Its been since 1994 since the Royals have had a whiff of a divisional banner (damn the strike) and 1985 since we've been in the post season. With the exception to a great start in the 2003 season, Royals fans have had nothing to hang their hat on except for the eternal hope of "I hope they're better next year". I both pity and admire any die hard Royals fan under the age of 30 who have grown up being greatful that we have a major league team in our city but have had to root for a team who's never taken seriously by the outside world and considered only useful as occasionally developing an all-star player that another club can later take in a trade or free agency away from our success-starved franchise. From the death of Ewing Kaufman until the hiring of Dayton Moore, the Royals were probably the most mismanaged and neglected franchise in baseball. The primary reason the Royals were a top notch franchise from the mid 70s through the 80s is because Ewing Kaufman was the best owner in baseball. He hired a great GM in John Schuerholz and the two greatest managers in team history, Whitey Herzog and Dick Howser. He spent money beyond what the organization was generating to keep greats like George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dan Quisenberry, Hal McRae and Frank White on the team for a long period of time. We stood toe to toe with the Yankees as the best team in the American League for an entire decade. Little did I know that 20 years later the best thing you'ld hear said about our organization is "You have a nice little team of youngsters there". The only people in the baseball world that expect the Royals to finish above 4th place in the AL Central this year are.....Royals fans! Still, the majority of Royals fans on this board are only expecting us to finish in third place and finishing with a record a couple of games over .500.
This is the time to expect and demand excellence from the Royals! I think we have a good enough collection of talent right now to win a mediocre AL Central if managed correctly. The only team in the AL Central who I think has a better team right now is the Chicago White Sox. I think they're the only team that has a better rotation 1-5 than we have. They also have the best 3-6 hitters in the division although I think our entire line-up stacks up favorably 1-9 to any team in the Central. IF UTILIZED CORRECTLY, I think we have the finest bullpen in the division as well. About a month ago, I was considering the Twins as the team to beat in the Central, but they're not going to have a healthy or productive Joe Mauer for the month of April. Since his ailment is his back, he could be an injury waiting to happen all year long...especially if they rush him back. The Twins are a solid club, but they're not winning this division without a productive Joe Mauer. The Indians have Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona at the top of their rotation but the rest of their rotation are injury risks or pitchers that won't grace many fantasy league teams. Their closer is Kerry Wood who is on speed dial to the DL every year. The Tigers will probably be a wire to wire last place team. Verlander has become a starting pitcher's version of Kyle Farnsworth...someone that can throw heat but can no longer locate.
So, KidDude, how can the Royals actually win the division this year? First off, Dayton Moore needs to believe it, Trey Hillman needs to believe it and they need to tell the players frequently that they're capable of doing it. You can't accomplish a mission if you don't make it your goal. The expectation and belief has to be there. Like Yogi Berra once said, "90% of the game is half mental". Yeah, I know, thats corny as hell, but Yogi has more world championship rings than any other living man in baseball. I'd suggest that the Royals put a "C" on Coco Crisp's jersey. Why make Coco a captain you ask? He's got 2 world series rings, that's why. He's our only guy who's been there and done that. The next order of business is to correctly align the bullpen. This means, make Juan Cruz the set-up man. I don't care how much we paid Kyle Farnsworth...he pitches like a mop up guy and a situational righty so just make him that...overpaid as he may be. Next, get Luke Hochevar back up here at 12:01AM on May 5 to take over the #4 spot in the rotation. If both Ponson and Horacio Ramirez stink up the joint in April, get Carlos Rosa, Daniel Cortez or whoever is the hot hand in Omaha up here immediately. We have to treat every game as important as this is a winable division.
Lastly, I feel that its time to put Trey Hillman on a short leash. He's no longer a rookie manager and the honeymoon is over. His annointment of Kyle Farnsworth as the set-up man is just plain incompetent. If Teahen starts struggling in the #3 hole in the line-up, he'ld better not hesitate removing him and replacing him with a hot hitter. If Teahen starts costing us games at second base due to this high risk experiment, replace him with Callaspo or Bloomquist and utilize him as a super sub as Teahen is a good defensive corner infielder and corner outfielder. Just like we expect excellence from our players, its just as important to get excellence from our manager. I used to be of the opinion that 2010 was the year to make our move, but I think we have the players to push the White Sox to the brink this year, but we're going to need leadership decisions (by both Dayton and Trey) to make that happen.
I'm not saying that we're the 2009 version of the Tampa Bay Rays...in fact, they're a much better team. They made much better decisions in the draft over the last decade and made better trades...in fact they got the better of us in the JP Howell/Joey Gathright trade. But the Rays had a much better division to overcome than we do. The 2006 Cardinals proved that you don't have to have the best team in baseball to win the World Series, you just have to be good enough to make the playoffs and be the best team in October. Our division is perhaps the weakest in baseball right now and we CAN win it. After that a hot Royals team could win a 5 game series and two 7 game series. We don't have a player on the level of Albert Pujols, but we have solid group of players. If our manager can make that a solid team that can play its best baseball in October......