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Chemistry and a Young Team

You hear the pundits talk often about how important chemistry is to a clubhouse. Personally, I go back and forth about whether or not chemistry matters all that much. I think the obvious answer is that talent ultimately wins out. Usually. I think the exception to this rules comes in a team like the Royals where there will be a new face on the roster constantly throughout the season. Unlike previous seasons, those new faces won’t be grizzled veterans, but rather prospects from the best system in baseball. It’s important that their first exposure to the Major Leagues is not one of clubhouse dissent and general fighting. It’s bad enough that these players will most likely not be brought up into a winning environment, so the clubhouse needs to be one where chemistry is the name of the game.

Taking that into consideration, I’m a little more confused about the signing of Melky Cabrera. He was reportedly a bad influence on the Yankees clubhouse, particularly on Robinson Cano. Sure, the Yankees could handle that distraction easily because superior talent often wins out. Plus, they had a team full of veterans who could do their best to keep Melky in check, but the Royals don’t have the talent or the veterans of those Yankees squads. I understand that had Dayton Moore known he would be able to acquire Lorenzo Cain that he wouldn’t have signed Cabrera, but that decision looks like more and more of a mistake with every passing thought.

The impetus for this post actually comes from a conversation I had with one of my favorite people to talk baseball with last August or so about bringing Mike Moustakas up in September to get his feet wet before inevitably being up for good in 2011. He has some good inside information and told me that bringing Moustakas up would be bringing into a toxic situation and that’s not one where you want a young player getting his first taste of the Majors. I trust that opinion and, while I doubt the decision was made for that reason, I believe the Royals did the right thing. There were obviously other factors involved such as the fact that Moustakas was not (and still isn’t) on the 40 man roster, but the chemistry issue is one that makes a lot of sense to me.

Interestingly enough, when thinking about this, I’ve sort of changed my viewpoint on the Jeff Francouer signing as well. I still think he’s a bad baseball player and did not deserve the money he was given, but all the reports about his clubhouse demeanor and leadership capabilities are glowing. Yes, it would be nice if he was signed as a fourth outfielder rather than a starting right fielder, but I like the idea that there is a guy like that in the clubhouse for when the prospects start to make their debuts. While we’re hoping for good things, let’s hope that he doesn’t approach any of them with tips regarding hitting. It seems silly, but bringing players up into a clubhouse where players are fighting in addition to losing is probably a bad introduction to a big league clubhouse.

Luckily for the Royals, they appear to have some natural leaders in their prospect base. Everything I’ve heard about Moustakas is absolutely glowing and that he should come up from the minors and take control of the clubhouse in a positive way. Now, the problem with leadership from a rookie is that he has to be one of the better players on the team in order for his message to be taken seriously. This probably isn’t a terribly popular opinion, but I think Moustakas is a candidate to have some serious struggles at the big league level upon his arrival before he adjusts and is successful. My guess is that in ten years when we look at his rookie season, people will think it was a really solid year, but I think we’re going to see some serious issues for a month or so which will be followed by talk of if he needs a little more time, and then he’ll break out and have a really nice two or three months to end the year.

There was a lot of uproar when the Royals traded two of their more talented arms in Danny Gutierrez and Daniel Cortes over the past couple of years. The Gutierrez uproar was because fans felt the Royals were trading a potential front of the rotation arm, and part of it is that the fan base didn’t feel like Dayton Moore got enough in return. The ire over the Cortes trade was partially because they were trading a talented arm, but partially because of the return – Yuniesky Betancourt. Leaving aside the return, I’m beginning to see a plan in place for why these two were traded.

As it turns out, Gutierrez’s career is on the verge of ending as his velocity has dipped into the mid-80s and he’s quite frankly not a good enough pitcher to pitch without a mid-90s fastball. Plus, the Royals got a potential long term solution at backup catcher and an outfield flyer in Tim Smith who may end up being very useful on the next good Royals team. The attitude, though, is why he was traded from the Royals. Bringing this argument full circle, yes, talent is king, but if you can have talent without the legal issues or the attitude, then that’s the ultimate goal.

Cortes is a little different in that his antics were those that are more common with immature people, and as a 21 year-old and he certainly qualifies as immature. He had a couple of run-ins with the law, though they were minor offenses. Not that I would condone any illegal activity, but what Cortes did wasn’t all that bad. There may be stories about him in the clubhouse, but I think most of his issues can be chalked up to immaturity. All that said, I don’t have a problem with getting rid of him. The system is overloaded with talent (have you heard?), and players who don’t buy into the organization wide philosophy need to go. Like I said, we’re ignoring the return for Cortes for the purpose of this post.

The point is that in 2011, it is extremely important for the Major League club to have a cohesive clubhouse as an example for when the young players begin to arrive. All indications are that this group of prospects is pretty close with each other, but entering into a divisive clubhouse is something that can cause problems for some young players. The days of players calling meetings simply to make fun of Billy Butler have to be over. The players don’t have to be friends, and they don’t have to even like each other, but there has to be a respect. In five years, if and when the Royals are working on their third straight division title, they can take a chance on a talented clubhouse cancer, but until then, clubhouse chemistry will be as important with the Royals as it is with any team.

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  1. glp
    February 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Couple of thoughts:

    I have also been of the opinion that, if Moore knows he’s going to get Cain, he doesn’t sign Cabrera. But that doesn’t mean he can’t undo that little problem. Release him. If it’s done before the regular season starts they only have to pay 1/4 of his contract. Think of it as a gift from Gil Meche – and it’ll cost only a tiny fraction of the $12.4 million.

    As for ingnoring the return for Cortes, I wouldn’t…Brewers GM Doug Melvin has said that getting Betancourt as part of the Greinke trade was key. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been willing to include Escobar in the deal. He wanted a shortstop back.

    I like what I’m hearing from KC media types who are already down in Surprise…that the atmosphere this year is entirely different. They are surrounded by players who are used to winning, and EXPECT to win, and it’s obvious that the attitude is there. Granted, they’re all kids, but maybe they can rub off on the vets a bit. (It’s worthwhile to note that I’ve heard noises that the main reason Moore wanted to trade DeJesus is because he had a loser mentality.)

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