Royals cleaned house to rebuild
New-look pitching staff expected to help team bounce back
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals' pitching house did not need a remodeling or a new coat of paint, but a complete tear-down-the-walls overhaul. Call the painter, plumber, electrician, roofer and foundation experts.Actually, the Royals called Dayton Moore, who was hired to be their general manager. He immediately began to rebuild the pitching from start to finish. First, a history lesson on how bad the pitching staff was: The Royals used seven starting pitchers in April last season and six -- Joe Mays, Jeremy Affeldt, Denny Bautista, Mark Redman, Mike Wood and Runelvys Hernandez -- are no longer in the organization. Scott Elarton, who will start the season on the disabled list, is the lone holdover. The Royals' went through 31 pitchers, including 16 starters, last season. The Royals have had only one pitcher -- Paul Byrd, with 17 in 2002 -- win more than 11 games in a season since 1998. The Royals' 5.65 ERA ranked last in the Majors. It was the eighth time in nine seasons the club had an ERA over 5. The Royals' bullpen blew a Major League-worst 31 saves. That is the house Moore inherited, and he knew what had to be done for the Royals to develop into a playoff-contender. "Realistically, it's all about the pitching," Moore said. "We've got to develop the pitching. You've got to develop it, and it takes three to five years to develop it in your farm system if everything goes right. We'll make an effort and try to do that." Instead of rushing top-flight pitching prospects such as Luke Hochevar, Tyler Lumsden and Billy Buckner to Kansas City, Moore addressed the pitching problem in the short-term through trades and by signing free agents.
In his first seven weeks on the job after his June 8 arrival, Moore traded for Odalis Perez, Jorge De La Rosa and Brandon Duckworth and plucked Todd Wellemeyer off the waiver wire. Moore acquired right-hander Brian Bannister from the Mets in a Winter Meetings trade.
Moore continued his revamping of the staff via the free-agent market, which brought in even more new arrivals. Gil Meche will be the No. 1 starter, Octavio Dotel will be the closer, David Riske the primary setup man and John Bale will be a left-handed setup man, although he could open the season on the disabled list.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Meche, who signed a five-year $55 million contract, will be the Opening Day starter, his first such assignment in the Majors."Only time will tell, but we've got a guy who we feel like is a horse and can eventually maybe put the weight of this pitching staff on his shoulders," Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "We don't expect that right now. I'm not downplaying the fact that he's got a more responsible role." Moore believes that Meche, 28, is just reaching his prime. "We look at Gil Meche as a young pitcher who has a lot of power to his pitches," Moore said. "If you're ever going to have a No. 1 starter, they've got to have power, for the most part, and pitching skill. Gil is at that time in his career where he is beginning to develop pitching skill. And when the pitching skill and power emerge, that's how you have a top No. 1 or 2 starter. "Do you think the Kansas City Royals are better with Gil Meche or not having Gil Meche? The answer is we're better with him, regardless of how much it costs. I know this. We can continue to do what we've always done, and we'll get what we've always gotten. We've got to take some chances and be aggressive and make tough decisions. Sometimes, if you're making decisions and you're going [down] a trail where leadership is needed, people are going to be criticizing you, no matter what you do." Zack Greinke, who began last season on the disabled list while dealing with personal issues and spent most of the season in the Minors, could be a wild card in the rotation. A 2002 first-round draft pick, the left-hander has unbridled ability and could develop into a top-of-the-line starter. "If Zack Greinke can return to the type of pitcher he was a couple of years ago, it has got a chance to be a fun summer because he'd be a big boost for us," Moore said. "He has a lot of skill. He's got a chance to be a special one." The Royals expect the tandem of Riske and Dotel, who has fully recovered from 2005 Tommy John elbow recontstruction surgery and is revving up his fastball in Spring Training, to do what the bullpen was unable to do last season -- hold leads late.
Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.