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May 31, 2005

Prospectus Today

More Royal Incompetence

by Joe Sheehan

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I'm starting to think that the most important part of the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement was the MLBPA's agreement to not oppose contraction after the 2006 season.

I mean, can you think of any reason why the Kansas City Royals should continue to exist?

Today, the Royals made the latest in a series of uninspired decisions in selecting their manager, hiring Buddy Bell and giving him a contract that runs through the 2007 season. In just shy of five full seasons as the leader of the Tigers and Rockies, Bell has a career record of 345-462. His teams have one above-.500 season between them, have never finished above fourth place in their division, and in fact, have never been in contention for anything but the first pick in the subsequent year's draft. Conceding that I'm no Buddy Bell expert, I can't think of a single tactic or strategem that Bell implemented in his two stints that would make me believe he has particular skills that were hidden by the talent level of teams he ran.

Bell's primary qualification for the job appears to be that he failed before. Owner David Glass had made it clear that he wanted to bring in someone with previous managerial experience. I find this odd because it's hard to argue that Glass' previous hire suffered from a lack of same; after all, Tony Pena won the AL's Manager of the Year award and presided over the Royals' only over-.500 season since 1994 in his first year. It was after that--once he had experience--that the team faltered. Similarly, Tony Muser's and Bob Boone's reigns in K.C.'s dugout did not get better over time, as each manager gained experience. It's not clear to me why previous experience--previous failure--was such a driving force in this decision, nor why it would lead to the hiring of Bell, who might not be one of the top 15 ex-managers in the hiring pool.

That Bell failed in his two previous jobs doesn't mean he can't succeed with the Royals. Very few people had good things to say about Terry Francona's time with the Phillies. The Red Sox hired him after the '03 season, and they had a decent year last year. It's less about Bell--although I don't see much reason for optimism there--than it is about questioning the process that led to the decision. The Royals' experience is inconsistent with the idea that hiring an experienced manager is necessary for success, so how did Glass land on that particular quality as a key factor?

In recent years, we've tended to focus most of our opprobrium on the Devil Rays and Brewers, franchises that have combined extensive losing stretches with laughable decision-making. Those two teams, however, can point to a decent core of major-league and upper-minors talent, mostly acquired through the drafts, and argue that they have a future. In addition, the Brewers have a GM in place who has shown aptitude in hiring, in trading, in player development. They also have a new owner and a new ballpark, each a reason for some optimism about the future. (I would not say the same about the Devil Rays, however.)

The Royals have none of those things. The Royals have perhaps six legitimate major league players on their roster: Mike Sweeney, Zack Greinke, Tony Graffanino, Angel Berroa, Matt Stairs and David DeJesus. Everybody else on their team is either a young player who has shown himself not ready for the majors--such as Ruben Gotay, Mark Teahen, John Buck and Ambiorix Burgos--or waiver bait. There's enough waiver bait on this roster to stock a waiver bait shop on the shores of Transaction River for a good five years. (Three if Jim Bowden fishes there.) Terrence Long? Alberto Castillo? Joe McEwing? These guys are terrible, and two of them were in yesterday's starting lineup.

The Royals have failed to develop a core of talent through the draft or through trades. Baird has been the general manager here since 1998, and the good players on the roster he can claim are DeJesus, Greinke and Berroa, who combined have been worth 12.7 runs worth of VORP so far this year, or about what Travis Hafner has given the Indians. Berroa was demoted to Triple-A as recently as last August, and at various times, both DeJesus and Greinke have looked like they could use some time at Omaha.

The Royals are a bad team that has been bad for a decade and shows little sign of becoming good at any point in the future. In a year's time, Glass will no doubt be at the front of the line of people asking for more money from other owners and the players, again blaming "the system" for his franchise's failures rather than the people within it. But the fact is, the Royals have had the same chance that the Twins and the A's and the Indians have had, and they have failed to capitalize upon it. Until the management of this franchise shows some level of competence in its decision-making, not only should it not be held up as an example of "the system's" inequities, but it should be cited as the reason for not allowing more extensive revenue sharing: why continue to support this kind of failure on such a grand scale? Why subsidize incompetence?

Buddy Bell's contract runs through 2007. I'm certain he won't be the Royals' manager when it expires, but I'm just not sure if it will be because he's been fired, or because the entire organization has ceased to exist. Contraction may just be a mercy killing.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Managers Of The Year,  David Bell

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