NASHVILLE, Tenn. — These might not be your grandpa's Kansas City Royals anymore.
Known during their golden era as speed freaks who pumped their legs in order to get around the bases, the Royals want to slug their way into contention in 2013 and going forward. That's the word from manager Ned Yost at baseball's winter meetings. No longer will the Royals think first of hitting up the middle and to the opposite field. Yost wants home runs and he wants them now — no matter that the Royals finished last in the AL in homers in 2012 (and no higher than 11th since 2004).
What in the name of Willie Wilson, Freddie Patek and Amos Otis is going on, here? The Royals are, and always have been, an NL-style club. They run. They steal bases. They hit triples. Four bases in one swing is considered gluttony inside of Kauffman Stadium. They're forever like the '85 Cardinals, except for Jack Clark, only bluer. Not anymore.
"I want to open it up a little bit," Yost said. "I want to start pulling the ball a little bit more. I don't care about … I don't want a ton of strikeouts, but I would rather strike out than hit the ball deep to the right-center field wall and have it caught — unless there's a man on third base. Or a man on second base."
So there are limits to this madness! (Except — and Earl Weaver is with me on this — three-run home runs are the best kind of home runs.) All joking aside, this is a great conclusion the Royals have come to. Within the likes of Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Wil Myers and Lorenzo Cain, Yost says they have hitters with power.
"I'd rather just take some good swipes at the ball and try to put the ball in the stands," Yost said. "I think we've got guys that can do it. I think Salvador Perez can hit 20 to 25 home runs. I think Hosmer can hit 30. Moose can hit 30. Gordy can hit 30. I think Cain can hit 20. I think, eventually, Wil Myers can hit 30 home runs. So we've got guys. Billy Butler could hit 40 home runs. He's got that kind of pop."
When you finish 72-90 for the forever-th season in a row, a philosophy change is long overdue. The Oakland Athletics say they made a conscious effort to hit more home runs in the second half of 2012 and their offense took off because of the power boost. That might be, partially, where K.C. gets the big idea. Kansas City also has hired new hitting coaches; Jack Maloof and assistant Andre David have coached most of the team's young roster in the minors. The boys will need work. Hosmer, for example, bottomed out in '12 after a promising rookie season.
"They've been with these kids from the minute they signed," Yost said. "Jack, he knows what makes 'em tick. When something goes wrong, he knows how to fix it."
It all sounds great, but what about Kauffman Stadium, which (as Lonnie Smith will tell you) was designed for the ball to roll around in the outfield for triples and inside-the-park home runs galore. Even if the artificial turf was pulled out long ago, its dimensions don't aid the long ball. (Although, oddly enough, Kauffman played about neutral for home runs in 2012. It actually aided homers slightly. It could be a red herring, but at least we know it's possible. Bah, it's probably because the Royals pitchers were so terrible.)
Well, they don't have to lead the league in homers. When the Royals won the World Series, they hit 154 homers, just two off the league average (thank you, Steve Balboni). Of course they also had Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry in '85.
So there you have it. The Royals, whose lion mascot is named Sluggerrrrrrrrr, finally have an identity to go along with him. Now, all they need is to hit these hypothetical home runs, and they could be back in business in the AL Central.