January 2011

Numbers quiz: Who’ll wear Nos. 9 and 23?

Always interesting going into Spring Training to look at the uniform numbers that will be popping up on new guys or on old guys who will be changing digits.

Manager Ned Yost will move up from No. 2 to No. 3, honoring his late, great friend, NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. The number was vacated when Yuniesky Betancourt was traded to the Brewers.

The new shortstop, Alcides Escobar, takes over 2. Other newcomers and their numbers include Jeff Francis, 26; Vin Mazzaro, 32; Melky Cabrera, 53, and Jeff Francoeur, 21. Lorenzo Cain, the center fielder who came in the Zack Greinke deal, gets 6 and he’s already been warned by its former owner, Willie Wilson, that he expects a lot.

Cabrera wore 28 for the Yankees but switched to Bobby Abreu’s old 53 in 2009 after his buddy signed with the Angels. The Royals’ Kanekoa Texeira yielded 53 and took over 50 from bench coach John Gibbons. Nobody knew what number Gibbons was anyway because he always managed to wear some sort of jacket, even in 90-degree weather. There are some who suspect Gibbons never wears a uniform top. If he does this year, it’ll be 49.

Doug Sisson, the new first-base coach, will have 11, long worn with distinction by Hal McRae.

There’s no sentimentality involved for long-term favorites who were traded. Outfielder Derrick Robinson takes over David DeJesus’ 9 and infielder Jeff Bianchi was assigned Greinke’s 23.

For the Brewers, Greinke will wear 13 and maybe that’s why his buddy, Mike Aviles, is switching his Royals number from 30 to 13.

Who’s No. 1? That’s back on the back of center fielder Jarrod Dyson. The Royals’ most distinguished 1 was Cookie Rojas.

–Dick Kaegel

Now Royals have Billy through 2014

Billy Butler and the Royals have agreed to a four-year, $30-million contract extension, the first baseman said Saturday.

The multi-year contract avoids salary arbitration and gives Butler the security of a long-term deal through 2014.

“I just get to worry about playing baseball and it’s what’s best for me and my family,” Butler said. “That’s what it’s all about. I didn’t want to have to worry about going to arbitration every year and this where I want to be. The city’s great and we love it here. I can’t express how happy we are right now.”

Butler had filed in arbitration for $4.3 million and the Royals offered $3.4 million. Now that’s off the table.

His new deal was worked out by agent Greg Genske of Legacy Sports with Royals general manager Dayton Moore.

“It worked out for both sides,” Butler said. “I’ve always been happy to be a Royal. We have a lot of young guys coming up and we plan on doing great things. It just means I’m a big part of it.”

Butler, his wife Katie and their daughter Kenley live in Idaho Falls where Butler made his pro debut in 2004 with a rousing .373 average. He was in Kansas City for the Royals FanFest.

“It’s just what’s best for your family,” Butler said. “We’re happy to be done with it and Dayton and the whole organization were great.”

Butler on Saturday was to receive the Royals Player of the Year Award for the second straight time after setting new career highs in several categories, including average (.318), hits (189), walks (69) and on-base percentage (.388).

–Dick Kaegel.

Chen takes Meche’s spot on roster

Bruce Chen has been added to the Royals’ roster after passing his physical examination, taking the spot vacated by Gil Meche when he retired.

It really seemed like Meche was going to give the bullpen a try when we talked in the last week of the season. He felt like he had to do something to earn the $12 million still left on his contract. A lot of players would’ve had the shoulder surgery, sat out the season, collected the money and said, “Thanks and see ya later.”

Meche wasn’t that kind of guy. And, after thinking about it this winter, he couldn’t even justify collecting such a huge pile of dough by pitching out of the bullpen. So he packed it in.

“I know bullpen guys don’t make that kind of money unless they’re a closer,” he said, “and I just felt it was the right thing to do. I’m not trying to look good in any way. I just know I wouldn’t be able to handle it if I got hurt and wouldn’t be able to play.”

After making about $43 million the last four years, Meche is set financially anyway.

Anyway, with Chen on the roster, that’s back to the 40-man limit and when Jeff Francis is officially added, another player will have to be dropped.

— Dick Kaegel

 

Departure of Greinke leaves a void for McClure

No surprise that Royals pitching coach Bob McClure is facing a big void in his rotation with Zack Greinke gone. But McClure also feels a personal loss for the guy he helped guide to the 2009 Cy Young Award.

McClure worked with Greinke over a five-year period and every Spring Training there seemed to be some project that the two men worked on. The spring before the Cy Young, for example, refining a changeup was the focus and it made a huge difference in Greinke’s game in ’09.

“I’ll miss him,” McClure said. “When you’ve been around somebody as long as we’ve been around each other and gone through a lot of things – ups and downs, goods and bads – part of you is kind of missing.”

McClure wasn’t all that surprised by Greinke’s great Cy Young season. He had given then-manager Trey Hillman a head’s-up.

“The year before you could kind of see it coming. I remember telling Trey about halfway through the season before the Cy Young that he’s about ready to pop, it’s about ready to happen,” McClure said. “You could just kind of tell. I’ve played with guys and had the same thing happen – when you just walk out there and know you’re going to beat somebody. Then he took into the next season it kind of snowballed.”

There were a lot of things going on with Greinke as his success slipped last year. He was trying to cope with all the demands that his Cy Young fame engendered, he was adjusting to married life, he increasingly became annoyed by the Royals’ slow progress toward contention. And there was something else.

“When you’re that competitive and you have a year like he did, you end up trying to do more maybe,” McClure said.

That’s what happened with Bret Saberhagen after his Cy Young season in 1985. He went from 20-6 to 7-12 the next year and later realized that he was just pressing to be Mr. Perfect in ’86 instead of just relaxing, enjoying the game and letting things flow naturally.

Although there were rumbles that, at times last year, Greinke was perceived as not being as competitive or as focused as he was in ’09, McClure brushed that off.

“When I talked to him between the lines and talked to him between innings, it was a little different than when he would talk before or after a game,” McClure said. “I think there were times when it got away from him a little bit and he got a little predictable and then two runs in that inning turned into four.”

Now Greinke is with Milwaukee where, perhaps, he’ll be as fortunate as McClure was in his playing days. McClure had a fine year as a starter for the Brewers in 1982 and wound up pitching in the World Series that year.

–Dick Kaegel.