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June 14, 2012
On the Beat
Trusting The Process
When Dayton Moore was hired as general manager by the Royals in June 2006, he talked about how it would be a process to turn around a franchise that hadn't been to the postseason since 1985. Moore used the word so much over time that the business of restoring the Royals to respectability became known as “The Process” by their fans.
Moore celebrated his sixth anniversary in the GM chair last week, yet The Process continues in earnest. In fact, The Process is starting to become long and tedious, as the Royals are 26-34 this season and seven games behind the first-place White Sox in an American League Central that looks up for grabs thanks to the heavily-favored Tigers being duds.
The Royals were the darlings of spring training last year when numerous national media outlets stopped by Surprise, Arizona, to report on the organization's endless supply of prospects. However, the Royals are no longer such a trendy team, as they look headed to their ninth consecutive losing season and 17th sub-.500 finish in the last 18 years.
Yet it is not a good idea to suggest to Ned Yost that The Process isn't working out quite as well as planned. In his second full season as the Royals' manager after replacing Trey Hillman in May 2010, Yost believes the organization is right on course.
"Look, I know our fans want us to win now, wanted to win yesterday, and I wish we would be able to do that for them because we want to win now, too," Yost said. "We're as tired of losing as anybody, but the one thing I know is you can't cut corners when you're building a winning organization. You have to let the young players experience the ups and downs of the game for themselves and allow them to benefit from the experience. I know it is going to pay off in the long term because I've seen it happen, and we've got the type of talent that can win."
Yost got his first managerial gig with the Brewers prior to the 2003 season after they had gone 56-106 the year before. At the time, Milwaukee had suffered through 10 straight losing seasons. The Brewers would have three more losing years and one .500 season before breaking through with an 83-79 mark in 2007. The following season, the Brewers won the National League wild card and made their first playoff appearance in 26 years, though Yost was fired with two weeks left in the season in a panic move by owner Mark Attanasio.
Using the same timetable with 2007—Moore's first full season—as a starting point, the Royals' breakthrough year should have been 2011. Instead, the Royals went 71-91 last year, and a 12-game losing streak in April doomed them to a 3-14 start this season. The Royals, though, have gone 23-20 since their skid.
"We got in a real rut there early in the season, and our guys probably lost a little bit of confidence,” Yost said, “but we've definitely played better, and we're capable of playing even better than we have been.”
Injuries have also been a problem. Closer Joakim Soria blew out his elbow in spring training and underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career. Left-handed starter Danny Duffy also had Tommy John surgery in May, just when he was showing significant progress in his second major-league season. Catcher Salvy Perez—"one of the best young catchers I've ever seen," according to Yost—is working his way back from March knee surgery and could be in the Royals' lineup sometime this weekend.
The Royals' run prevention has been in the middle of the pack, ranking 17th in the major leagues at 4.32 runs a game. However, the offense has generated just 3.83 runs a game to stand a disappointing 25th among the 30 clubs. Left fielder Alex Gordon (.260 TAv) and first baseman Eric Hosmer (.237) have been among the biggest disappointments.
"Growing pains," Hosmer said when asked why his TAv has dropped 45 points from the .282 he posted last season as a rookie. "We still have a pretty young team. We have a lot of guys who are still adjusting to the major leagues, or in my case, in a situation where the pitchers have made adjustments against me and now it's my turn to figure out how to adjust back."
Hosmer, though, is optimistic he and the rest of the Royals' nucleus will figure it out. He still believes in The Process.
"If you look at the talent in our clubhouse, you can see the pieces are here, and we've got a lot of good players coming up behind us in the farm system," Hosmer said. "The losing streak was tough, but we were able to survive it. We haven't put it all together yet, but the day will come when we will. We all believe we're building toward something very special here, even if we have some struggles now."
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis: "He's the next Dustin Pedroia or Chase Utley; he's that good. He has a nice, compact swing and sprays the ball all over the field, but he also knows how to turn on a pitch and hit out of the park. He's getting better defensively all the time, and he's a good baserunner. In a couple of years, we will likely being calling him the premier second baseman in the game."
Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum: "He doesn't look like he is hurt, but he does look like he is very uncomfortable on the mound. He is really out of sync, especially when he has to pitch out of the stretch. His mechanics are different than anyone else, so (Giants pitching coach) Dave Righetti really can't help him. He is going to have to figure it out on his own, and really all the Giants can do is just be patient."
Mariners designated hitter/catcher Jesus Montero: "I might be in the minority, but I think he's going to cut it as an everyday catcher in the big leagues defensively. He still needs work on the mechanical aspects of catching, but what I like about him is the way he calls a game and handles pitchers for a young guy. The mental part is there, and that's more than half the battle."
Rays left-hander Matt Moore: "It's looked to me all year that he's been trying too hard to live up to the hype of being considered the best pitching prospect in baseball. His stuff is plenty good enough to get major leaguers out. He showed that last year in the postseason when he did a number on the Rangers. He just needs to take a deep breath, step back, and relax a little bit."
Padres right fielder Carlos Quentin: "He's always been a good hitter. He'll work the count, he can hit the breaking ball, and pitchers have got to make good pitches to get him out. What's impressive for me is that he never had to be the main guy with the White Sox, but now he is pretty much the only guy in that lineup and he's doing well. He's a free agent at the end of the season, and he's ringing the cash register."
A few minutes with Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen
On signing a six-year, $51.5 million contract in March that essentially assures he will be the face of the franchise well into the decade: "I'm fine with that. I don't look at that as any kind of a burden. I look at it as a compliment. This is a franchise on the rise. We're getting better at the major-league level, and the farm system is improved. We have a chance to get good and stay good for a long time, and I definitely want to be a part of that. I'm just happy to be a part of it, and I'm glad the Pirates want me to stay for so long. Signing a six-year contract is kind of like when you're married and you renew your vows."
On how he doesn't believe the money will change him: "The money is nice, and I appreciate being in the position that I'm in. I'm the still the same person I was before the contract, though. I still want to be the best player I can be. I'm going to work as hard as I've always worked to try to help the Pirates win a championship. Having money is great, but it's never going to replace personal pride. I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I have a great love for the game of baseball. No amount of money can ever change that."
On if the Pirates can be contenders in September: "I think we can. Why not? We've got the pitching and the defense, and that always gives you a chance to win ballgames. We need to start hitting more to help out the pitching staff, and I believe we will. We contended until the end of July and then we fell apart last season, but we're a deeper and more experienced team this year. We're ready to take it all the way to the end."
On what a winning season would mean to a franchise that has finished below .500 for 19 straight years: "We'd love to have a winning season, but we want more than that. What we want to do is win a World Series. Our fans are great, and they've put up with a lot of losing for a long time. We'd love to win for them. There is no reason why we can't win. The other two pro teams in Pittsburgh win. The Steelers are one of the best teams in the NFL. The Penguins are one of the best teams in the NHL. We want to start being part of that action."
In this week's Must Read, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo looks at the 10 best managing jobs in the major leagues so far this season.