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Not As Bad As ItLooks

Well, someone hasto finish last in this tight division, but there's some first-class pitching inK.C.

THE LAST timeZack Greinke received an award from the Royals, he could not help but view itas a joke. It was in 2004, after his rookie season, when he was named theclub's pitcher of the year despite his not-especially-imposing 8--11 record and3.97 ERA. What made the award even more disconcerting was that no other KansasCity pitcher was even close. Every other starter had an ERA of 5.58 or higher."They wanted me to come to a luncheon to get the award," Greinke says."I was like, Yeah, whatever. I came, but it didn't mean anything."

Greinke believesthat times have changed for the franchise, and he can point to the team awardsfor 2008 as a starting point. Greinke had something of a breakthrough season,winning a career-high 13 games while placing fifth in the AL in strikeouts(183) and 10th in ERA (3.47)—but it wasn't good enough to make him pitcher ofthe year. That award went to closer Joakim Soria, who had 42 saves and a 1.60ERA. And if it had not been Soria, the award might have gone to Gil Meche, whowon 14 games and was one of the best pitchers in baseball in his last 20 starts(11--3, 3.16 ERA, 120 K's in 128 innings).

The vastlyimproved pitching, along with a $25 million spike in payroll, has made Greinkesuch a believer in the Royals' future that he signed a four-year, $38 millionextension. "I'm not saying we're going to win the World Series,"Greinke says. "I'm saying that the talent level is here for us tocontend."

Kansas City won75 games in 2008—the most in five years—and general manager Dayton Moorebrought in several veterans he hopes will jump-start the team to contenderstatus in '09. He traded for Boston centerfielder Coco Crisp, who adds speedplus defensive range in the biggest outfield in the AL. He traded for Floridafirst baseman Mike Jacobs, who had a .299 on-base percentage a year ago but hit32 home runs in a tough hitter's park, Dolphin Stadium.

Moore also signedhard-throwing free-agent relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz, giving thebullpen three relievers (including Soria) who have averaged around a strikeoutper inning. "We want to make it a six-inning game," Moore says,"and you do that with power arms in the bullpen."

For the Royals tocontend for only the second time in 15 years, the biggest key may be Greinke.He was the consensus choice as the best pitching prospect in baseball in 2003,and he pitched relatively well his rookie year. Things took a dramatic turnafter that. He went 5--17 with a 5.80 ERA in his second year, and in springtraining '06 he left the team to deal with personal issues. The way Greinkedescribes it, he did not feel comfortable around people, and even common taskscaused him distress. He spent most of '06 in the minor leagues and much of '07in the bullpen. After he began taking prescribed medication, Greinke says thathe began to come to grips with his emotions.

Then he had hissolid 2008 season and left no question about his stuff: He had command of amid-90s fastball and threw a plus slider. This spring he worked on a changeupthat could make him one of a handful of true aces in the game.

And, for thefirst time, Greinke says he really believes in this team. Should he? Theoffense is still a bit deficient (though big-time prospects Mike Moustakas andEric Hosmer are on the way), the infield defense could be shaky, and the bottomhalf of the rotation is a mystery. "If things go right, we could be reallygood," Greinke says. "Thing is, we're good enough that if things gowrong, we should still finish around .500. That's different from the last fewyears."

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

Trading for MikeJacobs in October was a curious move given the Royals' logjam at the cornersand general manager Dayton Moore's stated desire to improve the team's on-basepercentage (.320, third worst in the AL). Jacobs (left) has a career .318 OBPand a full-season high of .325; last year he struck out nearly five times forevery unintentional walk he drew. Jacobs is the lefthanded version of JoseGuillen, and the last thing the Royals needed was another player with thatskill set. K.C. would be better off putting 25-year-old Kila Ka'ahiue at firstbase. He has a career .380 OBP in the minors and discovered his power strokelast season, hitting 37 homers in Double A and Triple A combined. He's also abetter defensive player than Jacobs, who was rated as one of the worst glovemen in the majors last year.


Combinedvictories by Gil Meche and Zack Greinke last season, the highest win total fortwo Royals hurlers in the same season in 12 years. Meche, mocked for thefive-year, $55 million deal he signed before the '07 season, is one of onlyseven pitchers (CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, DanHaren and James Shields are the others) to have thrown at least 210 innings ineach of the last two seasons.

The Lineup

Manager TreyHillman

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)


August 17, 1981

Jack Brett, 58, has a reputation for hardness, but heis almost rapturous when he talks of his second-born, Ken. "He looked likethe statue of David when he was growing up," Jack says. "When he wasjust a little boy, his stomach was so strong that you could see the plates, themuscles. Even when he was five!" Brett's sons are a major reason why bumperstickers in El Segundo proclaim the town BASEBALL CITY USA. Jack has fatheredfour professional ballplayers, two of them major league All-Stars. And one ofthem is quite likely to wind up with a bronze plaque at Cooperstown. Funnything, nobody expected it to be George Brett.

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HERE TO STAY On the verge of stardom, Greinke re-signed because he saw a franchise heading in the same direction.