There was less than a week remaining in spring training when a reporter mentioned to manager Ned Yost that he’d likely be surprised to learn the level of interest and anticipation surrounding the Royals in Kansas City.
“I won’t be surprised,” Yost barked back. “I already see it down here.”
The Royals enter the regular season Monday in Chicago after retooling their rotation in the offseason, bumping their payroll to a record of nearly $80 million and romping through the Cactus League.
Expectations haven’t been this high since long before general manager Dayton Moore arrived in mid-2006 from Atlanta to rebuild a once-proud franchise then in the process of losing 100 games for the fourth time in five years.
“The plan going into 2007,” Moore said, “and I’ve still got the notes, is that (Alex) Gordon and (Billy) Butler need to turn into players. Both of them were coming out of Double-A.
“The plan was to draft, sign, develop players to blend in with Gordon and Butler. Then sign our good players long-term, and then do everything we can to facilitate them to win during this window of opportunity.”
That belief, that the time was right, convinced owner David Glass to boost the payroll and enable Moore to acquire pitchers Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis in trades and retain free-agent Jeremy Guthrie.
Moore admitted the Royals have shifted to a “go for it” mode.
Doing so places the spotlight firmly on Moore, whose contract runs through 2014, and Yost, whose contract expires at the end of this season.
Moore accepts that but vehemently denied his offseason moves represented panic or desperation, as some critics suggested. He labels those charges “insulting.”
Even so, the shift in philosophy ensured the Royals will be judged far more this season by on-field success rather than, as for much of their recent past, their future potential.
Club officials need look no farther than across the parking lot to Arrowhead Stadium to see that even Kansas City fans, more patient than most, can reach a point where patience runs out.
“I don’t feel any different than I feel every year starting the season,” Yost said. “We always feel good going into the season. We felt great going into the season last year.
“I don’t want to use the word excited, but I’m very enthused. I just think, right now, we’re in a good spot.”
The fans agree. What’s more, they expect results.