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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H11

Was it really only a year ago the Royals broke camp with visions of a run at contention? In the spring of 2004, there was still the faintest glimmer of hope. The previous summer, the Royals had made an unlikely run that, while it ultimately fell way short, convinced them they were serious threats.

No such hope exists anymore. The team crashed, burned and disintegrated in 2004, culminating with the inevitable trade of franchise player Carlos Beltran in July and a 58-104 record. It hardly seems possible, but they could be even worse in 2005 -- the 20th anniversary of their last division title.

First baseman Mike Sweeney (29) is the one Kansas City player worth watching, but he could be dealt once it is determined his back is healthy. (Orlin Wagner -- AP)

Children, avert your eyes.

What is there worth watching at Kauffman Stadium this season? Well, there's first baseman Mike Sweeney -- but you'd better watch quickly. As soon as he proves his injured back is healthy, he could be traded.

The three young players the Royals got from the Houston Astros in the Beltran deal -- starting catcher John Buck, third base prospect Mark Teahen and pitching prospect Mike Wood -- could all make contributions this season.

Opening Day starter Zack Greinke is one of the top young pitchers in the league, and right-hander Denny Bautista, obtained when GM Allard Baird fleeced the Baltimore Orioles in a trade for veteran Jason Grimsley, has serious star potential.

-- Dave Sheinin

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