Assistant to the Assistant General Manager
Chicago Black Sox
I have seen the Heart of Darkness.
It wears an insipid crimson baseball cap perched atop an outsized ear of corn embedded with a brutish, unspeakable grinning face.
The Heart of Darkness, you see, lies in Des Moines.
*** I have but myself to blame. When Bill McGuffin, the assistant general manager of the Chicago Black Sox, took me back into the fold as his assistant, I agreed to help the team however I could.
Little did I dream it would mean assuming McGuffin’s place when General Manager Benny Vitale asked for a preseason scouting report on the Des Moines Kernels. But assume it I did, for I had no out when the rat bastard gave me this assignment.
There was no choice but to embark … not on a hero’s journey, but on a fool’s errand.
And so I found myself driving in a fever dream along Interstate 80, crossing the mighty Mississippi and following the sinuous ribbon of concrete towards … towards …
*** The Des Moines Kernels are not a good baseball team, let that be said straight away.
Their pitching staff has some talent, yes, but much of it is yet unrealized: Timmy Karnes has potential, of course. The scouts say he is 60/80 in that category, but his stats say he still has a long way to travel - a 5-14 record last season, with an ERA of 5.44 and a FIP of 4.68. Greg Palmer has some talent, too, but he is fragile and hardly the stuff of staff aces.
The rest of the rotation? Bobby Lynch? He of last season’s 5.30 and 5.57 FIP? Des Moines will find little solace here, nor in the hands of Tsunesaburo Hashimoto whose 5.01 ERA was topped only by his 5.63 FIP.
The bullpen – maddeningly composed almost solely of Garcias (two Juans and an Adrian) – is an oasis of competence, though. The first Juan Garcia (the 23-year-old) was excellent last year, putting together a 5-2 record with 11 saves and a 2.47 ERA. The second Juan Garcia (the 25-year-old) split time between the bullpen and the rotation, going 9-10 with 6 saves and a respectable 4.13 ERA in 159 innings pitched.
As for the third Garcia? He went 5-1 with a save and a 3.55 ERA in 88.2 IP.
You could do worse – and many teams have. Here, then, is a glimmer of hope for the Kernels, curse their dark hearts!
Another glimmer lies in the hands of GM Geoff Webb who rid Iowa of the pestilence that, last season at least, was SS Alan Williamson. A heady combination of abysmal hitting (.194/.307/.314) and arguably worse fielding (a -12.3) zone rating made for a black hole in the Des Moines infield that sucked in all light … and hope.
Webb released Williamson, though, and now will hope that 25-year-old newcomer Luis Cruz, acquired via trade from Charlotte, can make some sort amends.
Des Moines also has added CF Man-keung Sui via a trade with Calgary in hopes of shoring up the defense in the middle of the diamond. Sui unquestionably has the defensive chops to help (10-rated in CF) and speed to burn, but he struggled at the plate last season in Canada (.192/.222/.251).
*** So, moves have been made.
But will they be enough to lift Des Moines from the muck at the bottom of the Heartland and thrust its hideous visage into the Frick playoff hunt?
And does any of that really matter, considering the murky reality that we’re dealing with here in Des Moines?
No, no. I’m not suggesting that I take seriously Frank Pabodie’s ravings from last year that the Kernels are the center of some sort of unearthly Cult of Cthulhu.
What I am suggesting, though, is that Des Moines somehow has perfected the uncanny art of making Black Sox lives miserable. The Kernels have learned to beat the Sox when it would be most devastating, to lose when it would be most inconvenient … and to mock us all the while with that grinning face in the corn.
*** I know, I know. I need to make a prediction … Benny Vitale will only send me back to this grain bin of dread if I don’t.
So we leave it here: the so-called “analysts” at BNN call for Des Moines to claw its way clear of the division basement and blink in the twilight gloom of 7th place at 64-98. But I cannot see them slipping back from last year’s 70-92 – they have made enough moves, I fear, to lift them further than that.
No, I see them as more at something like 74-88, perhaps in 6th place and winner of enough games against Chicago to hobble Sox chances in the pennant race. And just enough to make certain that the hideous ear of corn with the blood-red cap of calamity haunts my dreams once more.