Royals in Search of a King
The key part of the Shields/Myers trade was to bring over a dominant, front of the rotation pitcher who could anchor a pitching staff and help them elevate to a level that would almost certainly guarantee success. James Shields has been all that was advertised and more, providing a solid foundation of accountability by which all of those around him can follow. Even on his off nights, he pitches deep into games providing the kind of relief to the bullpen that a team filled with young, and mediocre starters truly needs.
This was exactly what General Manager Dayton Moore was looking for. More so than the shiny ERA and ability to strike out batters, he wanted a leader. Someone who not only knew how to win, but a sense of accountability in that no one was willing to give anything less than their best because they didn’t want to be the reason Shields was unable to succeed.
That mission was accomplished.
The part that is still missing is that type of accountability on the offensive side of the ball. With seasoned veterens like Billy Butler and Alex Gorodon, one would think they would provide the kind of nightly motivation where all other hitters would step up, and simply be unwilling to fail. It seems neither of these is capable of taking on this role, and possibly for good reason.
Everyone has always gushed about the work ethic of Alex Gordon. His dedication to perfecting his craft and being the best baseball player he can be, capable of contributing to his team cannot be questioned. However in his 8th year as a Royal, he does not seem to be the spokesman for the team. He is not the one calling out players when they fail to produce, nor does he ever seem to show any strong emotion. That’s ok. Most teams would be happy to have 25 Alex Gordons on their roster, and the Royals would be no different. He provides a kind of leadership that is a “do it my way” type without ever saying a word. This, however, does not seem to be the kind of direction many of the young players on this team need.
Billy Butler, an eight year veteran, would seem to be the de facto leader based solely on success as well as service time. While I am sure he has the respect of the clubhouse, his role on the team does not lend itself well for being “The Voice.” Being relegated to a DH only role pushes Billy into a depreciated role when comparing with his teammates. He cannot speak to defensive miscues, and his poor baserunning give him no ability to provide advice in that arena either. Billy Butler hits, and when he is on, hits quite well. If a player has an issue with seeing a pitch or has questions about a pitcher, then I would venture to guess Butler is one of the stops they would make on their quest for knowledge.
Salvador Perez has shown the ability to be an excellent field general. He is capable of changing a game all by himself from behind homeplate, and has solidified himself as a potential perennial Al-Star. He does not lack confidence in his ability, and is the first one to fire up his teammates on defense as well as on the mound. Salvador could easily be the team leader, if not for the simple matter of having a language and culture barrier that prevents him from being able to connect with the majority of those around him. This may grow with time, and in a few years he could very well be THE GUY.
This leads to the point of all of this.
With a team who’s shining moments of the last few years have been based soley on hype, there have been 2 players who have risen to the top. With each carried a great amount of responsibility to ensure that Kansas City Royals fans were no longer going to be subjected to watching AAA players filling the ranks. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas provided the kind of high pedigree potential this team needed. They were the next wave, and with them, they could have single handidly taken this team upon their shoulders and in conjunction with what Shields has done in the pitching staff, brought them to the promise land that is October baseball.
Both showed a great deal of promise in the early going, but since, both have been, at best, disappointing. While Moose completely derailed, and has since been sent to Omaha, Hosmer has not performed BAD as much that he can be a league average hitter, but that is a far cry from what was advertised. Much of the blame on failed prospects in the Royals system has been placed on the inability of the “system” to develop them into successful major league talent. I fear the greatest reason many have failed, including these two, is the complete lack of accountability throughout the entire organization.
A manager could quite easily be the primary “voice” inside the clubhouse, but Ned Yost has proven he is not this type of coach. He provides a security blanket of protection for a young team, doing his best to shelter them from the outside world, but once they have matured into everyday players, he has taken a backseat hoping to see the talents blossom on their own. He got fired for this approach in Milwaukee when it was obvious he was not the person they needed to keep players accountable for poor results. With the failure of Moose being another example here in Kansas City, it seems he suffers from the same fault. While excellent at grooming young players, he is not able to lead them once they have matured. They begin to act on their own, and with no “dad” there to tell them otherwise, baseball becomes like dorm room fun. This has seemed the case with Eric Hosmer.
I began to notice things I didn’t like about Eric Hosmer shortly after the time I read the excellent article by Eno Sarris called “Learning the Language of the Clubhouse.” If you are the type of fan who finds themselves wanting to like all players of your team simply because of the jersey they wear, then I advise you to not read this article (as well as the rest of this). It is tough to take when you hear negative things about players on the team you love. It brings the human side of the equation front and center, and makes you realize that just because players play for a team you love, they are not necessarily the types of human beings you want them to be.
Eric Hosmer stands head in shoulders above the rest of his teammates, both literally and in the potential talent he has inside of him. He could be a dominant player, I truly believe that. The problem I fear most is that the reason he, and possibly Moose, have not achieved the level of which they were expected, is not because of the instruction given on how to hit…but rather the inability of a decades long floundering Royals organization to provide an atmosphere of “failure is not an option.” There was no pressure on players to succeed as quickly as possible as the reward was to reach a perennial 100 loss team. This leads to complacency…..and immaturity. The latter being the greatest hinderance to Hosmer taking his place as a leader of a team desperately begging for one.
Kansas City suffered much the same crisis in 2013, and for a brief time corrected it by artificially introducing an Alpha Male in the clubhouse in Hall of Famer George Brett. When George Brett is standing in your dugout in uniform, that team belongs to him. He doesn’t ask for it in words, or demand it with any specific action but his mere presence is the sort where everyone around him listens to exactly what he has to say, and follows it. Because no one wants George Brett on their bad side. This was true during his playing days as well. Sports is full of strong figures driving a team. Michael Jordon probably being the best example, in that often his teammates HATED him, but it didn’t matter, because at the end of the day THEY were not going to be the ones to let him down. He demanded success, from himself and from those around him. There simply was no other option. This is the type of leader the Royals need, and they need it right now.
Hosmer as been too bent on feigning being a superstar instead of being the best player he can be. In spring training this year, he decided to show up the home plate umpire by arguing a strike thrown by Felix Hernandez (which was a strike) and being tossed from the game. With a moniker like King Felix, it is quite clear on borderline calls who is going to get the benefit of the doubt in that situation. One player has earned the respect of his peers, the other throws a fit because he hasn’t yet achieved the same level of respect. After being tossed, he channeled his inner 2 year old by making the slow walk out the only exit for the players in the left field corner, making sure to draw as much attention as possible by taking all the time possible.
Once a seed has been planted in a fans mind, it then becomes hard to not see the other instances where that player might simply be someone you dislike. Hosmer’s baserunning this year has been a hinderance to the team as well, although as Jeff Sullivan points out, many times it is not totally his fault. There are still plenty of instances in a short time that show, however, he has not given the art of baserunning the attention to detail that it needs.
There is the recent dustup between the Royals Clubhouse and 810 Sports Radio, in which players were boycotting the radio station (allegedly) because Eric Hosmer and Jarrod Dyson were denied access to an 810 affiliated bar that was to capcity. It would be one thing for a guy like Derek Jeter to be slighted at the door, but to act as a primadonna when you are a struggling first baseman for a team who hasn’t reached the playoffs in 28 years…well…that’s unacceptable.
While he has been far from the worst hitter on the team, at times when the pressure is on, Hosmers approach at the plate seems to be “close my eyes and swing harder.” No one fears when he is up to bat with runners at the corners, because he has yet to adopt an approach that would cause a pitcher to sweat. He has fallen into the same rut the majority of other Royal’s hitters have seen themselves fall where they do their best to get themselves out by making poor contact with poor pitches, because the discipline at the plate mirrors the discipline outside of the batters box.
All of this isn’t being presented as any reason to champion getting rid of Eric Hosmer. He is quite possibly the best hope this team has in seeing a power hitter in the middle of the batting order. He has the size, the previous success and defensive qualities that could see him vye for MVP awards some day. The first thing that needs to change with Hosmer isn’t his hitting approach or baserunning, but rather the attitude he wants to carry during the season. It is about time he starts acting like an All-Star instead of demanding the accolades that come with it without first giving reason.
If sometime during the next 30 days we can begin to see Hosmer transition into a leader, we might not only be in for a treat as far as seeing the emergence of a fantastic ballplayer…but maybe…just maybe the Royals will finally have the on field leader they need to take hold of the vacant throne. After all, George Brett cant keep coming back year after year to try and keep it warm.