For the uninitiated—and trying to keep this as brief as possible—NMH was a band founded by probably-sometimes-crazy front man Jeff Mangum in Athens, Georgia in the late 80s. Wikipedia describes their music as “experimental sound, obscure lyrics and eclectic instrumentation,” and I think that’s mostly pretty fair.
They released two albums—On Avery Island and the highly influential, critically acclaimed follow-up In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (which was a “concept” album about falling in love with Anne Frank, of course). Then Mangum cracked and the band disbanded. He spent the proceeding years as a recluse, living on friends’ couches and making music for nobody but himself before slowly reemerging within the past two years. And then they decided to tour, and man was it worth the 15-year wait.
But I digress.
This circuitous tale really only serves to get me to the following point: that the songs they played live on Thursday sounded almost identical to the recorded versions. Sometimes bands do that. (And trust me, this’ll be about the Royals in a second.)
When I was younger, and first going to see live music events, I was always a little miffed when this happened; I HAD the record, after all. Why would I want to see the exact same music played the exact same way, only surrounded by a bunch of sweaty burn-outs in a stuffy auditorium while plunking down $12 for a beer?
What I failed to realize is that, sometimes, the work is already a masterpiece. It’s meant to be heard one way, and one way only. (That’s not to say we’re not allowed to interpret the work in any number of ways—we’re human beings, of course.) So, while some bands will noodle and jam incessantly, others choose to present their music in the only way they ever intended.
It’s pretty goddamned perfect, so why tinker?
Well, Dayton Moore clearly feels that he’s the Neutral Milk Hotel of the baseball world. Riding high off of the first winning season in a decade, he chose not to noodle or jam, but to present his masterpiece almost as it was the last go round. Because, according to Moore, finishing with a winning record was like winning the World Series. Because you can’t improve on a squad that hung around until (almost) the bitter end. Because, how do you improve upon perfection?
The fallacy in ALL of this, however, is that “finishing with a winning record” is not even remotely close to winning a World Series, and, despite a fun, exciting young team, there was PLENTY of room for improvement heading into 2014.
Moore made a couple of moves that I liked—the acquisitions of outfielder Norichika Aoki and second baseman Omar Infante were pretty outstanding and good, respectively—but it was the moves that he failed to make that left me quite discouraged.
Rebound-starter Ervin Santana is gone, and instead of finding a legitimate number two pitcher, he signed Jason Vargas. He let solid utility option Emilio Bonifacio walk. He let solid backup catcher George Kottaras do the same. (Both will be with the Cubs next season, under GM-Who-Tends-to-Know-What-He’s-Doing Theo Epstein.)
Oh, but they did re-sign Bruce Chen. And while I love Bruce Chen the dude—and think that he can be a decent long-reliever and/or spot starter—signing him again seems to be yet another illustration of organizational futility.
Finally, as if these issues I’ve shared aren’t enough (and you believe what Ned Yost and Moore have said), Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis will both be given chances to win starting jobs in Spring Training.
(This last part makes me want to vomit in anger.)
So here we are, with pitchers and catchers now long-tossing under the gorgeous Arizona sun, and I’m puking like a junkie going through detox. It feels shitty, but not unfamiliar.
Look, it’s too early to make any predictions. I realize there’s a very miniscule chance that they’re dumb enough to give Hochevar and/or Davis starting spots. I understand that Chen isn’t being asked to be the number four starter. I know that Santana wasn’t Cy Young last year. (But goddamn it felt absolutely BIZARRE to know that you could count on two—yes TWO—starters giving you an ACTUAL shot to win anytime he or James Shields took the mound. That was a foreign feeling, and I loved it.)
In order for the Royals to repeat last year’s level of success, a lot is going to have to go right. Shields has to be magnificent. There can be no regression from Jeremy Guthrie. Vargas is going to have the best season of his career. The bullpen is going to have to maintain last year’s level of brilliancy (which, in reality is almost impossible). Aoki and Infante have to be solid, steady and injury free.
That’s if they simply want to break even.
If they expect to contend for a playoff spot, though, it’s going to take even more. Mike Moustakas has to have a breakout season—he can’t just not suck. Eric Hosmer is going to have to be more consistent. Billy Butler has to hit for the kind of power he did in 2012. Lorenzo Cain has to play a full season without tearing a muscle. (This team is MARKEDLY better with Cain in centerfield, whether you’ve realized it or not.) Danny Duffy is going to have to stay healthy, too, and when he is, he’s going to need to be much more pitch efficient.
It would also be really fucking spectacular if fireballing-phenom Yordano Ventura can not only crack the rotation coming out of Surprise, but consistently exhibit the dominance we got to see in parts of last season.
There are a lot of “ifs” and “buts” in there, and I’m sorry. It’s just as painful for me to write them as it is for you to read them.
So I’ll end this on a positive note: Spring Training baseball is underway, which means it’ll be Spring in KC soon, which means all of this lingering snow can go fuck itself. As the great Jeff Mangum says, “But for now we are young/ Let us lay in the sun/ And count every beautiful thing we can see.”
It’s a beautiful time of year, no matter how hard the Royals try to fuck it up.