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Voices from the Basement: The Summer of Allard

Daniel: While I love Aaron Guiel, I must admit he was a trap player. With the Royals contending in 2003 and Guiel being a large part of that with surprisingly productive numbers, he loomed large in 2004, as the Royals’ postseason hopes were high over the winter. But with the Royals crashing and burning this year, I'm glad Aaron wasn't part of it. The reason? Guiel's 2003 season reminded me of a player who came out of nowhere and had a monster season for the San Francisco Giants in 1999: Marvin Bernard. They're similar players -- decent speed, decent arm, hustles, won't hit for high average, some power, and a similar love for high fastballs that they can't hit. They also had their breakout years when they were around 30. Brian Sabean took the bait and signed Bernard to a long-term contract.

Guiel could have been in a similar situation this year. Had he not had his eye problems in 2004, I could see Guiel putting up similar numbers to last year, only with 150 more at-bats. That would’ve likely put him over 20 home runs, and Allard Baird may have been fooled into thinking he didn't have to pursue new, young outfield talent as he did.

Would Baird have followed the same path in acquiring players like Ruben Mateo and Abraham Nunez had Guiel and Juan Gonzalez not been hurt as much as they have this year? We'll never know, of course, but I'd like to think that Baird would have tried to acquire some younger outfielders to roll the dice on for the next year or two anyway. Of course, if the Royals had Guiel and Gonzalez healthy and a .500 record, I think it would have meant this year's disaster would have happened in 2005.

Kevin: You know, I didn’t think things could get any worse after the Royals started the season 8-20. And the thought of that scared the daylights out of me. The talent on the field was far too good to continue to play .300 baseball, and I thought they'd improve drastically. Improve to a 75-80 win pace, where the Royals brass could never be sure if the team was in it or out of it, given the current state of the AL Central.

But as we know now, the Royals' downward spiral never reversed, and the franchise is the better for it. The tank job led by Juan Gonzalez and Co. allowed the Royals to do the right things, make moves they wouldn't have made if the team had hung in there. Things like trading Carlos Beltran for three B prospects, flipping Rudy Seanez for Abe Nunez, and giving Aaron Guiel's at-bats to younger players with more of an upside.

That's not to say Guiel isn't a good player. He's one of the few players on the 25-man roster who're willing to take a walk, but Allard knew that a team helplessly mired in last place in baseball's worst division had no business allowing a 32-year-old journeyman to play over younger guys who may have a future with the club. I'm not sure AB could've seen that if the Royals were hanging on by a thread all year.

Daniel: The winning of 70+ games could only delay the eventual collapse. The Royals’ minor league system is only now getting back up to speed, and the signing of veteran free agents in the hopes to get just 5 to 10 games better only stunted the growth of the franchise. Organizations like Oakland and Minnesota understand the need to have a revolving door of prospects. Organizations like the Royals, who seemed to move from one crop of young players to the next with several years in between, don’t. I think there was a collective sigh of resignation after the last batch. Mark Quinn, Carlos Febles, Jose Rosado and Dan Reichert was the end of the interesting players the Royals had to offer in the late 90's, and there really hasn't been anything to look at since. In a perfect world, we wouldn't be looking at Zack Greinke, Jimmy Gobble, Ruben Gotay, David DeJesus, and Andres Blanco until at least 2005, if not 2006 for a couple of them.

That's about 5 years between notable prospects in the organization, and that's too long unless your team happens to be the New York Yankees. The Royals can't afford to gamble in the FA market to fill the holes in their ballclub. The majority of talent on the team must be homegrown.

I believe, however, that Baird has turned a corner with this season, and that the future of the ballclub is even brighter than it was after 1999. This past year shows the flaw in the Royals approach: You don't sign a bunch of veteran free agents to make a run at the postseason; you only do those types of things for a run at the World Series.

Kevin: Your point that the Royals, as a small-market team, have to field the majority of their talent through the farm system is noted, but that corner Allard Baird turned didn't come in 2004. I think it came in 2003 when the club went 83-79.

Granted, the Royals weren't actually an 83-win ballclub in 03. As you're probably aware, they were a 77-win ballclub according to their runs scored/runs allowed figures. However, Joe Fan doesn't know or care about Pythagorean won/loss records. No matter which way you slice it, the 2003 team won 83 games and spent more days in first place than Minnesota did. So what was Allard supposed to do? He had two choices:

1) Sign veteran players to short-term contracts in hopes of winning the division
2) Continue with the youth movement, and tell Royals fans that the 2003 club was nothing more than an aberration

Unfortunately, the Royals have to deal with public relations too, and not making an obvious effort to improve the team's talent would've been PR suicide if you ask me. In hindsight, #2 was the correct choice; Allard went with #1, and the team is going to lose more games anyway. But when Opening Day 2004 came, there was no disputing that the Royals were a more talented club than they were in 2003. A run at the postseason is a run at the World Series. Had the Royals gotten in, their chances of winning the whole thing would've been slightly less than those of the Yankees. Besides, which young player was Juan Gonzalez blocking? Scott Sullivan? Matt Stairs? Tony Graffanino?

Daniel: I don't feel that Baird failed to make Grimsley/Bautista type moves over the winter because of PR pressure, and I feel the same for his moves to acquire Mateo and Nunez. These kinds of moves could have been made before the collapse of 2004 happened. Who would have missed Grimsley after his post 2003-All-Star Break debacle? Who would have missed Dee Brown, Brandon Berger, or Adrian Brown? These are the players that Mateo and Nunez-type acquisitions could have replaced last year easily in the minors. Baird should have been able to tell those would have been upgrades last season, because everyone else in the free world knew that Brown, Berger, and Brown (sounds like a law firm) were going nowhere.

I feel that Baird did his learning this year after two factors: 1) Injuries to Guiel, Gonzalez, and the trade of Beltran left the big club bereft of any OF who resembled major leaguers, and 2) the players brought up because of injuries (like Berger, Gettis, and Brown) showed, once again, that they're nowhere close to even being bench players at the major-league level.

After watching those two things happen, I believe Baird realized that he needed some young hopefuls -- players that could contribute some now and hopefully "turn the corner" and be a part of a run a year or two from now. I don't know if you felt it, but I felt a semi-desperation in all of Baird's moves this year -- it seemed to me that the shock of how barren the farm system is hit him, so he reacted quickly and brought in some live, younger bodies. He did just about as good of a job as he could have given his circumstances. In roughly one month of dealing, he brought in a crop of interesting younger players who stand a decent chance of contributing in some fashion in the next two years. However, all moves except the Beltran trade could have been done last season, if Baird had chosen to.

Kevin: As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango...and two to make a trade. It's easy for us to sit here and discuss why Allard should've picked up Ruben Mateo, Abe Nunez, and Denny Bautista last winter, but if the other team wasn't willing to give those players up, then there's nothing Baird could've done.

But I think we're in agreement on at least one thing: 2004 was the Summer of Allard Baird. He added the following players:

Denny Bautista
Justin Huber
Abraham Nunez
Ruben Mateo
Mark Teahen
John Buck
Mike Wood
Matt Kinney

And gave up these players:

Carlos Beltran
Jose Bautista (who was acquired off waivers just a month before)
Rudy Seanez
Jason Grimsley

I rest my case.
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