2013 Royals: Why they must win now

Dave Morehead

Only once in Dave Morehead’s eight-year career did he have a winning record, and that just 5-4 for the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox of 1967. But it’s a game Morehead pitched in a year he led the AL in losses for which he’s best remembered. Morehead was 10-18 in 1965, his high for losses and the AL’s high, a distinction not totally deserved given that Morehead held opponents to just a .217 batting average (157 hits in 192.2 innings) and a .674 OPS against. But one of Morehead’s 10 wins was a mid-September no-hitter vs. Luis Tiant and the Indians. The Red Sox won 2-0, though there were only 1,247 in attendance. Morehead walked one and fanned eight, but even as Morehead was recounting his feat it was lost to the Red Sox announcing the firing of GM “Pinky” Higgins. A Red Sox pitcher would not throw a no-hitter again at Fenway until Hideo Nomo in 2001. Injuries wrecked Morehead’s career beginning in 1966, and in ’67 he was limited to 10 games and nine starts. He was 5-4, and pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in two World Series appearances. Morehead was an original Royal, going in the expansion draft and he was 3-5 with a 3.62 ERA and one save in his second season. A native of San Diego, Morehead graduated from Hoover High, the same school attended by Ted Williams. Morehead was released by the Royals at the end of spring training 1971 and retired. His career numbers: 40-64, 4.15 ERA, six shutouts, .703 OPS against and a 3.5 WAR.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: There’s no longer Wil Myers to talk about since the Royals traded their best prospect — No. 4 in all of baseball as ranked by both Baseball America and mlb.com — for pitching. More on that later. The deal might lessen the haste with which Yordano Ventura becomes a big-leaguer, but it shouldn’t be long. Ventura is a 21-year-old smallish Dominican, which described Pedro Martinez at one point in his career, too. Ventura isn’t Pedro, but he’s also not Ervin Santana. Hopefully. Ventura fanned 130 in 109.1 minor-league innings last year and has fanned 305 in 285.2 career innings. Ventura dabbled as reliever as an 18-year-old in rookie ball, saving three games, but he’s been exclusively a starter the last two years. He’s starting 2013 in AA, and there’s no rush, except the one he might create.

What is this man doing here? Miguel Tejada hasn’t been a big-leaguer since 2011, when he didn’t play like one for the Giants (it’s worth noting that 2011 is the only season in the last three that the Giants have not won the World Series. Coincidence? I think not.) Tejada was particularly woeful as a 37-year-old for the Giants: a .270 on-base percentage, caught stealing four times in eight attempts,a .596 OPS. He spent part of 2012 in the minors for the first time in a decade, and wasn’t much better: .621 OPS and no homers in 135 at-bats. Quite a comedown for a player with 304 career homers. I’m not sure why the Royals expect Tejada to do better for them as a soon-to-be 39-year-old utility infielder, but I suppose it could have been worse. For a brief time this spring, Yuniesky Betancourt was available.

What he said: Royals manager Ned Yost on giving slow-starting third baseman Mike Moustakas a day off: “There’s no concerns after 11 games.” What he meant: “Eleven games, no. Two seasons of a .686 OPS with my job riding on him? I’m concerned.”

Outlook: The Royals traded Myers, in a seven-player deal last winter that returned middle-upper middle class pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.

It wasn’t the kind of deal a GM with tenure makes. Royals GM Dayton Moore doesn’t have much, not as he begins his eighth full season without a playoff berth or winning record in any of the first seven.

(It’s the Royals, not the Pirates, who have been absent from the postseason the longest. The Royals have not been there since winning the 1985 World Series. In the 26 seasons since, they’ve had winning records six times, and just one of those in the last 19. By comparison, the Pirates look dynastic.)

The Royals better win now, or Moore’s job will be someone else’s. Of course, that’s the difference between the Royals and the Rays: the latter used their low standing to acquire talent through the draft and build a winning team, the former acquired talent and built nothing more than expectations.

There’s an opportunity for the Royals in 2013 if only because the AL Central is the Division I-AA of MLB. It’s baseball’s weakest division, and if the Royals don’t challenge the Tigers no one will.

I’m leaning to no one. Moore had to make the Myers deal, because almost all the starting pitching talent he had drafted has been discredited or hurt.

Remember when Mike Montgomery was a Top 25 prospect? He’s now a Ray.

Remember when Danny Duffy was a hot rookie? He had Tommy John surgery and won’t be back until mid-summer, if then.

Remember when Luke Hochevar was the first pick of the 2006 draft — Moore’s first No. 1 pick? He’s still a Royal, with a 5.37 career ERA. Evan Longoria (No. 3), Brandon Morrow (No. 5), Tim Lincecum (No. 10), Max Scherzer (No. 11) or Ian Kenenedy (No. 21) all could have been. Or some obscure lefty the Dodgers took at No. 7 — a guy named Clayton Kershaw.

Moore’s first-round picks haven’t all been that bad — they include two players the team needs to progress in Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer, and reliever Aaron Crow. But the previous GM, Allard Baird, did better with his No. 1s: Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, J.P. Howell.

The Royals won 72 games last year, the second-most in Moore’s term (they won 75 in 2008). But for all the focus on bettering the pitching, the Royals weren’t much better on offense last year. They were 23rd in ERA (4.30), but just 20th in runs scored.

Shields and Davis will help the former, but Shields was just 31st in ERA (3.52) in MLB among starters with 160 innings. And though Davis starred as a reliever last year, he had ERAs of 4.07 and 4.45 in his two seasons as a starter, his role with the Royals.

Of course, they’re both far better than Hochevar. They’re just not worth a decade of Myers.

Even when the pitching upgrades, the Royals will need a big improvement from Hosmer (career .730 OPS; -0.3 WAR last year) and gradual one from Moustakas (.686, 3.0 2012 WAR) to improve that 20th-ranked offense.

But it’s doubtful the Royals can do enough to win the AL Central. Or`save Moore’s job if they don’t.

Team song: Kansas City, from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma.

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