The 2003-2004 offseason was an important one for the Kansas City Royals. Riding high on their first winning record since 1994 and picked by many to be an ’04 favorite to win the division, they did what any self-respecting organization would have done: they went out and signed two key needs, outfielder Juan Gonzalez and catcher Benito Santiago.
Gonzalez—who’d slowly been building a reasonable Hall of Fame candidacy for years—hadn’t been healthy for the previous two seasons (a little over 150 games for Texas in 2002 and 2003 combined), but had shown enough pop in ’03 (24 HR coupled with a .294 avg.) that the Royals thought he was worth a look.
He was not.
For their $4,000,000, Kansas City got a broken-down former superstar who played in a whopping 33 games. Whether it was a lack of drugs (probably) or just plain old ineffectiveness (due to lack of drugs), he was out of baseball by the end of 2005.
The Benito Santiago Experience was almost identical to the Gonzalez fiasco, save for the fact that “Benny” had managed to average 122 games per season over the previous three years and therefore, was a little lower risk. Also a reputed performance enhancing drugster, his body broke down rapidly, however, allowing him to catch only 49 games for KC in ’04. (To be fair, he was exceptionally aged for a catcher at the time of his acquisition—39—and his hand WAS broken by a pitch in the middle of the season.) In 2005, he had 23 plate appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and after being released, vanished into the ether.
2004 ended up being a nightmare of regression, of course. The Royals ended up 58-104, and in last place of the AL Central. Passive baseball fans, invigorated by 2003’s surprise, were shocked and disappointed; hardcore baseball pundits said “I told you so,” while ignoring the fact that they’d previously predicted big things for the team that season.
In the end, 2003 would mostly be recognized for the anomaly that it was.
Last year was NOT 2003, thankfully. By all realistic indications, this team is legitimate, and legitimacy requires fostering. This TEAM requires fostering.
Emilio Bonifacio was a decent midseason pickup, but he’s probably not an everyday second baseman. David Lough was a nice surprise in the outfield, but he’s probably not the solution there, either. Ditto the sometimes-heroic contributions of Justin Maxwell. Lorenzo Cain can’t stay healthy. Resurgent starter Ervin Santana is a goner.
So there are key needs, clearly.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo could both fill outfield spots, but they figure to be too pricy. Nelson Cruz of the Rangers would be another potential candidate, but again, would come with a sizeable price-tag. (Additionally, he spent the latter half of last season on a drug suspension… given the Royals history of acquiring Texas Rangers outfielders with a history of PED use, that’s a pretty scary proposition.)
Carlos Beltran would be a nice story, but he’ll end up somewhere on a slightly obscene, regrettable deal, I’m sure.
Here’s my prediction: call me crazy, but I see the Royals taking a SERIOUS push at former Milwaukee Brewer Corey Hart. After missing the entire 2013 season with knee surgeries, he claims to be 100% and open to playing in the outfield once again. (He was primarily relegated to first base duties in 2012.) He’s only 30, and has become a consistent power threat over the past few seasons. Though he has stated in interviews that he’d “prefer to play for a contender,” (wait… the Royals ARE contenders!) he has also stated that he’s a “family man, first and foremost.” Kansas City= great place to raise a family, contenders.
Seems like a fit to me.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be such an intriguing second base solution out there, perhaps coming off of knee surgeries, perhaps willing to provide a “small-town” discount to a potential contender.
I’ve long harbored dreams of the Royals swinging a deal for Ian Kinsler, but holy shit, that ship sailed with the recent Detroit/Texas swap of Kinsler for Prince Fielder.
Therefore–and unfortunately– I think Royals fans are likely in for All-Bonifacio, All-the-time in 2014.
Finally, the Royals need to acquire one solid starter to replace the departing Ervin Santana. Rumors had swirled about Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson and Phil Hughes as potential candidates. Hudson and Johnson are off the table (Giants and Padres, respectively), but Hughes is still out there.
Personally, I just don’t see it in Hughes. He’s shown me very little in seven seasons that would indicate he’s anything better than a 4th or 5th starter. Certainly he’s no Santana.
Another name that’s popped up just within the last day or two is that of Oakland’s Brett Anderson. He’s the epitome of “high-risk, high-reward” due to his outstanding abilities but persistent injury issues. I think he’s worth a shot, but I’d certainly never advocate doing anything too over-the-top to get him. He seems like a Dayton Guy, though, so I’m calling it: the Royals will acquire Brett Anderson.
So if you’re keeping score at home, it goes:
Signing Corey Hart
Retention of Emilio Bonifacio
Acquisition of Brett Anderson
Oh, and probably Jamey Carroll. I have some terrible feeling that Jamey Carroll works into this whole equation as well.
You’re welcome, Royals fans!