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May 14, 2010

On the Beat

Still A Believer

by John Perrotto

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The Royals are seemingly continuing on the road to nowhere. They are 12-23, on pace to finish under .500 for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons, and now have a new manager. To the surprise of no one, the Royals fired Trey Hillman on Thursday after beating the Indians to end a seven-game losing streak. Former Brewers manager Ned Yost, a special adviser to Royals general manger Dayton Moore, will be running the team for the remainder of the season.

And so the beat goes on for the Royals. From the outside, they look no closer to being competitive than when Hillman was hired prior to the 2008 season. The Royals went 152-207 under Hillman, a winning percentage of .423. Yet on the day he was fired, Hillman was most bullish on the Royals' future. He claimed the Royals have the people in place in the front office and scouting department to build a strong organization. In fact, he couldn't have more gracious as he headed for the door.

"The talent evaluators I've been around the last two years and seven months are some of the best talent evaluators I have ever worked with," Hillman said. "To grasp that, you've got to look where I've been and who I've worked for."

What stands out most on Hillman's resume beyond spending five seasons managing in Japan is that he was a minor-league manager for 12 seasons in the Yankees' organization. In other words, Hillman believes the Royals have better scouts than the Yankees.

"What shocked me is that those (scouts) and our general manager have never quit, have never taken a day off," Hillman said. "I'd get two or three calls during the offseason from Dayton Moore to talk about one little piece ot one little thing that might make this organization better. The baseball operations department and the leadership of that department by Dayton are second to none. The scouting has been improved. I've had the opportunity more than I ever could have imagined to talk with our scouts, both those who scout (amateurs) and the professional scouts. It's the best group I've been around and it's not even a competition.

"I would hope that the media and the people in Kansas City would appreciate that fact and hope that they click on to some things the way some other clubs who have been in our situations have clicked in recent years. Hopefully, the cavalry is coming sooner rather than later for Royals' fans."

If that cavalry ever does come charging into Kauffman Stadium, it won't be Hillman who reaps the rewards. While Hillman's record was less than inspiring, it was clearly difficult for Moore to box him. Moore choked up and paused for nearly 30 seconds to regain his composure as he talked about Hillman during the news conference that announced the firing.

"The process is very difficult," Moore said. "Relationships are formed that are very, very strong when you're all trying to accomplish the same thing. At the end of the day, though, you've got to make a decision that's best for our baseball team in the long term and the conclusion we came to is that we needed a change."

Now the Royals will look to Yost to lead them out of the perpetual wildness of losing baseball. Yost managed the Brewers from 2003 to being surprising fired with two weeks to go in 2008 despite his team being in contention for a playoff spot and eventually winning the National League wild card under interim manager Dale Sveum. The Brewers had 12 straight losing seasons until going 81-81 in 2005 under Yost, who had an overall record of 457-502.

"Ned's been through what we're going through," Moore said. "There are a lot of similarities between Ned and Trey. Ned knows our system, is familiar with it after working with us to this point. He has a great level of energy, intelligence and the ability to lead. His voice will be a different voice than Trey's, and sometimes you reach the point where you need a new voice delivering the message."

---

The Cubs have already made some significant changes in their attempt to escape their early-season doldrums. They took Opening Day starter Carlos Zambrano out of the rotation and made him the primary set-up man for closer Carlos Marmol. Then they called up top shortstop prospect Starlin Castro from Double-A Tennessee and shifted incumbent shortstop Ryan Theriot to second base. The Cubs, though, are still just 15-20. However, GM Jim Hendry says he doesn't plan any other major changes such as firing Lou Piniella or making a big trade.

While the Cubs are 11th in the NL in runs allowed with an average of 4.9 a game, the offense has been the concern of many in Chicago in recent weeks. The Cubs are averaging 4.6 a game, which ranks seventh in the league.

"I would stand by this: We have a real good group of position players," Hendry said. "We felt great about it coming out of camp. We've got good players that don't get in the lineup every day that have been good players for a long time, solid players. There really isn't anywhere to look. I would think that our position players are not a weakness at all. We're just in one of these funks where we can't get over the hump and get the runs in, but it's not out of lack of talent and not out of lack of these guys working. We certainly don't have any desire or notion to start pointing fingers or hanging our heads or throwing in the towel like we're not going to be able to get out of it."

The Cubs are getting very little from two of their big hitters. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez is hitting .159/.227/.264 with a .169 TAv and first baseman Derrek Lee has a .229/.338/.351 line and a .248 TAv.

 "Unfortunately, Aramis and Derrek are off to tough starts," Hendry said. "You'd like to think they're going to get back to their old selves. Hopefully, that one or two good games will get them going."

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Brewers GM Doug Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash and manager Ken Macha met this week and the discussion centered on the bullpen. The Brewers relievers have been overworked and are underperforming.

"Tight games have turned into routs too many times," Macha said.

The Brewers have plenty of options at Triple-A Nashville who could help in left-hander Zach Braddock and right-handers John Axford, Tim Dillard, and Chris Smith. Melvin said scouts have told him Nashville has the best bullpen of any Triple-A club this season. However, the Brewers' problem is that they are limited in the moves they can make in the bullpen because left-hander Mitch Stetter and right-hander Carlos Villanueva are the only relievers who still have minor-league options remaining.

Right-hander David Riske could rejoin the Brewers' bullpen next month. After pitching only one inning last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery, Riske began a rehabilitation assignment with High-A Brevard County earlier this week.

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Rangers infielder Joaquin Arias has been playing first base on his injury rehabilitation assignment at Double-A Frisco, which will likely lead to the release of first baseman Ryan Garko. … Mariners left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith is close to losing his spot in the starting rotation to right-hander Ian Snell, who was sent to the bullpen when Cliff Lee came off the DL. … Mariners outfielder Milton Bradley is expected to remain on the restricted list for at least one more week. … Though the Padres aren't saying so publicly, Yorvit Torrealba has supplanted Nick Hundley as their starting catcher. … Right-hander David Hernandez is living on borrowed time in the Orioles' rotation with Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman waiting at Triple-A Norfolk. … Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon has spoken to New York Islanders owner Charles Wong about the possibility of buying the NHL club and building a new arena for it near Citi Field in Queens.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Dayton Moore,  Trey Hillman

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