After an intriguing beginning to his tenure as the General Manager of the Royals, Dayton Moore floundered in 2008 and 2009. Good moves started to give way to bizarre ones, and by the end of 2009, at least at the Major League level, Moore looked like one of the more clueless transaction hounds in the business. Dealing with criticism for the first time in his professional life, Moore, and the rest of his leadership team adopted a bunker mentality that only made them look worse. His in-season 2009 moves look almost vindictive: I will keep finding out-machines who suck defensively and there's nothing you can do about it!
Still, I don't know if Dayton Moore is destined to succeed or fail as the GM of the Royals. He played a large part in making the 2008-9 Royals bad and he's setup the 2010 Royals to be a bad team as well. Moreover, his refusal to actually rebuild on a large scale has pushed back the timeline for true contention in Kansas City. All of that being said, he did inherit a franchise in shambles and since he has the support of ownership, he still has time to have long-term success. It just won't happen soon.
But if the Royals are ever going to win under Moore, and we're talking 2011-13 here, the comeback needs to start now. Organizationally, the Royals can't have another lost year. Here's how Moore can start to turn it around:
- Have a Relatively Non-Horrible Winter on the Free Agent Market: This one has already been partially shot by the horrific Jason Kendall signing, a move which made the Royals older, worse, more expensive. Yes, the Kendall signing was a moderate financial outlay, and yes, this is what nearly all baseball teams do. However, the Royals are not a large market or even middle market team. They are in the 28th-30th range. The pointless millions you spend on the Kendalls & Farnsworths of the world add up, and pretty soon you're making bad baseball decisions because you need to get under some arbitrary payroll number. Like, oh look, they did with the catching situation. The circle of horribleness is completed. So step one of this off-season needs to be no more pointless pickups with wasted millions and years tied up.
- Be Honest About Where the Team Is: Dayton needs to go outside of the organization and have a few honest conversations with "baseball men" that he trusts. People that can be honest with him. He needs to talk to people about if the Royals can compete in 2011. If the Royals can compete in 2012. Where the rest of the division is going. Etc. There's no shortage of agreement within the organization about two things: it was terrible when they took over and everyone is currently doing a great job. They need to move beyond that now. They need to figure out where they are. They need a new finish line, other than "it sucks here, we've got work to do".
- Actually Commit to the Rebuild: My hunch is, the advice will, or would, lead to one conclusion: the Royals have work to do. I love Zack Greinke, but the Royals can't base their decisions around keeping him happy or not wasting him in his prime. He's going to be around for awhile, so we can punt on 2010. I think, for the most part, the Royals have done this, although we can't be completely sure for the next few weeks. The Royals don't have to do a complete teardown, as they actually have some pieces in place, but they need to be aggressive in exploring trade possibilities involving Gil Meche, Joakim Soria, David DeJesus, Alberto Callaspo, etc. They can also go the other way, and trade one of their prospects for a soon-to-be-ready young Major Leaguer with numerous controlled-years remaining. The mindset needs to change. They need to view what they currently have as a way of getting somewhere better, not as part of some masterplan already coming together. If Billy Butler has a monster first half, shop him (he's already burned through a ton of service time and handles the easiest to fill position).
- Lean on Your Skills: Dayton earned a sterling reputation as a scouting and player development guy. We know what he is. He's not a guy that's going to embrace new ideas, different voices. He's not going to diversify his portfolio. Which sucks, but it is what it is. In that case, he needs to go all in with what he does well: scouting and evaluating young players. Embrace that part of his identity and stop looking for the next Gil Meche signing. Moreover, this is also the identity of his top assistants. So go for it. Prove to us you're the best evaluators of young studs and overlooked aces around. To be honest, Dayton Moore has been an absolute disaster involving transactions at the Major League level. In a manner of speaking, he needs to gas up the rental car and hit the sandlot circuit again. He needs to spend less time enacting bizarre fantasies involving the Ross Gloads and Willie Bloomquists of the world. We get it: those guys are great and help you win and all the rest. Except they don't and we keep losing. If Dayton is the guy we think we hired, he remains a great option to aggressively rebuild the team by scouting amateur and minor league talent. We need that guy back.
Strengthen Your Standing in the Community: I use "community" broadly here: the baseball community, the Kansas City community, your relationships inside the organization. If this Dayton Moore thing is going to work at all, then ownership has to remain committed to being the Yankees of the amateur spending market. And much of that goes back to reputation and belief. To this point, against a lot of evidence to the contrary, they've believed in Dayton Moore. Will that last forever? To be blunt, 2009 sucked: the Royals sucked and the leadership team repeatedly came across as petty, vindictive, & paranoid. The local and national baseball media began to be much more critical of the Royals and a lot of the benefit of the doubt and goodwill Moore earned withered away. The Royals are in the entertainment business, and if the team continues to behave in the way it has over the last year, things are going to get a lot worse. At a certain point, the perception amongst the fans and the media gets so negative that the environment becomes too toxic to continue. I'm not saying Dayton Moore needs to hire Nate Silver. I'm not saying that Rany should throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. Let's start small and admit just one mistake. One. Let's work on restoring normal relations with the local media. Stop lecturing everyone. Stop saying dumb things. Basically, disappear for months at a time, and when you emerge, be engaging and humble rather than holier than thou. Dayton Moore needs Joe Posnanski back on his side. Ownership does not want to be a national joke, which is why they hired Moore. It's somewhat amazing that Moore himself seems to have lost sight of this. At present, a huge percentage of whatever success the Royals have had drafting lies at the credit of ownership, who has spent money. If they lose faith in Moore's ability to execute and roll back the budget, the goose is cooked.
There's another bullet point that we could add that would be something like Have Another Good Draft, but really, I think that's self-evident. Likewise, the Royal system needs something of a comeback year. That one isn't so much self-evident, as perhaps not entirely in Dayton's hands at this point. The little decisions that add up to developing players... well, the Royals need to hit a home run in 2010.
As you can see, many of these steps are inter-related. The ironic thing is, if the Royals were to fire Dayton Moore, someone like Dayton Moore would be precisely the kind of person they would be looking at to replace him.
The comeback needs to start now.