World War K Episode 2: And We Will Always Be Royals

 

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Episode 1: The History of The First Base War

 

It is said that nothing worth doing is ever easy, and this is doubly true of time travel.  The fabric of the past resists change, not unlike a stubborn mule or the American South.  To move a human-sized pitching machine from the war-torn hell of the year 2099 to the slightly less war-torn hell of 2014 is a process with many steps, and there are numerous things that could go wrong.  It is thought that the power-crazed Artificial Intelligence K.I.R.K.G.I.B.S.O.N. actually sent back an army of robot masters to destroy baseball, and only the six most hardy even survived the trip.

When the aged Mike Trout programmed the Strike-O-Matic to go back to 2014 to stop the robot masters, he gave it a simple enough mission.  The Strike-O-Matic was instructed to find Mike Trout in the past and join the Angels to defeat the nefarious plans of K.I.R.K.G.I.B.S.O.N.  Unfortunately,  Strike-O-Matic’s memory was stored on a Chinese knockoff “Zandisk” solid state hard drive, which Trout had purchased on eBay.  This flash memory was poorly insulated from the terrible magnetic effects of time travel, and by the time Strike-O-Matic arrived in the year 2014, everything it had been programmed to do was corrupted.

The Strike-O-Matic only had a vague idea that he had to join forces with the best player in baseball and outplay some other robots, but everything else was lost to the corruption.  Ever resourceful, Strike-O-Matic turned to the resource that it assumed was the most reliable–networked crowdsourcing.  Strike-O-Matic didn’t understand that in 2014, the internet was only quasi-regulated and that people still thought “trolling” was fun.  Also, its irony meter had been destroyed by the massive influx of irony created during time travel, so it took the first response it received as the gospel truth.

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Notwithstanding his talent for taking walks and hitting dingers, Pat Burrell was certainly not the best player in baseball in early 2014.  The slugging left fielder posted a .253/.361/.472 line for his career, which was quite good though distributed in a fashion that led traditional media to underrate his hitting talents.  But his stats weren’t the reason he couldn’t have been a proper answer to Strike-O-Matic’s question.  Pat Burrell had retired in 2012 to pursue a life away from baseball.  He spent his days working out, flashing his World Series Rings in bars across the country to pick up chicks, and taking care of a yellow tabby kitten he had adopted and named “Cat Purrell.”

Burrell had never given a thought to returning to baseball.  He thought had accomplished everything he needed to and was ready for a new stage in life.  Then a robot pitcher in a gangly 6’10” body knocked on his door.

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Strike-O-Matic was not deterred by Pat Burrell’s reluctance.  It believed that Burrell was the best player in baseball and the only one who could stop the destruction of baseball at the hands of the robot masters.  Using state of the art communication techniques developed by the business leaders of the late 21st century, Strike-O-Matic was able to convince Burrell not only the need to return to baseball, but also the existence of time travel and sentient robots.

First response

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And so a fateful alliance was formed, between a pitching machine from the years 2099 and the man who once walked around in a gimp suit behind Brian Wilson during an interview.  Alone, that should have been enough to stop the six robot masters from destroying baseball, but the malicious androids had already integrated themselves into six teams across the Major Leagues.  Walking onto the field during the first spring training workouts, they impressed and were quickly signed to shady-but-legal free agent deals.  The slugging Preacher Cobra became the starting catcher for the Texas Rangers.  Dubya Bush’s sidewinding delivery launched him into the #1 spot for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The speedy Flash Money supplanted Brett Gardner in CF for the New York Yankees.  Despite his diminutive nature, Stubby Candyman became the Ace for the Minnesota Twins.  The switch-hitting Dixie Dirtbag would be batting fourth for the Atlanta Braves.  And even the already-formidible St. Louis Cardinals rotation would be led by PrimeTime Moose.

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Strike-O-Matic and Pat Burrell couldn’t take down the robot masters on their own.  They needed a team.  In Trout’s original plan, that team was to be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which featured an already impressive lineup that only needed a pitcher of Strike-O-Matic’s caliber to put it over the top.  With that plan–and young Trout’s assistance–lost, there was only one thing to do.  They had to join the one team desperate enough to gamble on a time traveling pitching machine and a hitter who hadn’t played a Major League game in two years.

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In the year 2014, the Kansas City Royals were a question without an answer.  They should have been finishing a lengthy rebuilding cycle and reaping the benefits of years of high draft picks.  But no matter what they could do, the Royals could never pull themselves out of mediocrity.  Going into the 2013 season, the Royals GM, Dayton Moore, threw a wobbling hail mary, trading top prospect Wil Myers for James Shields, a decent pitcher who several high-ranking baseball officials believed was an ace because of his nickname, “Big Game James”.

Somehow this nickname survived his last two ALDS playoff games, in which the only thing big was his ERA, and led Dayton Moore to believe that Shields could put a middling Royals squad over the top.

Unsurprisingly, the only thing the 2013 Royals managed to overcome was the .500 mark.  They ended the season third in the AL Central, winning a respectable 86 games that simply was not enough to justify mortgaging  the future.  Dayton Moore’s contract was extended, but he knew he was still on the hot seat.  He needed another big move–or several.  Not only did he need to replace Ervin Santana, who was lost to free agency, but add at least one more piece to make the team into a contender.  With his budget hampered by meddling ownership, Moore was willing to try anything to secure a playoff berth.  So when a Major League undrafted free agent who could throw 102 MPH and a veteran slugger showed up and offered to play for league minimum, Moore signed the contracts so fast that he didn’t even read them.

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This was all part of Pat Burrell’s plan, as the contracts he had prepared allowed him and Strike-O-Matic full control of the Kansas City Royals roster.  He was installed as de facto GM of the organization, given the power to make trades, call up players, send down players, and sign free agents.  Moore was furious, but there was nothing the Royals GM could do.  This wasn’t the first time he had signed a contract without reading it, and he knew that there was no way around his mistake.

In Spring Training, Strike-O-Matic demonstrated that Dayton Moore didn't give up his job for nothing.

In Spring Training, Strike-O-Matic demonstrated that Dayton Moore didn’t give up his job for nothing.

Burrell’s first course of action was to free up a spot in the lineup for himself.  Alex Gordon was installed in LF, Eric Hosmer at 1b, and Billy Butler at DH.  Meanwhile, CF was a wasteland for the Royals.  Burrell briefly considered playing CF himself, but Strike-O-Matic reminded him that the future of baseball depended on the Royals actually winning games.

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Butler, a RH hitter who profiled somewhat similarly to Burrell, seemed like the best choice to be swapped out for a CF.  There was only one problem with this plan: Billy Butler was a fan favorite in Kansas City.  Burrell had to make sure not to upset the small, dedicated Royals fan base.  To balance the loss of Butler, Burrell planned to bring back two former KC favorites, Mark Teahen and Joakim Soria.

Mark Teahen was simple enough.  After leaving KC, Teahen’s batting skills disappeared and he floated around in the minor leagues for years.  Burrell spent several hours trying to figure out which team actually had the rights to Teahen, only to discover that no one at all had signed him for 2014.

A little thing like not having a contract or invite didn’t stop the scrappy Teahen from trying to make a comeback.  He sneaked into locker rooms, stole uniforms, and joined various teams during spring training with the hopes of impressing them in the same way as the robot masters.  Because he was Mark Teahen, and not a machine designed to play baseball, it did not work.  When Burrell offered him a MLB contract out of nowhere, Teahen was thrilled.

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Soria was a bit more difficult, though his injury troubles made him available in the eventual three-team deal that Burrell brokered to send Butler away for a CF.  Butler was sent to Toronto for the erstwhile Colby Rasmus and Aaron Loup, and Loup was subsequently moved to Texas for Soria.  Also Burrell acquired Nick Punto for some reason.

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Stat-conscious baseball observers were puzzled by the second leg of the trade, since Loup was likely more valuable than the injury-plagued Soria.  But as expected, Royals fans were appeased.  Soria had been one of the few bright spots of the last half-decade, and returning him to the team along with a productive, if troubled, CF seemed like a good deal.  Rasmus was initially received in Kansas City with some reservation, but he had one thing to say to the fans who doubted him:

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Not everyone with the Royals was happy about the changes.  While Dayton Moore had signed over his control of the team as a GM, manager Ned Yost had not.  He still had control over the in-game management and he was not happy about what he was seeing from the new GM duo of Burrell and Strike-O-Matic.

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Despite appeals to the commissioner’s office, and pleas to ownership, there was nothing Yost could do about the new situation foisted upon him.  Burrell and Strike-O-Matic would make the rosters.  And they would look like this:

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And so the game was set.  The season began, with the new-look Royals under the steady guidance of Pat Burrell and the Strike-O-Matic pitching machine, as well as the not-so-steady guidance of manager Ned Yost.  Meanwhile, the six robot masters began their assault on the fabric of baseball from every division in MLB.

Opening day approached, and the first matchup of the year was not encouraging.

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