After a season of historically shitty proportions, I think it is a fair assessment to say that the fanbase of the Kansas City Royals would like to see Tony Peña, Jr., thrown out of the airplane as it reaches cruising altitude on the way back from Arizona. Without a parachute.
To say Tony Peña, Jr. had a bad season would be like stating bacon is pretty good. He had the lowest batting average in the American League of players with at least 200 at-bats. His ratios were .169/.189/.209, and those are not typos. He had an OPS+ of 7. Yes, single-digits. 7.
As in, "Why didn't they ever make a Leonard Part 7*?"
*Or, perhaps the better question would be, why did they never make the much needed first five parts? I think I speak for America, nay, the World, when I say that we needed those first five parts not only to lift our spirits and defeat the threat of totalitarian rule worldwide, but also to fully prepare us for the beauty we were to receive in Part 6.
Seriously. An OPS+ of 7 is so unspeakably bad that seeing that number in that column actually made my mind explode all over the wall behind me. My skull is missing. It will probably land somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico in about an hour.
Now, the instant the curtain was drawn on his season, TPJ got Lasik. To summarize what that article says:
According to Peña, he had been having trouble seeing the ball and was not comfortable in the glasses. In Dominican winter ball after the surgery, he added walking to his repertoire, batting .275 and getting on base at a clip of .347. He totaled more walks 46 games than he did in two seasons with the Royals.
Obviously, any hope that one can derive from Peña's success this past winter must be tempered with the caveat that any progress was achieved in the Dominican Republic and not at the Major League level. This may not translate at all. A Tony Peña, Jr., who cannot get on base at a clip of at least .300 is untenable. His glove does not make up the difference between anything less than that. If--and this is a big 'if'--TPJ can somehow muster a .330 OBP, then not only would it seem that he could remain a Royal but that the Royals' middle infield problems may already be solved.
Ordinarily, I would probably make very little of this story. I try not to get too worked up over anything that I read during Spring Training. More often than not, articles that come out during Spring Training are, put nicely fluff. Put in less forgiving terms, much of it strikes me as light propaganda with the aim of either inflating the value of players who will not make the team but could conceivably yield something on the trade market or trying to sell those last few season tickets. This could very well be the former of those two.
The only reason I have a sense that there may be more to the contents of this article is that a similar thing happened going into the 2007 season.
2006 saw Cleveland's young shortstop Jhonny Peralta take a dump in the batter's box. His Age-23 season left Clevelanders brimming with hope for what they were sure to enjoy for years to come: a shortstop with legitimate 25 home run potential who had put up a .292/.366/.520 split in his "rookie" (yes, he had 242 at-bats in 2003, but he spent most of 2004 in the minors, so for all intents and purposes 2005 was his "real" rookie season) season. Sure, there could be some drop off, but he had sported an OPS+ of 137! What wasn't there to love?
In 2006 after that bold 2005 campaign, Peralta's OPS+ plummetted to 83. His ratios fell to a shocking .270/.323/.385, while he mustered a paltry 13 home runs.
As the 2006 season was coming to an end, Peralta decided that his myopia may have been becoming a greater problem than he initially thought. In the offseason that followed, he had Lasik eye surgery. What followed was a return to the 20+ home run, triple-digit OPS+ realm that Indians fans had hoped for after 2005.
I would be the first one to tell you that Tony Peña, Jr., is no Jhonny Peralta--offensively. Peña never was and never will be the hitter that Peralta is. Moreover, Peralta was not even wearing his contacts during that subpar sophomore season. Peña cannot say the same for his worthless 2008 at the dish.
But as one of the myopic masses, I can say that I do see the ball much better with contacts than when bespectacled. The same goes for when I played basketball in junior high and high school. When I finally got contacts, my depth perception and field of vision were much improved. I can completely understand where an athlete would be helped by no longer needing glasses.
Maybe Peña does not pull it together. Maybe he does not have the requisite skill-set to be a competent hitter at the Major League level. Maybe the hope that springs eternal in most fans as teams report to Florida and Arizona in February of every year is simply intoxicating me. By no means do I want this entry to be read as a love letter to Tony Peña, Jr.
I am simply positing the idea that perhaps Tony plays his way back onto this team--maybe back into the starting lineup. If his poor vision actually cost him last year and he can play capably offensively in 2009, then doesn't a starting infield of Mike Aviles and Tony Peña, Jr., at second and short actually look good defensively--at least in comparison to what the alternatives would seem to be?
If Tony Peña, Jr., is no longer broken, I think the Royals might be better off than having to trot out any of those other options at second.
Alberto Callaspo's skills at the plate seem enticing, but going into his Age-26 season he has totalled 399 at-bats in parts of three seasons in the Majors while spending more than his share of time sidelined because of behavioral transgressions. His stats would indicate potential, but the way he carries himself off the field raise warning flags. Furthermore, he could conceivably net someone in return on the trade market. I love the minor league history of doing whatever he can to get on base, but he does not avoid the bad decisions that accompany a man who does whatever he can to stay on the field.
Willie Bloomquist had one extra-base hit last season. When your ratio line reads .279/.377/.285 and those figures are in that order, there is a huge problem, and it would seem that the lofty OBP would likely come down over the course of a full season as pitchers learn that they can just throw strikes and have little damage done. As a super-sub, he can be serviceable. As a starter at second base, the Royals are fucked.
Mark Teahen is desperate to start. I don't blame him. There is not a scenario I can imagine in which Mark Teahen is a better defensive second baseman than Mike Aviles. His bat may be better than Peña's even under the ideal situation I've hinted at where TPJ becomes a serviceable offensive player, but Mark Teahen walking out to the field every inning with a glove and hunkering down on the right side of the infield but not at first is frankly scary. His bat may play above replacement level at second, but I would venture to say that his glove will not.
Mike Aviles at second, however... That is something I could stomach.
If Tony Peña, Jr., can somehow make that viable, I am all for it.