No telling what Phillies' future would have been with Arbuckle

Posted: June 11, 2014

IT IS JUNE 2014 and the Kansas City Royals are sitting right around .500. Not good, not bad, and, as I write this, only four games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central, an opportunity for hope.

Just don't use that word to the majority of Royals fans who haven't seen their team in the postseason since KC won the 1985 World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals, four games to three. Hope is what they've been sold since, through frugal times and foolish ones, through years and years of picking high in the Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Hope is what general manager Dayton Moore was supposed to have provided by now, 8 years after he moved from assisting Braves GM John Schuerholz to running his own shop in Kansas City.

Assistant GMs, we should know by now, should not be confused with the GMs they have worked underneath.

Since that hire, Moore has brought to Kansas City several scouts and associates from his Atlanta days - most notably to us, Mike Arbuckle, the former assistant Phillies GM under Pat Gillick. Arbuckle, you probably recall, left the Phillies following the 2008 World Series championship, a little miffed after he was passed over for the general manager's job in favor of Ruben Amaro Jr.

There was then, and continues now, a large civic outcry in Philadelphia that the wrong man left. Curiously, there is also a civic belief, devoid of empirical evidence, that the Royals have proved this with shrewd draft picks and a talent-rich minor league system, a blossoming dynasty, if you will.

So here's some empirical evidence: Three of the Royals' top four minor league affiliates sport losing records and are at or near the bottom of their respective leagues. Triple A Omaha, the one exception, teeters at .500 like the parent club. More significantly, of the drafts conducted since Arbuckle arrived, the Royals' most notable drafted players to reach the majors are Aaron Crow, a solid middle reliever, and Wil Myers, the power-hitting rightfielder who was the centerpiece of the 2012 trade with Tampa Bay that landed James Shields.

Christian Colon, their top pick in 2010, is now a 25-year-old light-hitting second baseman for Omaha. Bubba Starling, the fifth overall pick in 2011, has not hit .280 at any level (or many home runs) and currently owns a batting average of under .200 in Wilmington. Hunter Dozier, the Royals' top pick in 2013, is also playing for Wilmington, with an average of about .300 and solid power numbers.

The rest of the homegrown talent, which includes first baseman Eric Hosmer, outfielders Billy Butler and Alex Gordon and catcher Salvador Perez, were drafted or signed as free agents before Arbuckle's arrival. Two other starters, shortstop Alcides Escobar and centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, came in the megadeal that sent former Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke to the Brewers in December 2010.

The Royals have developed their talent. It just hasn't been as talented as they had once - here's that word again - hoped.

This is not meant to be a slam on Arbuckle, whose full title is senior adviser to the general manager/scouting and player development. He is just one of several involved in making decisions for Kansas City. And as it did before the 2013 season, Baseball Prospectus ranked Kansas City's farm system as seventh-best going into 2014.

But in the time since Arbuckle left, the Phillies returned to the World Series once and reached the playoffs twice more. The Royals lost more than 90 games in each of their seasons over that span. When Greinke was dealt for the four players that included Escobar and Cain, it was partly because the Royals - whose mantra under Moore has been that pitching is the currency of baseball - believed more big arms were coming.

But the Royals have built and rebuilt their rotation a few times over that stretch with castoffs since, and spent dearly to acquire Shields. Kyle Zimmer, their top pick in 2012, was shut down for 2 months with a lat injury after feeling tightness in his first outing against hitters in May. He had not pitched this season. Yordano Ventura, signed as a free agent in 2008 at age 17, just returned to the Royals rotation after he felt tightness in his elbow in late May.

The point: The empirical evidence that the Phillies would have been be any better off if Arbuckle were at the helm over the last six seasons just is not there. It's conjecture, and it is feverish conjecture given the current state of your once-mighty team, and the increased public disdain for the job done by Amaro, the man for whom Arbuckle was passed over.

Except for the now-haunting trading away of Cliff Lee, Amaro went for broke over his first three seasons. Should he have received more in that deal? Absolutely. Should he not have surrendered so much talent to get Hunter Pence? Sure is shaping up that way. But he was a big-time winner in the Roy Halladay deal, and the deal that landed Lee, and the midseason trade for Roy Oswalt, and the low-risk acquisition of Pedro Martinez that enabled the Phillies to make that second consecutive World Series in 2009.

He went for broke then, and now his team is, too. And, understandably, the people here now sound as cynical as they do in Kansas City.

The difference is that those people have been at it a whole lot longer.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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