Friday, June 14, 2013

Royals Swing for Fences with Brett

By Paul Thompson

The legend is back in the dugout, for better or worse.

Now that George Brett has been named interim hitting coach of the Kansas City Royals, the stakes for this 2013 season have been re-raised. If we thought general manager Dayton Moore went all-in before the season, then we must now acknowledge that he’s bought back in with loan shark money on a season that dangled precariously over the edge of a bottomless abyss less than two weeks ago.

But what a difference those two weeks have made. Brett was named interim hitting coach on May 30, with the Royals mired in an eight-game losing streak. Since then, the Royals have gone 10-4.

The recent hot stretch, though, doesn’t change the dynamic of the Brett hire.

Moore’s seat is white-hot, and his desperate attempts to cool it down have landed Royals legend Brett right in the middle of the madness. Because of the sudden installation of Brett as the new hitting coach, the conversation has altered, if only slightly. Instead of public outcry for the jobs of Moore and manager Ned Yost, fans are once again intrigued by a team that had disappointed wildly for a full month before bringing in the local hero.

Can George Brett make a difference with struggling young supposed-to-be-stars Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer? If the Royals’ streak continues, could Brett be installed as manager? These are just a couple of the questions that will buzz through Kauffman Stadium over the coming weeks.

The problem with the hiring of Brett is that the Royals, even after considering their current run, own the worst offense in the American League. For all we know, it might be beyond repair.

For instance, you might know that the Royals are last in the American League in home runs. But did you know that the Oakland Athletics, who currently sit 12th out of 15 AL teams in homers, have hit nearly twice as many as the Royals? The Baltimore Orioles lead the league in home runs; but they would only need two players to match the Royals’ total for the season. You read that right: Chris Davis (21) and Adam Jones (14) have hit as many home runs as the entire Royals team. Can Brett fix that in half a season on the job?

Alas, the comparisons get more brutal. In 227 at-bats, Eric Hosmer has hit two home runs. Meanwhile, in 30 at-bats, Brewers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo has hit two home runs (and put up a .700 OPS, better than all but six Royals on the 25-man roster). Starting to see the picture?

Brett has been plopped down into a seemingly impossible situation. Can anybody re-teach these hapless Royals how to hit? And could the Kansas City legend’s pristine reputation be irrevocably tarnished by his affiliation with this team?

Pandora’s Box has been opened, and these questions will be answered soon enough. But perhaps the most intriguing question from the Brett decision is this: What if it continues to work?

What if George Brett is able to get Hosmer hitting with power again? What if this team rips off 10-game winning streak to get back in contention? There’s already a statue of Brett out at Kauffman Stadium, so that’s out of the question. But if this ship is righted at the hands of Brett, fans will be calling for bumbling owner David Glass to hand over the reins of the team to their hometown idol.

It’s a mammoth risk, both for the team and the legend. It’s a sign that Dayton Moore knows he needs to produce now, and also a sign that incumbent manager Yost isn’t long for his managerial duties. What could be more undercutting to a manager’s leadership than the installation of an outspoken personality and local hero onto your staff?

For the sake of Brett’s legacy, and the sake of the team I’ve followed religiously for the better portion of my life, I hope this works out. If it doesn’t, Brett might have to face the indignity of buying his own meals in this town once again.

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