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The Question of When

A lot has been made about The Process™ and what it means. When Dayton Moore first came to Kansas City, he made a splash in his first off-season by signing Gil Meche to a five year deal. The thought at the time was that by the last two years of the deal that the Royals could potentially be competing and he could be headlining the rotation. After the 2008 season, things looked to be sort of on track. The farm system was rated decently, the big league club was beginning to improve, having won 75 games and Zack Greinke had just signed an extension to keep him in Kansas City through the 2012 season. That whole scenario with Greinke and Meche at the top of a division championship rotation obviously didn’t happen, and now we’re forced to ask the question of when.

A lot of people remember the 2009 season for some different things. Some have fond recollections of Greinke’s Cy Young chase and ultimate win. Others remember it for the early season success and being in first place in May. Others still remember it for the epic team collapse after that 18-11 start. I personally remember it more for the terribly disappointing season in the minor leagues. Even with that strong start in 2009, you sort of had the feeling that the Royals weren’t really that good. And if they were, they weren’t doing it with the guys who would be there to hopefully fuel a nice run of five or six years. As is always the case with a lower revenue team, we had to look to the minors in order to see what was going to be the future that carried the team.

Well, 2009 was a bit of a disaster. They were still ranked in the middle of the pack, but for a team like the Royals to compete, they have to consistently be among the game’s best farm systems. I think the minors that year were a bit overblown because the two highest profile prospects were the ones who faltered. Moustakas and Hosmer simply had bad seasons for various reasons. Hosmer had wrist and sight problems. Moustakas had some strike zone recognition problems as well as simply being slow to adjust to a different league. Hosmer was left off many of the top 100 prospect lists and was in the bottom half of the Royals top ten prospects as published by Baseball America.

There were some successes that year. Mike Montgomery emerged as a legitimate pitching prospect. Wil Myers was drafted and hit like crazy after he signed. The difference is that guys like Jordan Parraz had to be considered part of the future because there was nothing else in the system. Guys hadn’t yet emerged. The idea that John Lamb and Chris Dwyer were about ready to join Montgomery and Danny Duffy as top prospects was in the minds of the organization and fans, but they hadn’t proven it yet. That obviously all changed in 2010, and based on what we’ve seen so far in spring training, we can probably safely associate a timeline to this rebuilding project.

Last week I posted the tweet from Jon Heyman that I just love about how the best team in the Cactus League this year is the 2013 Royals. I got to thinking if 2013 was really the first year we could truly expect a contender in Kansas City. That’s sort of depressing to me that when Dayton Moore was brought to the organization in June of 2006 that we thought 2010 might be the year. That was then pushed back to 2012. Now we’re looking at 2013? I guess from a fan’s perspective, my initial reaction is to be terribly disappointed by that thought. Of course, I’d rather the rebuilding be done right than rushed and find that the team can’t put together back-to-back winning seasons.

So right now, we look to 2013, but I think there can be some fun had in the process. It seems that so often teams who are expected to do big things in a certain year surprise a year earlier. Everybody’s favorite example of a lower revenue team building from within and doing things the right way is the Tampa Bay Rays. Going into the 2008 season, they were expected to be about a year away from being really good. As we all know, they won the American League East (no small task) and made it all the way to the World Series before losing to a Phillies team that we had no way of knowing would become quite the juggernaut.

A similar story happened with the Twins in 2001 when they came out of nowhere to compete for the division. They tailed off at the end of the year, which is pretty common for a team new to competing, but they were about a year ahead of schedule in what would become, and still is, a very nice run. Personally, I’d rather have one playoff appearance with a world championship than a division title most year and a first round exit, but I guess I can’t be choosy at this point of my fanhood. The point I’m trying to make is not to expect the Royals to break through a year earlier than expected. I happened to pick out two of the anomalies.

If anything, teams often break through a year later once expectations potentially die down. I can promise you one thing. If all these prospects make their debuts in 2011 and 2012 and perform well individually, the Royals will be the chic pick to win in 2013. I get the feeling that they have the personalities to handle that sort of pressure, but you never know when it comes to younger players. Many people scoff at the idea of having to wade through two more seasons of losing, and I’m totally with you. The difference between these next two seasons and each of the last 25 is that there is just so much hope on this year’s club. They’re going to be fun to watch, especially later in the season. I believe with all my heart that we’re on the verge of having something very special. It’s hard to patient when you’ve been patient for 25 years, but it’s what we’ll have to do. I know that I can’t jump off the bandwagon now. There might not be room when I want to jump back on.

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