What the Royals Should Do
by Greg Sullivan
For all of their whining about their small-market disadvantage, the Royals have managed to build themselves a nice young team. The problem, as any "small-market" team will have you know, is keeping the team together, one reason why KC is trying so hard to unload Johnny Damon at the Winter meetings.
I'll only say this once: that would be a HUGE mistake.
For the Royals to trade Damon now would be assinine. He's got a year left on his contract, he won't sign a new deal until testing the free agent waters next season (according to his agent), and he's one of the major catalysts of a young, dynamic Royals offense which ranked 5th in the
AL in runs scored last season.
What they should do is let him play out this season and see how the team develops. If Damon likes what he sees and wants to be a part of it, then the Royals might be able to lock him up by the all-star break.
If they can't, then they should trade him at the trading deadline, when his value will undoubtedly be at its highest. At that point in the season, teams won't care whether
Damon re-signs or not - they'll just want to load up for a late playoff push.
That being said, there really isn't that much that the Royals need to (or can afford to) do this
off-season, aside from watch their team develop with experience. They have two pressing needs right now - bullpen help and a catcher. Instead of filling one or both of these needs by trading Damon, they should do some free agent bargain hunting, starting behind the plate.
The best catcher left on the market (aside from Charles Johnson, who will most likely be grossly overpaid by the Dodgers) is Sandy Alomar, Jr., who has expressed interest in playing for the Royals. He would be a solid, if unspectacular, pick-up for KC as he's good enough to start and experienced enough to work with the Royals' young pitching staff.
Another option would be to trade one of their six young starters for a catcher, possibly Boston's Scott Hatteberg, who is being shopped, or San Diego's Ben Davis, who may be expendable if they move Phil Nevin back behind the plate. As long as they can make a trade like this, for a catcher who's a little more reliable than Alomar, without weakening the pen, I say go for it.
Which brings us to the KC pen, one of the least reliable in the majors last season. Since Philadelphia is about to make another huge free agent mistake by signing Ricky Bottalico, part of that problem has solved itself for the Royals. They lost out on Tom Gordon, but another Red Sox free agent, Hector Carrasco, would be a nice pick-up.
The bottom line is that without spending big money they won't get big results, and they can't afford to spend big money - yet. The key for the Royals is to keep the explosive offense together, because that's what's going to get fans into the park. More fans equals more money, which equals Johnny Damon and the bullpen stability they want, which equals a chance to cause problems for the declining Indians and the pitching-starved White Sox.
It'll take time, but it's possible, and trading Damon is a step backwards for small budget teams everywhere.
Do everything you can to sign Damon now, then trade Carlos Beltran for some bullpen help and hope the young
pitching staff can pull it together.
2001 Suggested 25-man roster:
LF - Johnny Damon
2B - Carlos Febles
CF - Carlos Beltran
1B - Mike Sweeney
RF - Jermaine Dye
3B - Joe Randa
DH - Mark Quinn
C - Sandy Alomar, Jr.
SS - Rey Sanchez
C - Greg Zaun
IN - Jeff Reboulet
IN - Dave McCarty
OF - Mark Quinn
OF - Dee Brown