In November of 2007, I wrote that the Rays were now better than the Royals. Now, I was no genius, in fact, I blatantly stole the idea of the post from Lookout Landing, as noted in the very first line. The final occasion for the sentiment was the Matt Garza-Jason Bartlett trade, in which the Rays gave up Delmon Young. It was one of the last moves in a series of transactions that the Rays made in 2006-7 that produced the 2008 American League Champions.
The number of good moves the Rays made over those two years is staggering. Essentially, they did what Dayton Moore has tried and failed to do: build around their young talent with veteran players. Aside from Evan Longoria, they built an elite infield (Bartlett, Iwamura/Zobrist, Pena) in those years, snagged the key pieces to a good bullpen (Balfour, Percival, Wheeler), found useful spare parts for DH/COF (Gross, Floyd, Hinske) and rounded out the starting rotation (Garza).
It goes without saying that in nearly every case, Dayton has attempted a similar move, and has brought in a lesser player nearly 100% of the time. For more money. Tellingly, five days after I posted about the Royals being eclipsed by Tampa, the Royals signed Jose Guillen. For $36 million dollars.
The interesting thing is, prior to last season, the Royals were the intriguing young team that was building a winner. Everyone knew the Rays had good young players, but they'd also traded away Elijah Dukes and seen Upton struggle throughout his career. Evan Longoria had played about ten minutes in the minors. A number of people thought the Twins easily won the Young-Garza trade. I mean, Delmon Young was the perfect replacement for Torii Hunter, and was the Rookie of the Year!
Here are some of the comments people posted in response to what I wrote: "mmm, nah", "You're kidding right? I'll be interested in your argument", "I don't think the Rays are better", "in a year or two they will be, but I don't think they'll put up a better record in 2008", "No, at least not right now", "I've been reading about the Rays promise for years... and I haven't seen it come to fruition", "Next year's a reach", "I still don't buy it", etc. Yes, a few people, notably "Gopherballs" agreed with me, but the resounding response was: no way. The Royals, everyone thought, were going to be better.
In retrospect, of course, thinking the Royals were better looks insane. The especially curious thing, when you go back and look at the numbers, is that the Rays had likely been better than the Royals for many years.
Yes, the Rays had the look of a stagnating team, but the Royals had had to improve by 13 games just to reach their level, in a much easier division.
However, we shouldn't feel too bad, because Dayton Moore felt the same way. Actually, he still does. The moves he made last off-season were, no joke, intended to be finishing touches. Arguably, aside from a few minor league pitching moves, Alberto Callaspo was the last player Dayton Moore has reasonably acquired for his upside. Everyone else, from St. Willie to Farnsworth to Jacobs, were intended to be finishing touches, bits of certainty stabilizing our exciting young team.
A year and a half ago, Dayton Moore was a pitching guru who had brought professionalism and accountability back to Kansas City. Moore had convinced Glass to spend more -- at all levels of the organization -- and the Royals were going to develop a horde of young pitchers and buy key bats to contend. And because Moore was an old-school guy, it went without saying that the Royals would always be at least average defensively.
Funny how things can change.