2007 is in the books, and it's as good a time as any to recap what happened.
What Went Right:
Gil Meche and Brian Bannister were dependable
Alex Gordon and Billy Butler got their experience
Tony Pena, Jr. was steady at SS
There was a 7 game improvement over last year's record.
What Went Wrong:
Mark Teahen mysteriously lost his power
Mike Sweeney was injured again
The back end of the rotation was horrid
Ryan Shealy was a bust
Looking at their record, one would think this season was more of the same that Royals fans have endured for the last 17 years. But, believe or not, the Royals did make some improvements.
Alex Gordon, Tony Pena, Jr., Billy Butler, and Brian Bannister had decent rookie seasons. For the first half, Gordon was beyond bad. But, he picked it up in the second half and actually hit over .300 for a couple of months. Butler didn't get the consistent playing time he needed to get, but showed the hitting prowess that he is famous for. Buddy Bell inexplicably sat him and played Ross Gload in September. Butler should have the first base job next year, barring injury. Pena was quiet, but that's what the team needed after years of Angel "Criscohands" Berroa botching everything in sight. Bannister turned out to be a wily and tough competitor and should be a good one for years to come.
The first base tandem of Mike Sweeney and Ryan Shealy spent the majority of the season on the DL. This was expected for Sweeney, but troubling in Shealy's case. Shealy had heel problems, the same type of injury that plagued Mark McGwire during the mid-1990s. Here's hoping the Royals' training staff can get it sorted out before spring training. I would be fine with having Shealy and Butler split time at DH and first base. Young players need to be out in the field.
Sweeney deserves his own paragraph. I like Mike Sweeney as a person. He's good with kids and does a lot for the community. That being said, he doesn't deserve to have a starting job in the majors. His body cannot absorb the pounding of a full season. He also seems to have lost bat speed, which was the key to his earlier success. I would be fine with having Sweeney back at under $1 million, but I think it's time for him to move on. Sweeney is the poster boy for the Royals' past mistakes. He needs to go so that the team and the fan base can move forward.
Overall, the Royals' hitting was bad. Emil Brown led the team in RBI's again. Problem is that he played two to three times a week. Mark Teahen lost his power stroke after surgery. Alex Gordon was historically futile in the first half. Overall, the hitters need to work on their games in the offseason for this team to have any shot of competing in 2008.
Gil Meche lived up to his big contract. He was the stabilizing force that the Royals needed in the rotation. Save for a couple of bad stretches, when Gil was pitching, the Royals had a chance to win. That's all you can ask. Brian Bannister was another shrewd pickup for Dayton Moore. He showed the wiliness of a veteran and pitched with no fear. He and Gil will be a nice tandem at the top of the rotation next year.
The bullpen was good, while the rotation beyond Meche and Bannister was shaky. Riske, Soria, and the rest of the relievers were dependable and kept the Royals in games. This unit reminded me of the bullpen from 2005. The starters were another story. Jorge de la Rosa, Odalis Perez and whoever they tried as a fifth starter were inconsistent at best. Help from the minors doesn't appear to be arriving anytime soon. Hochevar and Lumsden were very mediocre and likely need another year in the minors. The Royals need to sign some vets. They can afford them, with Sweeney's contract coming off the books.
Buddy Bell is retiring, which is excellent news. The team needs a manager who doesn't have an allergic reaction to playing rookies and young players. The way Butler was handled in September was inexcusable. Had the Royals been in a pennant race, I would have understood playing Gload. But the team was not contending for anything other than first place. Butler should have been out there every day, getting the seasoning he needs to start strong next April. Here's hoping the next manager can guide this team to the next level.
There was some improvement this season, but not enough for me to be optimistic for 2008.