Three Different Plans - 1997
Part two of our study of KC, Minnesota and Oakland and the paths they took to success or oblivion focuses on the year 1997. As we discussed in the Introduction posted earlier (or below for those of you dealing in verticality instead of time), all three organizations experienced a great deal of success in the late eighties and into the early nineties and were, if not good, competitive in 1996 all finishing with 75 or more wins. Take a look at some of the overall numbers for 1997.
THE 1997 LINEUPS
Prior to the season, the Royals traded a young Joe Randa and disappointing Jeff Granger for veterans Jay Bell and Jeff King. They also swapped Keith Lockhart and Michael Tucker for Jermaine Dye and Jamie Walker. Although Dye was a couple of years away from being an effective regular, that was a nice trade (Walker was, and still is a servicable reliever in the majors). Putting that lineup in the table, makes you think that team should have been better (Bip Roberts and Mike Sweeney were the top reserves), just as it appeared on the eve of 1997.
The Twins big off season moves were the signing of two veteran free agents: Bob Tewksbury and Terry Steinbach. They had what they thought was a solid outfield for years to come in Cordova, Becker and Lawton and a young gun ready to become an ace (Brad Radke - maybe you've heard of him). Adding the veteran Tewksbury to a young staff (Latroy Hawkins, Todd Ritchie and Frankie Rodriguez) made a lot of sense.
Oakland traded John Wasdin to get Jose Canseco back, signed Brent Mayne and Dave Magadan and otherwise did nothing of note prior the beginning of 1997.
As the records reflect, none of the three teams were anywhere near good in 1997. The Royals, despite being in the middle of the pack in pitching (4 starters threw 170+ innings, wouldn't we kill for that now?), simply could not hit enough to win ballgames (12th in runs scored, 10th in average, 12th in slugging). Essentially, their veterans underachieved. The Twins finished 10th in runs scored and 13th in ERA, despite 240 innings from Radke and a 4.22 ERA from Tewksbury. Cordova, Becker and Lawton all hit .264 or below. Molitor and Knoblauch were both very good, but Ron Coomer was their 3rd best hitter - not exactly a recipe for success. Oakland simply could not pitch (team ERA 5.49). No one on the A's logged more than 134 innings and only veteran closer Billy Taylor managed to survive the season with an ERA under 4.00. Their offense, led by a young Jason Giambi, Matt Stairs and McGwire, was not bad, but nowhere near good enough to compensate for a staff that resembled...well, resembled the 2004 Royals.
The Draft and The Systems
The Royals selected Dan Reichert with the 7th pick in the 1997 Amateur Draft. The Twins, picking 9th, selected Michael Cuddyer and at number 11 the A's took Chris Enochs. To be fair, guys like J.D. Drew, Troy Glaus and Vernon Wells went in the top five and the only other really good players to go in the top fifty were Jon Garland (10th), Lance Berkman (16th) and Adam Kennedy (20th), so this draft was not exactly littered with obvious major leaguers.
After selecting Reichert, Kansas City picked Jeremy Affeldt in the third round and unless you want to count Kris Wilson, Jason Gilfillan and Mike Tonis, did not pull in any other players of note.
Minnesota nabbed Matthew LeCroy with the 50th overall pick, Michael Restovich in round two, J.C. Romero in round 21 and Nick Punto in round 33. Romero turned into a nice pick and LeCroy is serviceable, but truthfully the Twins had already laid their ground work with excellent drafts in the years preceeding 1997.
After whiffing on Enochs with the 11th overall pick, the A's did little better with the 21st overall pick, tabbing Eric DuBose. In fact, no one stands out in this Oakland draft, EXCEPT FOR A GUY NAMED TIM HUDSON (picked in the 6th round). Sometimes it only takes one player to make a draft. I think Tim Hudson qualifies as that type of player.
The Royals system had already produced regulars in Damon, Rusch and Rosado and two others who were traded for regulars (Tucker and Randa). Mike Sweeney was still proving that he could not play catcher, but was on the verge of an offensive breakout. Carlos Beltran, Mark Quinn and Jeremy Giambi were in the pipeline.
The Twins were stocked, although they may not have known just how well. Todd Walker had gotten his feet wet in the majors during 1997 and the 1990 and 1991 drafts had already accounted for 10 players on the major league roster. The pipeline was bursting with Torii Hunter, A.J. Pierzynski, Corey Koskie, Doug Mientcewicz, Jacque Jones and some guys who would not have an impact with the Twins but turned out alright: David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Jose Valentin, Travis Lee and Danny Kolb.
Oakland had Jason Giambi poised for stardom and likes of Mark Bellhorn, Tony Batista, Miguel Tejada, Ben Grieve and Eric Chavez at various stages of development. They also had drafted a future ace in Tim Hudson.
The Royals spent a lot of money on veteran hitting to joing a solid starting rotation and failed miserably. By mid 1997, they were sellers at the trade deadline. Minnesota had also spent some money on veteran players, but in an attempt to hold the line while their considerable minor league wealthy developed. Oakland was about to part ways with the Bash Brothers for good. They knew they had the offense coming up, could they ever find enough pitching?
Check back at the end of the week and see what happened as these teams rolled into 1998.