Great Lakes Royals

May 14, 2010 4:03 PM

Late to the Party, but Royals Dump Hillman Anyway

Last week, I had enough time to get this up with the Royals in the midst of their seven game losing streak, which came to an end on Thursday afternoon as the Royals "improved" to 2-6 with Zack Greinke on the mound this year.  Then after the game, it was announced that the Royals had relieved Trey Hillman of his duties as manager of the team.

Obviously, I disagree with the decision to do this now, and I agree with the growing majority that Dayton Moore was merely in compliance with this decision, rather than it's creator.  Firing Hillman now makes some sense from a business perspective, because the Royals are still enjoying certain attendance benefits from their stadium renovations in 2009, and enjoying the draw of Zack Greinke becoming the face of Kansas City sports, often outdrawing the other four pitchers in the rotation by up to THREE TIMES when he pitches.  As long as Trey Hillman was out there making destructive decisions, the short term financial health of the franchise was at stake in a way that Dayton Moore's questionable personnel moves could never put in jeopardy.

Ned Yost was handed the role of interim manager by a confused, flustered Moore, which all things considered, is I guess not such a destructive choice.  Watching this charade of managers is not dissimilar to watching the Royals trying to go through shortstops in the past half decade.  When Buddy Bell was here as a caretaker, trying to mold an offense that featured Angel Berroa and John Buck as it's weak links, the Royals really needed a man with new, fresh ideas to take a team with little punch and improve them on the margins (the so called "little things") and extract some extra wins as they pushed towards .500.  That's what Trey Hillman was brought in to do, and he was successful, for about a year.  That's what Tony Pena Jr. was anyway.  He wasn't a big name acquisition, had no idea how to work a walk, but if he could play defense and hit just .240, he could be an improvement over Berroa.  He was, for a year.  Hillman's first offense regressed from Buddy Bell's last offense not because of a flaw in Hillman's approach, but because Pena was so bad for two months that the team had no choice but to turn to minor league lifer Mike Aviles for help.

Things were good like that four about four months in 2008.  It looked like Hillman would do fine as manager as the Royals, and Moore felt emboldened enough to move up his timetable to make the Royals a winner by a year, and go for broke in 2009.  That offseason was probably the height of the Dayton Moore Royals era.  Sure, there were reasons to believe that the Royals wouldn't improve on their total of 75 wins from 2008, but there was also little reason to think the team would regress.  But, ultimately, that's the Trey Hillman era in a nutshell.  When the Royals were *18-11* on the morning of May 7th, 2009, everything was right in the universe.  Hillman was a legitimate manager, Moore was the savior of a GM, the AL Central was a weak division that was falling further and further behind the Royal Blue Machine.  Two days later, Zack Greinke would lose a 1-0 decision to Joe Saunders of the Angels, and suddenly, no one could miss the golf ball-sized kinks in the armor of the Royals. 

Injury forced Aviles out for the season, which sent the Royals in complete reverse at the shortstop position, first to Pena, and then back to the Berroa-era when the team traded for Yuniesky Betancourt.  And so my biggest problem with the Trey Hillman firing is that moving to Ned Yost feels a lot like that trade for the Royals.  One of the things that always kept me tightly tied to the Royals through the Trey Hillman days was that at least I didn't have to watch Buddy Bell do indefensible things with a major league ballclub.  This is not to say that Hillman's decisions didn't frustrate the crap out of everyone who followed the Royals on a daily basis, but Bell always seemed to invent ways to lose games.  And so it is with Yost, who got dumped from the Brewers in the middle of a playoff race for the same reason.  The old is new again.

So, I don't like it at all, but something had to be done.  And getting rid of Hillman did make more sense than starting to fire positional coaches like Kevin Seitzer and Bob McClure, who by all accounts, are getting whatever they can out of the talent the Royals have assembled.  Hillman was hardly getting the most out of his talent, and that will always be his greatest shortcoming with Kansas City: as things went south, Hillman got more erratic (not necessarily worse) in his decision making.  So faced with the necessity to something, he's gone.

For Moore, time is running out.  Hillman claimed at his departing presser that it would all work out in Kansas City.  I appreciate his confidence, but the big thing with the 2010 season is that the Royals are running out of time to compete with the current roster.  Allard Baird, to his credit, established a base of talent that a competent manager could win with: Greinke, Butler, DeJesus, Gordon, Teahen, Buck, and then Leo Nunez, Aviles, and Kila.  Moore's instant contributions improved on that base with Soria and Callaspo.  Unfortunately, a lot of those guys are in their primes right now, and the Royals have failed to extract any sort of meaningful production from ten young quality baseball players.  By the end of 2012, only a few stragglers of the Baird crew will still be here, and Dayton Moore, frankly, may not be either.

The Royals, even as one of the worst baseball teams in recent memory, are at one of the pivotal points in the history of their franchise.  They need to win next year and the year after, or they need to tear down the base of talent right now.  The Royals might finally have the farm system to support that talent base that they've never had before, which is one reason to think that the team's turnaround might be fairly quick.  If it's not though, the day which Moore finds himself on the chopping block is getting a lot closer.

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