't know where he got this year from, but he needs to go back and find it. He was a reliable innings eater, but nothing more. He gave up something like 130 homers in 4 years as a Royal... some absurd amount. Leskanic has a shoulder that can barely hold itself together and requires surgery, there's no reason to give him innings on a team full of young guys that need experience, especially when he's a health risk.

Beltran, well that's Beltran. It hurts to see him do what he's doing, but personally I don't think he would've re-signed with a lot of teams that don't have "New York" written on the front of the jersey. There's nothing Baird can do, Scott Boras is Scott Boras, and he's going to make sure his big guys like Beltran and Maggs Ordonez end up in a big market.

I don't think Baird gets a pass necessarily, there was a thread bitching about him just today. I'll be honest, I like the guy, I think he's finally giving this team a direction. He made some mistakes which he's owned up to early in his tenure, but now he's trying to pick up what's left of the decrepid farm system he inherited and do good things with it. The last three years he's drafted guys like Greinke, Lubanski, Mitch Maier, and this year Billy Butler, who maybe be playing better more quickly than any other first round draft pick this past year. He's surrounding this organization with smart baseball people. He brought back Guy Hansen, who has done good things with this organization and people within this organization. He hired one of the former higher up's in the Angels organization who played a huge role in turning the Angels' into an organization with an incredible amount of talent. This team has an ace pitcher to build around for the first time in what seems like eons in Zack Greinke. He was able to trade guys like Beltran and Jason Grimsley and get top notch young talent in return. John Buck looks like he could turn into a monster, Denny Bautista has a great arm. Even when things were down, Baird hasn't quit and keeps trying to improve the team. As much complaining as I hear about Carl Peterson sitting on his butt, I'd say Baird is the exact opposite, he always seems to be looking to make another move. He realizes what the faults of this team are, for instance he plans to turn next spring training into a fundamentals boot camp to correct some things he's seen in the young guys this year. I like how active he is and how he refuses to say "Oh we're small market KC, we can't compete, I'm going to sit on my butt and hope we draft well". He's on the move in constant motion trying to improve the organization because he knows that unless Glass suddenly decides he wants to lose 120 million dollars a year we're going to be at a payroll disadvantage to the top teams in the American League.

Maybe it won't work out, but I'm at least willing to give it a chance. This franchise hasn't had much direction since Mr. K passed away and I think Baird is restoring some direction in this franchise at least. Hopefully it works out and in a couple years, we can have a great core of players in guys like Buck and Berroa and DeJesus and Greinke to make a run at the playoffs.

coach_L
10-19-2004, 07:14 PM
nice reply tk.

Beltran was going to be gone after the season. He'll get 15 million/year or more. Maybe close to 20 after the postseason he's had. We atleast got some good talent for him rather than let him walk for nothing. I believe we also got Tehean in the deal too, who might turn into a good three bagger.