Oh what a journey it has been. We are at the breaking point. All of us. Ned and Dayton keep talking about confidence, patience, and spanking. Jose Guillen would be proud. This is my long, season by season, breakdown of where the process went wrong, with some predictable talking points and observations.
In the Spring of 2006, Allard Baird was fired as our GM after nearly 8 years running the franchise. Buddy Bell was our manager. Our minor league system was barren, mostly due to the Glass family's unwillingness to invest in the draft or international signings (or in baseball players at any level, really). Dayton Moore was the hottest GM candidate at the time, the director of scouting and player development for the Atlanta Braves (who had won 14 straight division titles, though only 1 World Series, odd considering their payroll and dominance). Dayton Moore was hired under the pretense that he would be given total control over baseball operations, with the obvious insinuation that team President and family black sheep Dan Glass had meddled with the previous regime. We were told this would no longer be the case.
Dayton Moore hired top personnel men and scouts, including Mike Arbuckle and Rene Francisco. He immediately began preaching that pitching is the currency of baseball, a welcome tone considering the organization's lack of pitching since Jose Rosado's arm was abused and blew up in a puff of smoke. The right things were being said, and as far as anyone could tell, they were being done as well. The first move under the new regime was not even really done with Dayton Moore's blessing. He was hired before the 2006 Amateur Draft, and had led the Braves organization in preparation for this draft. Moore and the Royals cited perceived conflicts of interest, such that Moore would not participate in either team's draft. The Royals, picking first overall, selected Luke Hochevar. His tenure is the longest in the organization for any player acquired after Moore was hired. Take that as you will. Other moves in 2006 included the trade for Elmer Dessens and Odalis Perez. Additionally another trade for the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez. This team, though not completed by Moore, lost 100 games.
In 2007, Moore seemed to make a splash, signing Gil Meche to a 5 year, $55M contract. Dayton signed Octavio Dotel to close games, theoretically resolving the team's decade long search for the replacement for Jeff Montgomery. Alex Gordon debuted. Billy Butler would too. The bright spots of the process also seemed to be showing up. When things were going poorly, Dotel was traded for a "middle of the rotation" innings eater named Kyle Davies. Rule 5 pick Joakim Soria debuted, and he now owns many franchise records, such as save %, K/9, and is generally viewed as one of the best steals in the history of the Rule 5 draft. Brian Bannister, a soft-tossing and crafty right handed starter, finished third in the rookie of the year voting. He was acquired for only the murderous Ambiorix Burgos. Things were looking up. Shorstop (!!!) Mike Moustakas was drafted, along with Danny Duffy, and others. Big money in the draft was being spent. The foundation was being built, we were told. This team lost 93 games.
In 2008, Moore made another splash signing Jose Guillen to a 3 year, $36M contract to play RF. Dayton Moore touted Jose's ability to drive in runs and his outstanding throwing arm from RF. Though sabermetrics and moneyball theories had been around for some time, this move just jumped off the page as disjointed from any theory involving player development and the right kind of "process." Guillen had always struggled to get on base. Jose Guillen struggled in his 3 seasons with the Royals, struggled to stay healthy, struggled to not be an asshole, struggled to move faster than a handicapable person could in RF, but we were told none of these things were problems. Jose Guillen called his teammates "babies." Additionally, Dayton Moore was allowed to hire his first manager, Trey Hillman. Trey said all the right things regarding on-base percentage, a long-tenured foe in the Royals organization. He had a championship pedigree, working as a AAA manager for the Yankees and as a championship manager at the highest level in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters, where his team won its league led by the young Yu Darvish. Zack Greinke also started to show signs of brilliance in 2008 following his successful stint in the bullpen in 2006-7. It would be an omen for the things to come, though the faults of the process were becoming evident. Mike Aviles had played unbelievably good baseball, a true diamond in the rough at shortstop. The bad-body-type player graded out above average defensively and appeared competent as a contact hitter with some pop. We had gotten lucky. But plate discipline was still an issue. Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar were beginning their campaigns on the record books. Brian Bannister struggled. This team lost 87 games. The Royals also drafted Eric Hosmer this year and spent near record levels again in the draft.
In 2009, things were looking up from day 1. Zack Greinke embarked upon what would become the best season by a pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1999, winning the Cy Young Award. The team started 18-11, and we all remember. A criminal lack of offense doomed this team. The Royals appeared to give up on Mike Aviles after a slump doomed him early in the season following a position change in the offseason. He only received 424 AB, yielding playing time to the newly acquired Chris Getz. Offseason signee Yuniesky Betancourt continued his career-long inability to walk, joined by other offseason signee Miguel Olivo. Combined with hackers like Guillen, Mike Jacobs, and Alberto Callaspo (who actually is a good hitter), this team simply couldn't score. Willie Bloomquist, nicknamed the spork around here for his ability to do a lot of things but nothing well, played in 125 games and received 468 PA. Joakim Soria had emerged as one of the game's best relievers. After their 18-11 start, the Royals went on to lose 97 games in 2009, what was then called the most disappointing season in team history. Numerous obvious problems emerged in the Process: the disregard for plate discipline at all levels (specifically in players acquired via free agency or trade), the overvaluation of defense over discernible offensive production, the value of traditional tools and body types, and general incompetence. I will address these later. However, hope abounded in the minor league system. Moustakas and Hosmer were beginning to show promise. Hosmer specifically was starting to show an eye at the plate, unusual for our organization. Aaron Crow and Wil Myers were drafted. Salvador Perez was signed in 2006 and was starting to turn heads in the organization.
For all the clear-headed talk and promise shown, yet then shredded in 2009, 2010's roster moves were rather bewildering in hindsight. Jason Kendall was signed, despite being really old, and despite being nowhere near the offensive caliber of either of the men he replaced, Olivo and Buck. He would receive 118 starts, displaying no power and a criminal lack of arm strength. Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel were signed to line up with David Dejesus in the outfield. Both were past their prime, and neither walked. Both players were brimming with tools, however, and they played considerably until they were injured and traded. This team floundered from the start, with Hochevar, Davies, and Bannister all contributing to one of the worst pitching staffs in the game. Trey Hillman was fired. Dayton Moore cried. Ned Yost, who had been oddly hired as a manager-in-waiting before the season, would take over. Bruce Chen performed above expectations, while the newly acquired Sean O'Sullivan did his best Kyle Davies impersonation. Pitching as the currency of baseball had been a nice theory, but somehow it had failed in its implementation. Somewhere along the way, the organization had been distracted, like a cat by a laser pointer. Veterans with tools, who had been given up on probably due to the advent of statistics, that was the new Royals target, at least until the draft's fruits could show up. Jokes about the acquisition of another long-known hacker and former Brave, Jeff Francouer, littered the internet. Zack Greinke complained. This team lost 95 games.
The 2011 Royals were certainly very interesting. Prior to the season, Greinke was traded for prospects (at that time failed) Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, Lorenzo Cain, and Jake Odorizzi. The pitching staff somehow got older, adding soft tosser Jeff Francis. The staff still featured Hochevar and Davies, due to all the promise they had shown in putting up historically bad seasons for four years. Fulfilling the prophecies of the brilliant internet fans, the Royals signed Jeff Francouer. Additionally they signed Melky Cabrera. With the breakout season of Alex Gordon, these three would be the most productive outfield the Royals had ever seen, each putting up 40 doubles, hitting 20 homers, and throwing out runners with incredible efficiency. We here at Royals Review looked a lot like Karl Rove on election night regarding Cabrera and Francouer. How could we have been so wrong? Well, management still received our ire, the pitching staff still sucked. Dayton Moore, needing to re-sign one of his diamonds in the rough, picked Francouer, despite his failures in the past and continued hackery for a ludicrous contract extension. His smile must have had something to do with it as well. The Kendall signing and subsequent decision to continue playing him resulted in Matt Treanor receiving inordinate amounts of playing time. But hope had arrived. In mid-May, Eric Hosmer arrived and walked twice in his big league debut. The ways were changing, as Hosmer blossomed as a rookie, having one of the most successful seasons for a 21 year old. Mike Moustakas would later arrive, yet struggle. Perhaps the most amazing development, however, was the emergence of the former non-prospect, Salvador Perez. Displaying the fielding ability of some hybrid Pudge-Yadier player, combined with the contact/power skills of a Pablo Sandoval, Perez emerged as the possible backbone of the Process. This season was one to dream. Attendance spiked late in the year in anticipation of the pitchers finally arriving from the so-called best farm system in the history of whatever. Danny Duffy had arrived. Felipe Paulino, a shrewd waiver claim, had exceeded expectations. Other prospects like Montgomery and Lamb struggled or were injured. Odorizzi was too far away. 2012 was to be another developmental year. Our Time. 2012. The All-Star Game. Our hitters were to take a step forward we were told. Hosmer and Moustakas were to become the feared power hitters we were told they could be. We knew the rotation was a liability, but with the offense expected to produce, this team should have been around .500, or so we thought. Jonathan Sanchez was acquired for Melky Cabrera to upgrade the rotation, which was puzzling at the time, but considering the lack of pitching we had it was acceptable. Yet this was not as puzzling as the re-acquisition of Yuniesky Betancourt. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler had become stars. Eric Hosmer had one of the most horrible regressions of a second year player you will see, despite a breakthrough spring training and displaying "light-tower" power in the first two weeks of the season. He hit into bad luck, then he just didn't hit, weakly slapping balls to the left side, grounding to the pitcher, and looking worse every day. Mike Moustakas was a legitimate all-star candidate, with 14 homers at the break and playing gold glove caliber defense at third. However, his reputation as a streak hitter emerged fiercely, hitting well below .200 in the second half of the season. He still has not recovered. Salvador Perez injured himself blocking an errant Sanchez pitch in spring training. He would not play until July. Sanchez was the worst pitcher anyone had ever seen in the first half of 2012, and was traded for Jeremy Guthrie, who had been bad (though not equally) in the hitter friendly confines of Coors Field. Perhaps worst of all, and perhaps most predictably, Jeff Francouer again became the worst position player in the game by almost all advanced metrics. Betancourt somehow was a team cancer, though the team was unaware of that despite having employed him for two years previously. The regressions were heart-breaking in 2012. Everything we had been told was being challenged by the cold truth of reality. Building a minor league system and racking up touted prospects is no guarantee of success, even with glimpses of greatness. To wit, Perez continued his display of potential superstardom, while Escobar proved he could hit enough to be a long-term answer, or so we thought.
It is 2013, we have seen the Process, its benefits and its downfall. Mostly its downfall. This season is perhaps the best example of the things I've tried to weave into this narrative. Overwhelming trust and loyalty, despite ample evidence, with an unwillingness to embrace new approaches, has left the Royals in the same place they were in when Dayton Moore was hired. The minor league system is mostly barren at AA and AAA. Dayton Moore, though he denies this, obviously went all-in by trading MiLB player of the year and top hitting prospect Wil Myers, along with other prospects, for James Shields and Wade Davis. Dayton signed Jeremy Guthrie to an extension and took on the risk of Ervin Santana. The rotation was rebuilt we were told. After all, pitching is the currency of baseball. We were spoonfed bullshit about the Royals defense, though there is ample evidence, with the eye and numbers, to suggest players like Escobar, Moustakas, Perez, Gordon, Cain, and Dyson are all elite. However, the bullshit we were fed often included names like Getz, Francouer, and Hosmer (two of which were somehow finalists for gold gloves in 2012). The hitters would develop, we were told, and after all, not all prospects perform immediately. Just look at Gordon and Butler! Nothing was done to improve the offense in the 2012-2013 offseason, despite the continued failure to get on base and lack of ability to hit home runs. We should have seen it coming, and most of us did (I was somewhere in the middle, willing to give it a try). Spring Training was great. We started 17-10, despite not hitting at all. No one, not even our breakout candidates, was hitting. Just wait until they do, then watch out world, we were told. We have lost 18 of 22, are 7 back of .500, despite being told to expect winning baseball. We have a failed 3B prospect and a 1B who looks like Ross Gload more everyday. There is no offensive help on the way.
The ingredients of this team are the ingredients of this failed process. Dayton Moore immediately began importing Braves employees and players into the system when he was hired. Very few of Moore's players developed in his tenure in Atlanta turned into valuable major leaguers. That continued in Kansas City. Though director of player development was his title in Atlanta, he has failed to a remarkable degree in getting his guys to adapt to the major league competition. Below are the reasons why.
Though giving lip service to plate discipline, every player acquired outside of the draft (except George Kottaras)does not get on base at an acceptable level. Jose Guillen, Willie Bloomquist, Ross Gload, Mike Jacobs, Yuniesky Betancourt, Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel, Jeff Francouer, Jason Kendall, Miguel Olivo, Tony Pena Jr., Melky Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, Elliot Johnson, and others. Plate Discipline, we are told, can be taught as part of player development. Evidence has built to the contrary in the persons of Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon... shit, our entire roster. Not only that, the entire idea of teaching plate discipline was discredited before the hiring of Dayton Moore as a chapter in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Conversely, what appears to have happened is that those who actually did inherently possess plate discipline were forced to change to a more aggressive organization approach. Naturally patient hitters like Gordon and Butler became more aggressive and became stars. However, other patient hitters like John Buck and Eric Hosmer appear to have been poisoned by the idea of aggressiveness, sacrificing natural ability for contact skills. The naturally aggressive hitters have been told they are expected to develop patience and acceptable approaches at the big league level. The team we have now puts more pitcher's pitches in play than any I have ever seen. Conversely, they watch lots of very hittable pitches down the middle, attempting to see more pitches after others have sloppily hacked into outs. The ability to make contact is a double-edged sword, and we've turned it on ourselves with our developmental philosophy. The result has been a singles based offense that gets nothing from its highly skilled and athletic power-type players while also not drawing walks. The result is chronically low team OPS and near-bottom finishes in runs scored year in and year out. Occasional guys who only have on-base or slug skills can stem the problem, but when surrounded by organizational incompetence and focus on agressiveness, this goes wasted.
Additionally, the Royals have fairly consistently weeded out bad body type players. Mike Aviles was never given a legitimate chance, despite his successes, with Tony Pena Jr. and others around. Billy Butler was even reportedly dangled as a trade piece in a trade for Yuniesky Betancourt. This bias lives on in baseball, and it's evident in our Process. Look back at Dayton Moore's draft process, and I can tell you what our scouts look for. Sure they do 20-80 scouting like most organizations do. But it appears we draft athletes first and try to develop them into baseball players. Brett Eibner and Bubba Starling are great examples of this. The litany of shortstops in our system who all run well, field well, but do not hit. What about drafting the baseball player first based on skill? Where is our Matt Adams? Our Sandoval? Fat guys have long thrived in baseball because of hand-eye skills and power-hitting. The bad body type taboo is reflected in our organization by this player's absence. We all, correctly, assume Dayton Moore tremendously undervalues Billy Butler's contributions because he doesn't play defense. This is just flawed philosophy.
Tied to this is the overvaluation of defense. Chris Getz, Jason Kendall, Tony Pena Jr., Ross Gload, Scott Podsednik, Eric Hosmer. Weak hitters have always been part of the game. But ordinarily you weed them out with better hitters, not insisting they play over better hitters because of their defense. Wilson Betemit lost his prime years due to this philosophy, same with Mike Aviles. Billy Butler should count himself lucky, Alex Gordon to a lesser extent. Defense is required and expected to be great up the middle, at C, SS, 2B, and CF. Corner fielders need to be hitters, as traditionally players are fairly interchangeable at these spots (save for 3B requiring softer hands and an arm). Dayton and his underlings rave about the value of a slick fielding first baseman while failing to acknowledge the lack of power at first is killing the team's ability to score runs. Defense is great, but its value is greatly exaggerated by those operating in the 1980s, like Dayton seems to be.
But perhaps the biggest hole and fault with the process is a phrase I have used frequently in this post. What "we were told" and what actually happened never seemed to sync. We were told to be patient, and we were reasonable. We panicked about key players' struggles, as fans will do, but we were told that they would even out. We complained about managerial incompetence, the bunt in the first inning, the kamikaze baserunning stylings of numerous Royals, all of these things. We were told to Trust the Process. As in many fields, the success of leadership depends on its connection to reality and results, meeting the needs of the future with common sense decisions and planning. What we have gotten is disjointed. Perhaps the Process could have worked if it had addressed some of the issues I've listed above, but the Process ultimately failed because it was dishonest. It insisted upon itself. All of its flaws, and its successes, could be traced to its own being. The disconnect between what we were told the Process would produce and what it has produced is not surprising to the skeptical, and not surprising to most intelligent baseball fans. Consistently seeing results contrary to what we have been promised will anger anyone. That is why there is anger. That is why Dayton Moore's Process needs to stop, so that a new one can begin.
But to me, this is also where my concern begins anew. Dan Glass is still the team president, the man who carved up the organization under Baird only to supposedly loosen his reigns for Dayton Moore. He is widely known to be arrogant and dismissive, likely due to being the pampered son of a Wal-Mart executive. While his father succeeded, Dan has floundered, and looked like an oversensitive, overcontrolling, manipulative jackass in the process. For example, see Royals ticket office SNAFUS, the fanfest issues, racist stories, the Frank White affair, even Tony Muser not finding out about his firing until hearing from the media. The guy has run a joke of an organization, and that buck stops at the top. While David looks grouchy and villainous, I trust that he does want to win and that he is a baseball fan. He has spent money rarely and not generously, but most of all, putting his son in charge has had disastrous results. I, and most people, commended Dan for recognizing that he need not meddle with baseball affairs in the hiring of Dayton Moore. But forgive me if I do not have the faith in him to bridge the gap successfully to the next administration of baseball operations for the Kansas City Royals. Having given trust and witnessing failure, I truly fear what the next phase for the Royals might look like with Dan Glass making decisions. Father will not fire Son, and here we are and here we will be until the Glass family sells this team.