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Yes, 2012 was supposed to be the year the Royals' youth movement finally showed up in the standings. Well, the standings showed them finishing with 90 losses.
Choosing the Kansas City Royals' best player in 2012 is actually quite easy. For the second straight season, Alex Gordon was not only the Royals' best player, but -- thanks to his solid hitting and his outstanding, Gold Glove-worthy work in left field -- actually one of the better players in the American League. It took a lot longer than anyone expected, but Gordon finally justified the Royals' faith when they used the second pick in the 2005 amateur draft to get him.
But this isn't about the Royals' best player. Instead it's about the player who best symbolizes the team that went 72-90. And it's not nearly as easy to identify that player...
It's not easy because while 72-90 isn't a terrible record, it's also not where this team was supposed to be. You will find, without working too hard, a fair number of reports from last spring in which reasonable men were positively gushing about the Royals' young talent ... so much talent, in fact, that this might finally be the season in which management's grand plan -- The Process -- would finally pay off in the standings. Maybe more wins than losses (for the first time since 2003, and maybe even some interesting baseball in September.
There was an obvious question to be asked, though: Which pitchers are going to win all those games?
In the event, almost nobody. Bruce Chen, signed before the season to a new two-year contract, led the Royals with 11 victories, but also lost 14 games and posted a 5.07 ERA. Also before the season, the Royals traded outfielder Melky Cabrera to the Giants for Jonathan Sánchez; Cabrera very nearly won a batting title, while Sánchez very nearly (well, not that nearly) won two games before the Royals traded him to the Rockies. Young Danny Duffy, who struggled as a rookie in 2011 but was expected to develop in his second season, instead made only six starts before heading to the operating room for Tommy John Surgery.
One might also consider Jeff "Frenchy" Francoeur, signed to a new two-year contract before the season, only to quickly establish himself as perhaps the worst every-day player in the American League. Considering how poorly the organization has been for so many years, you might argue that Francoeur symbolizes not only 2012, but roughly the last 20-odd years of franchise history.
Sure, if you want. But you can use Frenchy as a foil only so many times before you begin to wonder if you're repeating yourself to the point of self-parody.
Or maybe there's simply a better choice, and there probably is.
Craig Brown is right: Eric Hosmer is the Royals' Player of the Year. As a rookie in 2011, he looked for all the world like one of the best young (21!) hitters around. In spring training this year, he was a line-drive machine, knocking in two or three runs every sunny day (and in Arizona it's sunny every day). What would he do in his first full season in the majors!
He would lay an egg.
In April, Hosmer hit five home runs but batted just .188. In September, Hosmer batted .179 and hit only two home runs. The months in between weren't so hot, either.
It took Alex Gordon five years to establish himself as an excellent major leaguer, and there were a bunch of bumps along the way. Hosmer's already got one big bump out of the way. But how many more will there be?