Dayton Moore and misreading the market

Harry How

How Dayton Moore has misspent, overreached and failed to accurately read the free agent and trade markets.

One of the prevalent knocks against Royals general manager Dayton Moore is that he has been unable to accurately read the player market. The argument goes that this has led to a series of poor trades and bone-headed free agent signings. It's not about acquiring a bad player - all general managers make mistakes from time to time. It's about giving those bad players entirely too much money. And doing it with alarming frequency. And for more money than the free market dictated. Today, I shine the light on Moore's market misreads.

This isn't meant to be a revisionist history. It's not a "Man, they were stupid to trade for Yuniesky Betancourt" post. It's meant to illuminate acquisitions where money or other resources were misspent. These are examples where the Royals could have - and should have - looked elsewhere in order to prudently spend their money.

Signing Gil Meche to a five year, $55 million contract

I debated placing this deal on the list. Think back to Moore's first winter as the Royals general manager. The club was desperate for starting pitching and had money to spend. The going rate for the so-called second tier of free agent starting pitchers was set by Ted Lilly who signed with the Cubs for four years and $40 million. Reports at the time had several teams interested in Meche at four years. The Royals were the only team that offered the fifth year.

Although this was an overpay, the Royals at the time acknowledged they went an extra year so they could secure their target. That's why I debated leaving this off the list. However, it seems that the initial success of the Meche deal - he finished with a 4.3 fWAR in 2007 - subsequently clouded the Royals and Moore's judgement. This was not a one-time deal where the Royals offered too many years.

In fact, you could say it opened the door to a huge blunder...

Signing Jose Guillen to a 3 year, $36 million contract

The warning signs were all over this one. His best season was in 2003 and his skills (and numbers) were in decline over the next four years. There were injuries, allegations and attitude problems. Anxious to make a splash following the success of the previous winter's Gil Meche signing, Moore made a play for Torii Hunter, but settled for Guillen. That was a long way down. Guillen got two less years, and about $6 million less in AAV. The gulf in their production was much wider. Other names available that winter included a still-productive Mike Cameron, who signed a one-year, $7 million deal in January. He had to sit out 25 games for testing positive for a banned stimulant, but still managed to post a 4 fWAR.

The only outfielders who signed larger deals that winter were Aaron Rowand (an overreach of it's own) and Hunter.

Guillen finished his Royals career with a cumulative -2.2 fWAR. Fangraphs puts his net value to the Royals at -$10.1 million.

Trading Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs

In October, 2008, Moore was desperate for a power hitting corner infielder. If his timetable was correct, he needed a stopgap solution. Someone to fill the space until Eric Hosmer was ready for the majors.

Enter Mike Jacobs.

Jacobs hit 32 home runs the year prior, but the budget-conscience Marlins (nothing ever changes) weren't keen on bringing him back. Besides, Jacobs had an extremely poor defensive reputation and was an out-making machine. He finished with a .299 OBP in 2008 and was worth a -1.1 fWAR. In fact, at that moment in his career, Jacobs owned a cumulative -0.7 fWAR.

Having completed his third full season, he was due for salary arbitration. Jacobs and the Royals reached an agreement on a deal that would pay him $3.275 million.

Granted, it was a thin market for first basemen that winter, but the Royals really felt they needed a power upgrade from 2008 regular Ross Gload. Turns out this was an overreach on Moore's part, striking early before the market revealed itself. According to Fangraphs, a 1 WAR player in 2009 was worth roughly $4 million. Basically, all the Royals needed was a first baseman slightly above replacement level. Alas, Moore ended up with a player who finished with a -0.9 fWAR. The Royals gave over $3 million to a player whose value was negative $4 million.

Signing Willie Bloomquist to a two year, $3.1 million contract

Utility players are a dime a dozen. Apparently utility players with GR!T demand a two year, seven figure deal.

At the time of the signing, Bloomquist was described by Moore as "an on base guy." Yes, Bloomquist posted a .377 OBP the previous year. However, with parts of six other seasons under his belt, he had never topped .321 in OBP. At that point, his career OBP was .322. Like Jacobs before him, Moore's vision was clouded. It's like he only looked at the most recent season and ignored everything that came before.

Turns out, Moore got neither an "on base guy" or value. Bloomquist was worth -0.8 fWAR over roughly a year and a half. On the open market, where Moore paid $3.1 million, Bloomquist was worth -$3.4 million.

This is a typical Moore free market move. Sure, you covet a versatile utility player. Someone who could even challenge for everyday playing time. However, there is no reason to commit multiple years and millions to such a player. If your first choice balks at your terms, move to your second choice. There isn't that much difference between gritty utility player A and gritty utility player B. That winter Juan Uribe, Jerry Hairston, Jr. And even David Eckstein took less to get signed. All three performed better than Bloomquist.

Signing Juan Cruz to a 2 year, $6 million contract

Cruz was a man adrift in February of 2009. He was a Type-A free agent, who turned down the offer of arbitration from his old team, the Diamondbacks, meaning he would cost money and a draft pick. The Royals had already signed Kyle Farnsworth to a two-year, $9.25 million deal (a move that could be discussed here as well) and had Joakim Soria in the back of the bullpen.

The Cruz signing cost the Royals their second-round pick in the '09 draft. They were able to parlay that loss into a savings where they were able to nab Wil Myers in the third round, so they got fortunate there. For the Royals, Cruz saw his strikeout rate cut in half and finished 2009 with a 0.0 fWAR. He was released early in '10. Fangraphs put his total value to the Royals at $0.6 million.

Trading Melky Cabrera to San Francisco for Jonathan Sanchez

Cabrera was a good find by Moore, signing a one year, $1.25 million contract ahead of the 2011 season. That year, he finished with a 3.8 fWAR, production that was worth $17.3 million according to Fangraphs.

The Royals controlled Cabrera for one more year. They allegedly offered him a contract extension, but he turned them down. So the Royals, in desperate need for starting pitching, shipped him to the Giants for Sanchez.

Like Guillen several years earlier, there were tons of red flags with Sanchez. For starters, he routinely struggled in San Francisco, a haven for pitchers. Plus, he was in the National League and in the Western Division, for crying out loud. It was a haven for pitchers, yet he was a back of the rotation starter at best. What could go wrong in a move to the American League? His best season was in 2010, which was clearly an outlier compared to his other four years in the Giant organization.

The Royals paid Sanchez $5.6 million for 12 starts and a -0.5 fWAR.

Signing Yuniesky Betancourt to a one-year, $2 million contract

Yeah, the trade for Betancourt didn't make this list. But the free agent signing... They decided to pay a backup infielder with limited experience at any position besides shortstop $2 million. Except someone forgot to tell him he was supposed to be a part timer. And this was his second tour of duty with the team. At least it was only for a single year.

Signing Jeremy Guthrie to a three-year, $25 million deal

Age and past performance make this a risky contract. It's early to go on this list, but my skepticism lands him here. The only starting pitchers who signed longer deals last winter were Zack Greinke, Edwin Jackson and Anibal Sanchez. Ummm, yeah.


Other moves that could have been discussed here include the aforementioned Farnsworth deal. The Bruce Chen two-year contract. Jason Kendall for two years. The Jeff Francoeur extension. It seems as if every multi-year contract Moore has handed out has been a bad deal for the team.

In the interest of fairness, some signings and trades have worked for Moore. One of his early better trades was turning Ambiorix Burgos into Brian Bannister. (Remember when Moore seemed like a savvy GM? This was an example. Dealing a reliever for a starter with upside. It worked until Bannister forgot how to pitch. And when Burgos was, uh imprisioned.) Bannister's first three years in the Royals rotation were worth 6.9 fWAR. The often forgotten Coco Crisp trade was going to pay a dividend before he was injured. Moore's Zack Greinke deal netted a starting shortstop and a starting center fielder. Jeff Francoeur posted a solid season in 2011 after signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal. Same for the flyer on Cabrera. Those one year deals were an example of the kind of contracts Moore should have been handing out when looking for stopgaps. Sadly, the successes those types of players had on their one year deal, frequently led Moore to make the mistakes I chronicled above.

The failures trump the successes. Far too often, Moore has overreached. He's added extra years to free agent deals when they were unnecessary, costing the Royals money and roster space. He's spent millions on a variety of players in a utility role, when the ideal route would be to kick the tires on a replacement level player for much less money. He's spent nearly $40 million on relief pitching on the free agent market, giving multiple years to Farnsworth, John Bale and Yosh Yabuta.

Seven years of reading the market and Moore is still making the same mistakes he made in his first year. Overall, it's not a good track record.

Exhibit C.

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