Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Credibility Moments

The Royals are steaming towards two important decisions for the franchise: the choice of their next manager and their selection with the #2 pick in the upcoming amateur draft. Now, I don't want to place TOO much stock in either of these decisions. I don't think a baseball manager is nearly as important as, say, a head football coach, and every baseball draftee is full of risk, regardless of how highly touted they are. Still, both decisions share something in common: the willingness of the Royals to make significant investments in places where they can afford to do so. The Royals might not be able to be serious players on the major league free agent market, but managerial hirings and top amateur draft picks are two areas where even a franchise like the Royals should be expected to act like big boys. Will they?

The Next Manager. I think there's little question that the Royals need to hire an experienced manager who has demonstrated competence at the major league level. The Royals have hired 5 consecutive managers without prior major league experience, all without success (on less-than-talented teams), so its high time the Royals stopped being a proving ground for managerial neophytes. The fan base (or at least this fan) cannot tolerate suffering through another Bob Boone, Tony Muser or Tony Pena.

I don't think the Royals will fail us on this measure; the team appears to be firmly committed to hiring an experienced manager. Plus, there is no shortage of candidates who would be happy to become the next skipper of the Royals. There are only 30 major league managerial positions, so each one of them is highly coveted, even if it is with the Royals. I have to wonder, though, if the Royals' prior decisions to hire rookie managers had as much to do with economics as anything else. I'm not sure if the market for managers is affected by signability, but it at least stands to reason that experienced managers would demand more money than inexperienced managers. It might be a non-issue, but given how miserly the Royals have been in other areas I question whether they'd be willing to pay top dollar for the best available managerial candidate. As a matter of credibility, its important that they land the guy they really want and not settle for a second choice simply because he's cheaper.

The Draft. This is the most important draft pick the Royals have had in ages, and perhaps in their entire history. I don't think its important in the sense that the team is in a position to draft their next superstar. I think its plain that there are no Lebron James' in the baseball draft. Even the best prospects have a less than 50/50 chance of achieving sustained success in the major leagues, and its foolish to expect otherwise. Daric Ladiner is hit-or-miss, but let's give the Royals their due - they picked up a player many thought was a reach and signability pick last year in Billy Butler, and he's emerging very quickly as a monster hitting prospect and one of the best picks of the 2004 draft (for now). So its CONCEIVABLE that the Royals could identify some other player who is a better draftee than Alex Gordon. We at least have to acknowledge that possibility.

That being said, the Royals must draft Alex Gordon (or Justin Upton), if for no other reason than to demonstrate to their fans (at least those who pay attention to things like baseball drafts) that they are willing to fully commit their resources where they are in a position to do so. I don't think any serious analysts of this team expects them to raise payroll to $80 million anytime soon, but we damn well expect the Royals to hand out $3.5 million to the consensus best player in the draft, especially after dropping payroll by several million from the 2004. If Gordon fails as a prospect and the Royals waste $3.5 million, so be it. I don't like systems that reward players for potential rather than performance any more than the Royals do. But that's irrelevant; the structure is what it is, and the Royals must make that commitment if they hope to retain any shred of credibility in the eyes of the last bastions of diehards.

Then they'll get to test their mettle all over again next year, when they'll most likely have the #1 overall pick.


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