Friday, August 19, 2005

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.

Runs Scrd747772764
Runs Allwd820861946
97 Payroll$39,350,000$27,150,000$23,950,000
96 Payroll$19,998,000$17,390,000$21,161,000
Avg Age29.128.827.6



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.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Three Different Plans - Introduction

This is the first in a series of posts in which we are going to follow three organizations: Kansas City, Minnesota and Oakland. All three teams can be classified as 'small market teams', all experienced a great deal of success before the landscape of baseball changed dramatically in the 1990s and all had very similar records in both 1996 and 1997. It is the 1997 season that will serve as our starting point for this series. However, before we embark on a season by season analysis, let's first take a quick look at what these franchises did leading up to 1997.

Let us begin with our beloved Royals. Although they had not been in the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series, Kansas City had remained competitive: finishing over .500 six of the next eleven years and winning over 70 games even in the down years. No, they weren't great, but the Royals were decent and at times still in a pennant race late in the season. In fact, before the strike prematurely ended the 1994 season, KC was 64-51 and giving every impression that they could win the division.

Minnesota had experienced greater successes (two World Championships and a 90-72 season in 1992) and also greater failures (1993 71-91, 1994 53-60, 1995 56-88). Oakland had been in three consecutive Series from 1988 through 1990 and won 96 games as late as 1992. Like the Twins, Oakland had fallen on hard times in the mid 90's winning just 68 games in 1993 and posting very average 51-63 and 67-77 marks in 1994 and 1995.

All three teams then made one last gasp at respectability in 1996 and fell back to earth in 1997. Take a look at the records for those two years:

1996 Records
Minnesota 78-84
Kansas City 75-86
Oakland 78-84

1997 Records
Minnesota 68-94
Kansas City 67-94
Oakland 65-97

Now, let's take a look at how these teams drafted leading up to 1997. One thing that truly stood out as I reveiwed past drafts: if the NFL draft is an inexact science, the NBA draft is all about projecting talent, then the MLB draft is pretty much like playing KENO. As such, I am not going to take time pointing out the spectacular failures all three organizations had, but instead will simply touch on those players that turned into decent to excellent major leaguers. You will be able to tell the success and depth of each year's draft simply by the number of players shown and the careers they had. The numbers in parantheses is the round in which the player was drafted.

1990 - Phil Hiatt (8)
1991 - Shane Halter (5), Mike Sweeney (10), Joe Randa (11)
1992 - Michael Tucker (1), Johnny Damon (1), Jon Lieber (2)
1993 - Glendon Rusch (17), Sal Fasano (37)
1994 - Jose Rosado (12), Jose Santiago (70)
1995 - Carlos Beltran (2), Mark Quinn (11)
1996 - Jeremy Giambi (6), Jason Simantacchi (21), Kiko Calero (27)

This was not a horrible job of drafting, especially on the offensive side (the core of one of the best offensive teams in the A.L. in 2000 came from the above).

1990 - Todd Ritchie (1), Rich Becker (3), Pat Meares (12), Eddie Guardado (21)
1991 - David McCarty (1), Latroy Hawkins (7), Brad Radke (8), Matt Lawton (13)
1992 - Dan Serafini (1)
1993 - Torii Hunter (1), Jason Varitek (1), Jose Valentin (3), Dan Kolb (11), Alex Cora (12)
1994 - Todd Walker (1), A.J. Pierzynski (3), Corey Koskie (26)
1995 - Mark Redman (1), Doug Mientkiewicz (5)
1996 - Travis Lee (1), Jacque Jones (2)

A lot of names here that formed the basis of the Twins success of the recent years. Imagine if some of these guys (Lee, Kolb, Varitek not to mention a guy named David Ortiz acquired in a minor league trade) had actually matured into the players they are now with the Twins.

1990 - Todd Van Poppel (1), Tanyon Sturtze (23)
1991 - Brent Gates (1), Darrell May (14)
1992 - Jason Giambi (2), Dan Wengert (4), Robert Fick (45)
1993 - John Wasdin (1), Jeff D'Amico (2), Scott Spezio (6)
1994 - Ben Grieve (1) *also drafted Ryan Drese & Tim Hudson as high schoolers but did not sign them this year
1995 - Ariel Prieto (1), Mark Bellhorn (2), David Newhan (17), Jeff Davanon (26)
1996 - Eric Chavez (1), A.J. Hinch (3)

It's kind of hard to disrespect a list that has Giambi and Chavez on it, but clearly Oakland was not outdrafting anyone in the early nineties. Some of these guys, however, (Wengert, Gates, Grieve, Spezio) gave Oakland some decent seasons before their production fell off.

So, that is where these three organizations stood on the eve of the 1997 season. A season in which all three would struggle mightily. In our next installment, we'll take a look at the lineups and the salaries that led to their dismal 1997 records, We'll also take a look at the 1997 drafts of all three teams.
Look at the names