by Twins Geek
The following is also included in this week's Dugout Splinters, which is inserted in GameDay, the independent program sold outside of the Metrodome prior to Twins games.
In retrospect, the success of 2003 might have not been such a good thing for the Royals. Before 2003, they had already jettisoned most of their future when they traded away Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye, and it was assumed they would do the same with Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney. General Manager Allard Baird, who had overseen years of failure, was likely on his way out the door. It was just a matter of time before the Royals scrapped pretense and really started rebuilding.
Their fast start in 2003 changed everything. Their young pitching, considered by most to be a couple of years away from maturity, fueled that start. It saved Baird’s job, vested Sweeney’ contract, persuaded them to hold onto Beltran an extra year and gave hope to a fan base where there really wasn’t any. The next offseason was spent signing older veteran bats to support a young pitching staff that had already seen its best days. It also began a downhill slide that looks like it will be extended to its third year in 2006.
The biggest question for any rational outsider is how Allard Baird is still the GM of this team. He’s finishing his sixth year on the job, and they’ve averaged just 66 wins per year, even including the fluky 83 wins in 2003. His organization has been blessed with high draft picks and has traded away superstar players like Damon, Dye, and Beltran for prospects. Yet their minor league system is ranked 23rd overall by Baseball America and hasn’t been ranked above 19th over the last five years. I take that initial sentence back. The biggest question isn’t “How does he still have this job?” The question is “How can I convince him to join my fantasy league?”
Baird has his strengths – or rather strength – and it’s on display in this year’s Royals team. Baird has an exceptional knack for finding underachieving veteran hitters who still have some gas left in their tank. Nobody is lucky enough to grab Emil Brown, Matt Stairs, and Raul Ibanez (now a Mariner) and have them turn into productive offensive players. He found some other candidates this offseason with Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz and possibly Reggie Sanders. That’s a skill that would be invaluable to a contending organization with a solid core of young talent.
That organization is not the Royals, nor has it been for six years. Nor will it be as long as Baird is GM.