ARLINGTON -- Royals players have said manager Buddy Bell's decision to resign at the end of the season would not be a distraction. "I don't know if it's really hit everybody yet," outfielder Joey Gathright said. "I mean, we know he's not coming back, but he's still here, so you don't think about it. He's still Buddy -- he's still acting the same way, he's still managing the same way, so everything's still the same. If he was gone, it'd be different." "I don't think it's had any effect," center fielder David DeJesus agreed. "We're still playing the same as if he was going to be here (next season)."
But through the first 12 games since Bell made his announcement on Aug. 1, statistics show the Royals have slipped in virtually every important aspect of team performance. The team was 47-59 (.443) before Bell's announcement, but entered Wednesday night's game in Texas with a 5-7 record since (.417). Before the announcement, the offense was averaging 4.7 runs and 0.7 home runs per game, with a team batting average of .264, an on-base percentage of .327 and a slugging percentage of .396. Since the announcement, the Royals (entering Wednesday's game) were averaging 3.7 runs and 0.5 home runs per game, with a team batting average of .253, an on-base percentage of .301 and a slugging percentage of .365. Pitching performances have suffered, too. Before Bell's announcement, the Royals had a 4.47 staff ERA, were holding opposing hitters to a .276 batting average, and were ringing up 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Since Bell's decision, the Royals' ERA has climbed to 4.80, opponents have hit .301 and the staff has managed 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Only defensively has the club shown even a modest improvement since learning of Bell's impending departure to a front-office position. The Royals averaged 0.67 errors per game through July 31, and have lowered the figure to 0.42 errors per game since. Perhaps it's only coincidence. Perhaps the declining numbers are more accurately attributed to the competition the Royals faced over the last 12 games (the Twins, Yankees, Blue Jays and Rangers). Or perhaps the team has been unsettled by the series of trades and transactions that surrounded Bell's announcement, resulting in the additions of Leo Nunez, Kyle Davies, Ryan Braun and Gathright, and the subtractions of Jason Shiell, Octavio Dotel, Reggie Sanders and Jorge De La Rosa. "I don't think [Bell's announcement] has changed our morale or anything like that," said right fielder Mark Teahen. "It's unfortunate he's not going to be our manager next year, but we all still have the same goals. We're still building ourselves as a team and learning to win together. "We knew his contract was up after this year but we still, I guess, assumed he would be here. But I totally understand his reasoning. At some point, other things have to become more important than baseball. All of us are going to remember how he taught guys to play the game the right way, to always give it everything you've got and to respect the game." Schools of holdout thought: Several coaches and players inside the Royals' clubhouse before Wednesday's game wondered whether top Draft pick Mike Moustakas would be under contract by the end of the night. The second overall pick in June's First-Year Player Draft had to sign by 10:59 p.m. CT or the Royals would lose his rights and receive a compensation pick for next year's Draft. With three hours to go, nothing had been resolved. Rookie Billy Butler, the 14th overall pick of the 2004 draft, said he was glad he had reached a pre-Draft compensation agreement and was able to start his career right away -- since his 74 games that summer in the Rookie level Northwest League primed him for a jump to the Class-A California League and Double-A Texas League in his first full season of 2005. "I was signed pre-Draft, almost," Butler said. "Basically, they had an agreement with me the day before that, if I was available, they would take me. By signing fast and getting that first year of development, I ended up in high A ball the next year to start the year instead of being in Rookie ball the whole next year. So, that actually saved me a year and half. And a year and a half of your career is huge." But third baseman Alex Gordon, the No. 2 overall pick in 2005, said he felt equally sure that he did the right thing by holding out until Sept. 29, when the Royals agreed to a $4 million signing bonus. Gordon only got to play 16 games in the Arizona Fall League that year, but reached the Majors this year after one full season at Double-A Wichita. "I think it worked out OK," Gordon said. "I think both sides got what they wanted. It took a lot longer than I wanted it to. I didn't want to wait that long, and I think in some situations, some guys don't need to (hold out). But sometimes it takes a little bit of time. I wasn't worried (about missing development time), I was more anxious because I wanted to get out there to start my career." First things first: Butler started his 42nd game at designated hitter Wednesday, second only to Mike Sweeney's 50 games at the position. But Bell said the team plans to take an extended look at Butler as a first baseman, starting in September. "We want him to play first more in September -- maybe three or four days a week," Bell said. "We want to give him a feel for what he's doing, practice-wise, by seeing how it applies under the speed of the game." Bell said Butler will probably work on his first-base skills during the offseason, with both the Arizona Instructional League and perhaps a winter ball assignment in the Caribbean as possibilities. Duckworth hit hard: Right-hander Brandon Duckworth, rehabbing from a strained left oblique muscle at Triple-A Omaha, gave up five runs on five hits in two innings Wednesday against Iowa. Duckworth walked one, struck out three and gave up one home run during a 49-pitch outing. Minor League report: Billy Buckner scattered three hits and a walk over seven shutout innings Tuesday, picking up his ninth win, as Triple-A Omaha blanked Iowa, 2-0. ... The Double-A Wichita Wranglers were idle Tuesday, returning from a 5-8 road trip to open a 13-game homestand Wednesday night. ... Rowdy Hardy (14-4) gave up five runs in six innings to take a rare loss as Class-A Wilmington fell to Potomac. Hardy gave up two home runs in a game for the first time this season, and has now surrendered six in 150 innings. ... Third-round draft pick Daniel Duffy struck out nine in five innings as the Royals whipped the Brewers, 12-2, in an Arizona Rookie League game. Up next: RHP Leo Nunez (2-0, 1.80) is scheduled to face Texas LHP John Rheinecker (1-1, 6.75) in Thursday's finale of a three-game series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. First pitch is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. CT.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.