Three Different Plans - 1999
At last, I have returned to this long neglected series, sorry for the delay.
Part four of our series covers the 1999 season. In this season, both KC and Minnesota regressed in wins by 8 and 7 respectively. Oakland, after improving by 9 games from 1997 to 1998, jumped up by 13 more in 1999. Take a look at the numbers and general lineups for 1999.
THE 1999 LINEUPS
The off season between 1998 and 1999 was filled with the kind of player movement to which only the local papers would pay any attention. The Royals traded Juan LeBron for Joe Randa, and signed Rey Sanchez and Chad Kreuter. The Twins 'biggest' signing was of amateur free agent Bobby Kielty and, as a sign of going really young, releasing shortstop Pat Meares. Oakland added veteran pieces to go around their emerging young offensive stars, signing Tony Phillips, Tim Raines and John Jaha.
Kansas City traded away two starting pitchers during the season: Kevin Appier to Oakland on July 31st (Ape still pitched enough for the Royals to be shown as one of their starters in the above chart) and Glendon Rusch to the Mets on September 14th. Unless you consider Blake Stein, Brad Rigby or Dan Murray a major league pitcher, they got nothing in return for them. The Royals were a potent offensive team in 1999, ranking 7th in runs scored and 3rd in batting average - that with only two regulars over 30 (Rey Sanchez at 31 and Chad Kreuter at 34). They sported two 24 year old starters in Jeff Suppan and Jose Rosado who both pitched over 200 innings, but the rest of the staff was weak, particularly in the bullpen where three of the four leaders in appearance had ERAs over 6.00.
Minnesota cut ties with long time closer Rick Aguilera on May 21, 1999, trading him to the Cubs for Kyle Lohse. Otherwise their big moves were simply by bringing up the fruits of their execellent early/mid nineties draft. Keeping in mind that Jacque Jones was the 4th outfielder on that team, the Twins in 1999 were basically the group we Royal fans have become all too familiar with. Radke was Radke (219 IP, 3.75 ERA) and 23 year old Eric Milton logged 207 innings, but the rest of the Twins' staff pitched like a staff with an average age of 26.
Oakland was active in the in-season trade market as they fought to contend in the A.L. West. On July 23rd they traded Kenny Rogers for Terrance Long, followed shortly by trading Jeff Davanon and others for Omar Olivares and Randy Velarde. IN addition to the aforementioned Appier acquisition, they also snagged Jason Isringhausen for Billy Taylor on July 31st. Although just 13th in team batting average, Oakland was 4th in on-base percetange and 4th in runs scored. Despite a somewhat hodge-podge pitching staff (Gil Heredia's 200 innings were 58 more than the next highest starter) and they used 3 different closers (Taylor, Doug Jones & Isringhausen), Oakland did manage to finish 3rd in ERA.
Kansas City may have regressed in terms of won-loss, but there were reasons to be excited. They had slashed payroll by $14 million and IMPROVED their offense. Sweeney, Damon, Beltran and Dye were all all-stars in the making and none were older than 25. Plus, KC's best pitchers were both 24. The Royals needed more pitching (dead last in team ERA), a lot more when you remember they were counting on Blake Stein, Mac Suzuki, Dan Reichert and Chad Durbin to develop.
The Twins took their lumps in 1999, but had just one regular over 30 (Terry Steinbach) and only two pitchers over 30. They were 11th or lower in every offensive category except stolen bases (5th in the A.L.). Like KC, the Twins had two young starters in Radke and Milton and a whole bunch of question marks. However, Minnesota was looking to Joe Mays, Mark Redman and J.C. Romero to help in that area.
Oakland had fashioned a blend of young stars with some good veterans and made a good run at the playoffs. They had made trades as part of this run, but given up very little to do so. Besides adhering to the organizational code of getting on base, the A's also mashed 235 homers (2nd in the A.L.). They did sport 4 regulars over 30, but Tejada and Grieve were 23, Chavez 21 and Giambi still just 28. Their pitching staff, although a work in progress, was effective in 1999 and they had thrown 23 year old Tim Hudson into the mix.
Unlike Minnesota and KC, Oakland never went completely young between 1995 and 1999. Instead opting to blend veterans with young players, and bringing in their youngsters in phases. It was clearly an effective tactic. By contrast, the Twins had been biding their time for their prospects to get close and in 1999 pretty much turned the team over to them all at once. Kansas City had waffled between the two tactics, and spent too much money in the interim doing so, but frankly at the end of 1999 they did not look a lot different than either the Twins or the A's...on paper anyway.
The Draft and The Systems
The Royals selected Kyle Snyder with the 7th pick in the 1999 Amateur Draft. The Twins, picking 5th, selected B.J. Garbe and the Athletics, after nabbing Mark Mulder in the 98 draft, took Barry Zito with the 9th pick. Josh Beckett went number 2 to Florida, but then Eric Munson was the second most successful pick of the top 6 - so not a great early draft. Royal fans can salivate at having Zito (or Ben Sheets who went number 10) instead of Snyder, but KC then picked Mike MacDougal with the 25th overall pick and Jimmy Gobble with the 43rd. Looking at who went in the top 50 in this draft, the Royals really did alright in 1999.
Aside from the three mentioned above, Kansas City also drafted Wes Obermueller in round 2, Ken Harvey in round 5 and Mark Ellis in round 9.
Minnesota's 1999 draft was better than 1998, but then 1998 sucked. They picked Justin Morneau in round 3 and Terry Tiffee in the 26th.
After drafting Zito, Oakland added Ryan Ludwick in the second round and not much else. However, when you draft Hudson in 1997, Mulder in 1998 and Zito in 1999, you don't have to add much else.
The Royals system had Mark Quinn up for a look in September, but was otherwise filled with a bunch of pitchers long on potential and short on performance. Sal Fasano and Dee Brown were in the mix, too, but...well, nevermind.
After going very young in 1999, the Twins were ready to bring in A.J. Pierzynski to catch and had left field to Jacque Jones. As mentioned above, Mays, Redman and Romero, joined by Kyle Lohse were also in line to contribute. The Twins had not done a good job of drafting in the recent couple of seasons, but were young enough at the major league level to withstand that. Perhaps their only failing at this point was to not give David Ortiz a chance (just 20 at-bats in 1999)
Oakland had traded an old closer (Billy Taylor) for a young one (Jason Isringhausen) and was poised to unveil the second member of 'The Big Three'. Terrance Long (stop laughing Royal fans) was in line to improve the outfield and two young catchers, A.J. Hinch and Ramon Hernandez, were in the system.
Oakland had 'arrived' in 1999, almost making the playoffs and becoming an offensive force in the American League. They were in the process of turning a patched together, albeit effective, pitching staff into a major strength and had a bonafide superstar in Jason Giambi.
The Twins had gone young in a big way, paid the price and were hoping to have the right core to get dramatically better in 2000. There was talk of contraction in Minneapolis/St. Paul as attendance and payroll were both quite low. No one gave Minnesota a second thought, other than to think they might not exist in a couple of years.
The Royals had to be thinking they were on the edge of getting better. Their offense was better than Minnesota's and their pitching no worse. Oakland had contended in 1999 without a single star pitcher and great offense, could not the Royals do the same in 2000?
The new millenium was about to dawn and with it two contenders and an also ran.