As happens every spring, hope is in the air. It is the one time of the year that every team in the major leagues still has a chance. There have been no cold starts, no slumps, and no blown leads. Fans of every team in the majors can still dream that this will be their team’s year. That hope is higher than usual for the Kansas City Royals, which have a well documented and long lamented history of the past twenty-five years is filled with futility and frustration. As always, fans wonder if this is the year the Royals can turn the franchise around.
It was nice to see the players eager to get started. Almost all of the players on the spring training roster reported to Surprise, Arizona early. Salvador Perez has already received throws from most of of his starters. Guys are throwing, taking light batting practice, and working on conditioning. The players are filled with hope and anticipation for the upcoming season just like the fans.
There are certainly reasons to hope that 2013 can be the year the Kansas City Royals turn their franchise around. The Royals’ much maligned rotation has been completely revamped with four pitchers who were in other uniforms a year ago. The cost was high to add Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, James Shields, and Wade Davis, in both cash and prospects, and each comes with his own set of concerns and uncertainty, just as each offers a tantalizing amount of potential. The Royals are counting on these four guys to produce positive results and to be the keys to success this season.
It is also being anticipated that the young, exciting offense will make improvements over the generally disappointing 2012 campaign. Young players such as Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer must take big steps forward in their development and production. Guys like Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez need to stay healthy and contribute in a big way. Veterans like Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and Alcides Escobar have to show consistency and at least maintain last season’s performances. Other players, such as Jeff Francoeur, Chris Getz, and Johnny Giavotella need to step up and prove they are deserving of playing time. The bullpen has to be as brilliant as it was in 2012. That is a lot to ask of one team in one season. It is not too much to ask of players who want to improve, develop, and produce enough to challenge for a division and a league title. It is necessary.
There is always some argument as to what constitutes improvement and success. As fans, should we be happy with a winning record? Should we consider anything less than a playoff spot a failure? There are a lot of stat guys and bloggers on the internet who will say that because of what the Royals are paying these new starting pitchers and what prospects were given up, anything short of a playoff spot is a flat out failure. Well, I’m here to tell you that is just not true. As a die hard Royals fan, I want to see good, competitive baseball. I want to see the Royals win more games than they lose. I want to see the Royals play meaningful games in August and September, and not just as spoilers. I want the Royals to be a team no one wants to face down the stretch. I want to see improvement and positive development. If these things happen, I will be a much happier fan. It will have been a good season. If the Royals win 84 games but fall short of a playoff spot, I will be disappointed but I will be thrilled at the marked improvement over 72 wins in 2012 and the endless number of meaningless games the Royals have participated in over the past twenty years. It is all relative. If the Yankees only win 84 games, with their history over the past 20 years, and the money they spend, it is the end of the world. If the Royals win 84 games, given their history over the last score of years, it will indicate improvement and a step in the right direction, with plenty of room for additional improvement in future seasons.
Fans can hope that everything can be turned around in one year, and while it is possible, it is unlikely. Some people will say this is a defeatist, or a loser, attitude. It is neither; it is a realistic point of view. People will say that giving up Wil Myers, and others, for James Shields and Wade Davis was too much to give up for not enough improvement. I know dozens of these people, many are close friends, but I just don’t agree. The Royals cannot continue to just get by with win totals in the sixties and seventies anymore. At some point, Kansas City had to make some positive moves toward fielding a winning ball club. How many fans are tired of just waiting for the next two years to get here? Those years never arrive. I have been waiting for two decades. I am tired of it. I want to see meaningful baseball again. If cost the Glass family some cash, so be it. If it cost the Royals some prime prospects, deal with it. It would be incredible if the Royals win enough to garner a playoff spot in 2013 but if the Royals are relevant in September and finish with a winning record, I will be happy. And I will expect even more next spring.
In this age, a lot of us get lost in all the data that is available. We get bogged down in statistical analysis and algebraic formulas that tell us things like how many wins a player is worth over an average, replacement level player. Stats and analysis are great; I love them myself. Most of us get what they are telling us. Sometimes though, I miss the ignorance. Sometimes, I miss the days where we just pulled for the players on the field and didn’t worry about their batting average on balls in play or their home run to fly ball ratio. That is kind of how I feel about this team. I know all the numbers. I know the positives and negatives for all the players. For the first time in several years, I just want to sit back and watch this team. I want to will them to win. As a Royals fan, I am desperate for the off season moves of the general manager to be the right ones for a change. I want to have fun again as a fan. Luckily, this spring, as every one before, there is that glimmer of hope.