With the trade deadline looming and the continued pursuit of the roster/organization on everyone's mind it's worthwhile to take a look at the moves Dayton Moore has already made. Part I takes a look at how the position players with the big club. Stay tuned for Part II (big league pitchers) and Part III (minor leaguers).
It was 2006, Lebanon and Israel were doing their thing, FEMA did a "heckuva job" in New Orleans and the Royals were supposedly beginning an era of competence (as per Posnanski after Opening Day) thanks to a bizarre December spending spree that brought in Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Joe Mays, Paul Bako and Reggie Sanders. (Vintage RR posts here and here.) Meanwhile, the franchise was a full season behind the Beltran trade and preparing for the Jackson County Stadium Tax Subsidy Vote. In a stunning coincidence, Bud Selig "promised" Kansas City an All-Star game pending a proper allocation of JC's limitless public monies.
To a surprising extent, the 2006 lineup, as Moore more or less inherited it, remains the 2008 edition. You can find good teams that have had more turnover than this:
The 2006 Royals went 62-100.
You can quibble with some of these slots as they are crudely defined here -- for example, I'm considering Gathright a bench player in the table above, although he's actually played more innings in CF than anyone else -- but for quick and dirty purposes these are the positions according to the organizational masterplan for the two seasons. As in Gathright's case, for some of the players "bench" may not be quite the right label, but more or less it works, and I've included only the additional players who logged significant playing time.
What stands out is how much holdover there has been. Three of the positions are exactly the same, although perhaps not without some controversy. Buck is still the primary catcher, Grudzielanek is still at second base and DeJesus is still in center. Moreover, Mark Teahen remains an everyday fixture in the lineup, although he's shifted from third base to the outfield, and Esteban German is still a utility player. When you factor in that Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, lineup cornerstones if everything goes well, are also Baird-era draftees, the 2008 lineup remains a very Allard creation.
Subjectively and intuitively, the 2008 edition should be better than their 2006 progenitor: the holdovers (Buck, Teahen, DeJesus) should be hitting their peaks, Emil Brown has been upgraded to Jose Guillen and a decline-phase Mike Sweeney has been converted to supposed prospect and pure hitter Billy Butler. Miguel Olivo is a huge upgrade over Paul Bako. Unfortunately, the sum of their parts just hasn't quite added up to being much more better than the Minky era. The 2006 team ended up averaging 4.67 runs per game, better than the current squad's 4.06 average.
To start, the holdovers, DeJesus somewhat excepted, have failed to truly break out. Grudz and German are still around and are, as the man sang, still the same. We wait still on Gordon and Butler to truly arrive. Seemingly really easy upgrades at SS and 1B have turned into, umm... Tony Pena Jr. and Ross Gload. This bears repeating. Just find someone better than the worst overall player in the game (Berroa) and one of the weakest first basemen (Minky). He couldn't do it. Where have you gone Doug Mientkiewicz? Jose Guillen has had one insanely awesome month and two bad ones. Finally, although Miguel Olivo has out-hit Paul Bako, Dayton Moore's first big league pickup, Joey Gathright, has eaten up a ton of playing time over the last three seasons and consistently failed to hit. In 237 plate appearances this year, Gator has three extra-base hits. Three. In 248 last year, he had eight. Gains like the Bako/Olivo and the Brown/Guillen exchanges have been mitigated by players like Gathright.
Over the last few months there's been a persistent meme that Moore is focused on rebuilding -- really, "building" should be used throughout this post, since it was so long ago that anything around here was actually built -- the organization's pitching coffers, and that the lineup will be more of a patchwork project. And while it isn't yet clear that the team's lineup core is actually enough of one to bother building around, it was certainly more than there was among the hurlers. Sure, in 2008, Butler and Gordon are disappointments, but they are near locks to improve, at least a little bit. There are problems however, and Moore is not immune criticism for his utter failure to upgrade the roster at two slots, SS and 1B, that looked to be no-brainer/any AAA lifer would have been better. He hasn't found better bench options than what Allard managed in Stairs/Costa/Graffy and it's possible he's done worse.
Lastly, there's the large but mysterious issue of defense. The quality of the team's defense is harder to definitively pin-down, but according to BP's defensive efficiency data, the 2008 squad is, relative to competition, an improvement. Then again, the 2006 team was terrible, posted a D-Eff of .682, good for 28th best in baseball and 13th in the AL. The current team stands at 19th overall and 9th in baseball. (Although the pure number, .698, is not much different.) So regarding defense, Moore has taken a terrible team and produced a below-average one.
The Royals hired Moore on May 31, 2006 and after over two years of his stewardship, the offense is worse than the bad one he inherited. Considering that he also had nothing to do with Butler or Gordon, and with no notable position prospects in the system, we must conclude that Dayton's handling of the position players in blue and white has been akin to Argentina's performance in the Falklands War: at best, a disappointment, and at worst an abject failure.