By CHRIS RASMUSSEN
Two events occurred that serve as a reminder concerning the most critical decision the Royals faced in the previous decade. First, Mike Sweeney’s left knee “locked up” this week, putting an end to his season and perhaps his major-league career. Second, the trade deadline passed – five years ago, the Royals traded away Carlos Beltran a month before the deadline.
There was a point in 2002 where the Royals opted to allocate its limited resources to Mike Sweeney and sign him to a lucrative long-term deal rather than allocate those resources to keep Beltran in Kansas City.
In retrospect, the Royals, when faced with this Sophie’s Choice, made a disastrous decision that still haunts the franchise. Sweeney was a productive slugger, but injuries cost him 50 or more games a season after he signed his contract in 2002. The players most comparable to him are good but not great players – Mike Greenwell, Pedro Gurrero, Richie Zisk, etc….
Beltran? He’s still playing at a high level at the age of 31, still displaying his five tools on a consistent basis at Shea Stadium. Of the 10 most comparable players to Beltran at the age of 30, three are Hall of Famers (Reggie Jackson, Billy Williams and Dave Winfield).
The Royals made the wrong choice. Why? After all, Beltran played a more challenging defensive position and is the rarest of commodities – a five-tool star. Here are some reasons that aren’t often discussed about why they kept Sweeney:
a) perceived "media friendliness"
b) perceived team leadership skills
Yes, Sweeney captained the team, leading his team to a number of last place finishes. Beltran was a enigmatic and sometimes reclusive clubhouse presence during his Kauffman Stadium tenure and it is possible that the Glass family felt that the Royals thought Sweeney a bona fide Face of the Franchise.
The Royals picked perceived leadership over player tools. This is relevant right now when some in the local media seem to prefer 25 hustling-but-ultimately-unproductive players over 25 productive ones who don’t always hustle.
The Royals look for Faces of the Franchise for marketing purposes. They instead need to build a winning team and then market their players, rather than signing players they feel are more marketable.