Should Mike Sweeney wake up tomorrow morning suddenly unable to
hit a baseball, he'd have little trouble finding another job.
There's not a preschool around that wouldn't be floored by his
credentials. He's great with kids (just ask any young autograph
seeker), he's intelligent and--here's what separates him from
the field--he's proficient in handing out smiley-face stickers.
This spring Sweeney, the Royals' first baseman, took it upon
himself to keep track of all the grins and smiles of manager
Tony Muser. In the past that wouldn't have been too difficult,
because during his 4 1/2-year stint in Kansas City, Muser has
largely kept the affable side of his personality out of the
clubhouse. This year, though, after an off-season of rumors that
he's on the hot seat, Muser decided to shake things up. So the
first thing he did on the field every morning during spring
training was assemble his troops and tell them a joke. "Tony's
been a changed man," says Sweeney. "Away from the ballpark he's
been a great guy. You could talk to him, and he was pleasant to
be around. But when you got into the locker room, he was totally
different. It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But now he's
brought the good Tony into the clubhouse."
Just to be sure there were no lapses, Sweeney put a chart on the
wall in the locker room, and if Muser smiled enough Sweeney gave
him a happy-face sticker to put next to that date. "If he looks
up and sees four days with no happy face, he knows it's time to
perk up," says Sweeney.
So will Muser's new attitude result in a better record for the
Royals? Well, it should help some of the kids--like shortstop
Angel Berroa--whom the team would like to see contribute. "In
the past the younger guys have come in here and felt a
militaristic, dictatorship mentality in this locker room, and
they'd get tight," says Sweeney. But on the whole, Kansas City
just doesn't have the horses to compete. Johnny Damon and
Jermaine Dye were traded last year, leaving Muser with only two
consistent run producers: Sweeney and centerfielder Carlos
Beltran, who hit .358 after the All-Star break.
The rotation is an even bigger mess. Of his top starter,
righthander Jeff Suppan, Muser says, "He's very consistent.
He'll go five, six, maybe seven innings and give you 200 innings
a year." In other words, he's an innings eater, which isn't
exactly the first trait you look for in an ace.
While Muser has chilled out in an effort to reverse Kansas
City's fortunes, Sweeney has taken the opposite tack. In August
he publicly ripped his teammates for their lack of effort, and
then a few days later he charged the mound after a heated verbal
exchange with the Tigers' Jeff Weaver. "Yeah, it is
frustrating," says Sweeney of the exodus. "Especially when it's
guys you're friends with who are really great baseball players
who end up leaving. The reality is, we have no control over
where we're going to be tomorrow."
Actually, that's not entirely true. Sweeney is in the walk year
of the deal he signed in 2001--he'll earn a club-record $8
million this season--and the Royals are taking a wait-and-see
approach on an extension. They want to see what the new
collective bargaining agreement brings, but unless it includes a
cap on the amount that guys whose middle name is John can make,
they can forget about being able to afford Michael John Sweeney.
For the past three years he has done a pretty fair impression of
another nice-guy first baseman who wanted to stay with a
small-market team: Jason Giambi, who nonetheless left the A's
for the Bronx. Since 1999 Giambi has driven in 380 runs and hit
.330. Sweeney has 345 RBIs and a .320 average, and that's
including slightly diminished numbers in 2001, when he was
banged up all season.
So this is what's in store for Muser: He's going to have to
watch a healthy Sweeney do his best to carry another subpar team
with another monster year, and he'll have to do so with the
knowledge that Sweeney will probably be gone when it's all over.
If he can smile through that, he can smile through anything.
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES Sweeney gives K.C. fans reason to cheer--this year; alas, he'll likely be gone in 2003.
COLOR PHOTO: M. DAVID LEEDS/GETTY IMAGES BELTRAN
In the past 11 years, 11 hitters have led the Royals in RBIs.
The most ever is 12, by the 1913-24 Pirates.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Royals
"The starting rotation is a bunch of pitchers who would be
middle-to bottom-of-the-rotation on most clubs. They're scrappy,
functional. A lot of teams would like Jeff Suppan, but in the
middle of their rotation. They'd like Paul Byrd, but at the end
of their rotation. Here, these guys are 1 and 2.... Joe Randa
had some history of clutch hits, but not last year. He has to be
much more productive. I expect him to rebound.... The middle
infield can catch it. Neifi Perez is a very good shortstop, and
Carlos Febles has talent, though I'm still waiting for him to
make the jump to the next level. He's young and has upside....
Carlos Beltran is a potential star. He's looked very good this
spring.... Mark Quinn has some power, so they better get him
back quickly from that rib injury because this team doesn't have
a lot of power.... Raul Ibanez is a good extra outfielder, but
if he has to play every day, he's out of his role.... They have
a functional bullpen. Roberto Hernandez is a decent closer, not
a frontline one anymore. Jason Grimsley and Cory Bailey are
solid setup guys, but they can't close in an emergency.... This
is a big year for Tony Muser. He has to do something. His team
plays hard, but this business is about winning and losing. He
has to show he can get this team to move up. I think they'll win
75 to 80 games, but there's nothing on the horizon, in terms of
young prospects, to indicate that they can jump into contention
anytime soon. They need a couple of real solid drafts."
projected roster with 2001 statistics
Player B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
LF Chuck Knoblauch R 106 .250 9 44 38
SS Neifi Perez* S-R 279 .279 8 59 9
CF Carlos Beltran S-R 33 .306 24 101 31
1B Mike Sweeney R 24 .304 29 99 10
RF Michael Tucker L-R 203 .252 12 61 16
3B Joe Randa R 143 .253 13 83 3
DH Raul Ibanez L-R 168 .280 13 54 0
C Brent Mayne* L-R 277 .285 2 40 1
2B Carlos Febles R 174 .236 8 25 5
OF Mark Quinn R 125 .269 17 60 9
IF Luis Alicea S-R 300 .274 4 32 8
PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
RH Jeff Suppan 112 10 14 6.4 1.38 4.37
RH Paul Byrd* 178 6 7 5.9 1.41 4.44
LH Darrell May 189 10 8 6.1 1.29 4.13
RH Chad Durbin 222 9 16 6.2 1.45 4.93
RH Dan Reichert 268 8 8 5.7 1.61 5.63
PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
RH Roberto Hernandez 78 5 6 28 1.40 4.12
RH Jason Grimsley 232 1 5 0 1.23 3.02
RH Cory Bailey 266 1 1 0 1.34 3.48
New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched PVR: Player
Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Combined AL and NL stats Japanese Central League stats
sixth season with Kansas City
fifth in AL Central
IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings