Sweeney, Beltran lead all-decade team
Sixteen-man squad includes 10 unanimous selections
KANSAS CITY -- Could be a tough job, picking an all-decade team for 2000-09, considering the Royals had just one winning record in those 10 years.
Yep, 2003 was the only above-.500 season in Kansas City, the year manager Tony Pena's club led the American League Central for much of the season only to finish third with an 83-79 mark.
Even so, it's not that difficult to find some outstanding players for the Royals' All-Decade team -- not when the likes of Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Joe Randa and Zack Greinke have graced the field at Kauffman Stadium.
Charged with the task, we asked some knowledgable experts to serve on a five-man committee to make the recommendations:
For experienced eyes, we have Art Stewart, Royals senior advisor and a respected super scout who has been watching the club from behind home plate for 40 years.
Adding a voice of authority, Denny Matthews has broadcast Royals games ever since the franchise began in 1969. Both he and Stewart are in the Royals Hall of Fame.
For player input, who could be better than Sweeney? He served as the Royals' captain for much of the decade until leaving after the 2007 season. He spent 13 years with the club.
For a Royals' front-office perspective, we have Mike Swanson, vice president of communications and broadcasting. He has 31 years of Major League experience.
They joined this reporter, who has covered the Royals for the last 22 years.
Keep in mind that only a player's performance in the years 2000-09 were to be considered. That prompted some difficult decisions, with length of tenure a factor as well as performance.
Of the 16 players selected, there were 10 unanimous choices, and perhaps the easiest was Beltran. Heading toward free agency, he was traded to Houston on June 24, 2004. Even so, he was elected as a starting outfielder for the American League All-Star team that year but played for the National Leagu team. How odd.
But Beltran, from just 2000 through his departure, managed in less than 4 1/2 seasons with the Royals to belt 101 home runs and amass 401 RBIs while batting .286, stealing 134 bases and getting caught just 15 times.
"I'd say he was probably the best all-around player on the whole squad," Matthews said.
The unanimous picks also included first baseman Sweeney, who recused himself from that judgment. His decade started with a statistical bang of 29 homers, 144 RBIs and .333 in 2000. Though plagued by injuries later, in the decade he still averaged 20 homers, 81 RBIs and a .304 average per year.
Royals All-Decade team
"Sweeney was pretty consistent despite the injuries, and that really started to slow him down," Matthews pointed out. "But he was a hard worker and a good leader and a delight for everybody to be around. He'd answer questions whether they were tough ones or easy ones, and he was pretty consistent in that regard, too, and that's what I admired about him."
With Sweeney at first, the committee agreed on emerging star Billy Butler as the designated hitter and also made unanimous recommendations of second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, a Gold Glove winner and .300 hitter for the Royals, and third baseman Randa, a .283 hitter and slick fielder over five seasons in the decade.
"It's an honor to be a part of the All-Decade Team," Sweeney said, "It's joy to see many guys who played hard in Royal Blue for many years get recognized. One that stands out to me is the 'Joker,' Joe Randa. Here's a guy that bled royal blue for years. I believe if he wanted to, he could still be out there playing Gold Glove third base. He's poured his heart and soul into the Kansas City community. He's one of the greatest third basemen I've ever played with."
Split decisions gave the catching position to John Buck, the starter for most of his six years in Kansas City, over Brent Mayne, and shortstop to Angel Berroa, 2003 AL Rookie of the Year, over Rey Sanchez.
The other outfield spots went to current standout David DeJesus, who had strong support after batting .286 in seven years, and Jermaine Dye. In his 1 1/2 seasons with the Royals (2000-01), Dye pounded 46 homers and drove in 165 runs. That edged him past Raul Ibanez. Johnny Damon was considered, but 2000 was his only KC year in the decade.
Stewart tried to figure a way to get Ibanez, who had three fine years with the Royals, on the team. The versatile Ibanez, in addition to the outfield, spent some time at first base and DH, like Butler.
"The one that really tore me up was the DH, and you say, 'Well, why, when Billy Butler's a natural?' But I also had Ibanez down and I was trying to make a decision. That's a tough call," Stewart said. "But Billy has done a lot of things and almost broke [Hal] McRae's doubles record, so I'll go with him. But Ibanez just gets lost in the shuffle."
Four of the five starting pitchers on the team were unanimous picks -- Greinke, Gil Meche, Jeff Suppan and Paul Byrd. And the fifth choice, Brian Bannister, was almost unanimous, with Runelvys Hernandez also considered. Greinke's 50 victories topped the list for the decade, and next were Meche and Suppan (29 wins each) followed by Bannister (28). Byrd had a 17-win season and a two-year ERA of 3.95.
Sweeney not only knew Greinke from the start of his Major League career but was in the Mariners' lineup last year when the soon-to-be Cy Young Award winner threw a one-hitter.
"He was incredible," Sweeney said. "It's neat for a guy like me, because I was kind of the elder statesman on the [Royals] when Zack arrived, and I saw him grow from a young boy that was unsure of himself and didn't even know if he wanted to play in the big leagues, to one of the best pitchers in baseball. He deserves his spot and he's earned it."
Closer Joakim Soria, who ended the decade-long search for a successor to Jeff Montgomery, was a unanimous choice. Soria has 89 saves in three years.
Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt was the majority choice as the setup man over Jason Grimsley, whose considerable accomplishments were clouded by the performance-enhancing substances issue. As a reliever, Affeldt had a 9-5 record, 18 holds and 17 saves.
The all-decade manager's spot fell to Pena as pilot of the only winning season in the 10 years, such an unexpected accomplishment that he was voted the American League Manager of the Year in 2003 by the BBWAA. He also had the most victories in the decade, 198, against 285 losses.
The process was nostalgic for Sweeney. He remembered the day that Greinke left Spring Training in 2006 when no one knew if he'd ever return. And there were other little memories, too, such as Suppan being the only team member to wear white shoelaces -- "I'd kid him that he was the only guy in the league to wear them and he'd say, 'Oh, no, Jamie Moyer does it, too'" -- and the college kids who'd camp in the upper deck at Kauffman Stadium in the "Byrd's Nest" to cheer Byrd.
"It's stuff like that that brings back great memories from this All-Decade team," Sweeney said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.