Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
MLB Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
CNN/SI Preview: Kansas City Royals
Posted: Friday March 12, 1999 12:54 PM
By Dan George, CNN/SI
Player to Watch: Kevin Appier, P
The key player for the Royals in 1999 probably won't even be with the team on Opening Day. Kansas City is turning to youth and as a result Kevin Appier, the Royals' ace of the '90s, is on the trading block.
The hitch is that Appier, after averaging 13 1/2 victories from 1990 through 1996, has won just 10 games the past two seasons because of injuries, including a broken collarbone that sidelined him for most of '98. When he did pitch, the result was an uninspiring 1-2 mark with a 7.82 ERA in 15 innings. That, along with his $4.8 million salary, is enough to give potential suitors pause.
But Appier, 31, is willing to waive his no-trade clause for the chance to pitch for a contender, and if the hard-throwing right-hander continues to look good in training camp he'll almost certainly leave Kansas City behind. Both Cleveland and Boston are said to be interested, and prospects like the Indians' Russell Branyan or the Red Sox's Dernell Stenson would be a lot more important to a rebuilding team like K.C. than an aging -- and expensive -- veteran.
1998 Recap (72-89, 3rd place, AL Central)
The good news for Royals fans was that Kansas City avoided another last-place finish. But that's about all they could expect of a team whose top players were second-tier hitters like Dean Palmer, Jeff King, Jose Offerman and Hal Morris, and journeymen pitchers like Tim Belcher and Pat Rapp.
True, Palmer hit 34 homers with a career-high 119 RBIs, but Offerman was a defensive liability at second, King's numbers (24 HRs, 93 RBIs .263) paled besides those of other AL first basemen and Morris may have been the most innocuous .309 hitter in recent history. And nobody mistook Belcher and Rapp -- whose combined 26 victories were accompanied by a 4.72 ERA -- for Maddux and Glavine.
All but King are gone now, and none will be terribly missed. But GM Herk Robinson could have traded some or all of them to contenders for prospects during the season. Instead, he focused on avoiding the cellar. So they became free agents at season's end, and K.C. ended up with nothing -- except for that sterling finish 16 1/2 games back of the Indians.
Popular wisdom is that the Royals - who invited a franchise-record 69 players to spring training -- will be the worst team in baseball this season. A 500,000-to-1 shot to win the World Series. A lock to lose 100 games. But wait a minute -- aren't the Twins still in the AL Central? And isn't Jaime Navarro still the White Sox ace?
The Royals of manager Tony Muser will be young in '99, very young. Three rookies -- center fielder Carlos Beltran, second baseman Carlos Febles and DH Jeremy Giambi -- are expected to win starting jobs. K.C. may be rushing them, but all have offensive potential. If Robinson can unload King and his $4 million salary, 25-year-old left fielder Johnny Damon could be the team's senior everyday player.
Appier's departure would make Jose Rosado, 24, the ace; he struggled last season but reportedly threw well in winter ball. Lefty Glendon Rusch, starting his second full season in Kansas City, is also just 24. Former Stanford pitching star Jeff Austin, K.C.'s top draft pick in 1998, may be in the rotation by midseason, and one-time Red Sox pitching phenom Jeff Suppan will also get a good look.
Expect the Royals to be very rough around the edges this season, but Muser is promising a lot of hustle and enthusiasm. A couple of breaks here and there, and another third-place finish isn't out of the question. This time, though, it could be the start of something good.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.