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Morales, Rios, Volquez signings underscore larger problem for KC

Recent moves have been symptoms of an issue that desperately needs a cure.

Finnegan, more important than he'll ever know
Finnegan, more important than he'll ever know
Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The Winter Meetings came.  Dayton Moore did nothing.  He proceeded to do nothing for most of the week.  Then, at the twilight of the meetings when fans began to grumble about the lack of activity, Moore signed designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a 2 year, $17.5 million contract.  Less than a week later he struck again, bringing right fielder Alex Rios to a 1 year, $11 million contract.  Two days later, he brought in Edinson Volquez for a 2 year, $20 million contract.

Reactions to these signings were generally unpleasant.  After all, last year Rios and Morales combined for -1.5 fWAR, are both north of 30, and the Royals just committed $28.5 million to the duo; meanwhile, Volquez has all of one season with an above average ERA out of the last eight.  Rios and Morales have both been very productive recently though; the two combined for 10.4 fWAR in 2012-2013.  Moore's gamble is that both of them have bounceback years.  That could happen, although a bounceback season for both of them wouldn't give a huge amount of surplus value.

Though these are not good moves, I do think the reaction has been tinged too negatively.  One reason is that none of these deals is really back breaking; Rios is off the books for 2016 and $17.5 million over two years for Morales isn't that large of an issue for a team who will likely employ a payroll above $100 million both years (ditto for Volquez).  Opportunity cost is probably the biggest issue here--as Moore is wont to do, over spending on multiple players prohibits a larger investment (say, James Shields resigning), but I'm wary of criticizing managers for not signing a specific player.  We don't know what's going on behind closed doors, and there are lots of factors that go into free agency with which we are not familiar with.  Still, Moore could've approached both the DH and RF differently, and platooning would've likely netted similar production while costing less.

Former Royals Review managing editor Craig Brown at Royals Authority wrote specifically about the Rios signing.  He brought up a few excellent questions:

But here’s the money question: What should Moore have done to fill his Aoki-sized hole in right field? They scouted Yasmani Tomas, but didn’t win his services. They were in on Melky Cabrera, but he went to the South Side on a three-year deal. I never heard they were interested in Nick Markakis. There just weren’t many free agent options in this market...There just aren’t any options. Or should I say, any good options.

Instead of accepting Rios and Morales, we should be asking some questions. Why are the Royals in the position where this is the best they can do? The easy answer is, of course, payroll constraints. The market size works against the Royals. This isn’t anything new. They aren’t going to be in on the top free agents. And they risk losing their top players after six years of service. Such is life in baseball in the 21st century.

I continue to go back to Dayton Moore and his quotes about building a farm system. And at one point, he and his team did build a fantastic farm system. But that system didn’t produce major league talent.

Craig has a point, and it's one I'd like to explore further.  And that point is this: the Royals are in this position, of looking at a less-than-stellar free agent market and unwilling to give up minor league talent in a trade, because their drafting and development suffered a severe drought.  The Royals have a bigger problem than signing Morales and Rios, and they have to fix it yesterday if they want to continue surviving.

The Royals are often cited as a young team, but that's not really true--only Yordano Ventura will be 24 or younger next year out of any regular contributors.  Moore built this World Series run on the draft, and everybody talks about homegrown talent on this team.  Unfortunately, they haven't operated like a team built on homegrown guys lately, and there's a reason for that.


Let's take a look at each Moore draft that has happened.  2006, Moore's first year, was reportedly run by others, so successes and failures there will be ignored as we have no evidence to the contrary.  However, every draft since then can be judged on Moore and his team alone:

2007 Draft: Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Greg Holland, David Lough

2007 Misses: Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgarner, Jason Heyward, Josh Donaldson, Jonathan Lucroy

As Moore's best draft, 2007 produced an everyday third baseman, a talented starting pitcher, arguably the best closer in the American League, and a useful fourth outfielder.  He did so with a range of picks, from first-rounder Moustakas to third rounder Duffy and 10th/11th rounders Holland/Lough.

However, we could've had Bumgarner rather than Moose.  How does that make you feel now?  Well, it makes me feel very sad.  Lucroy was available but the Royals picked Duffy in round three.

2008 Draft: Eric Hosmer, Johnny Giavotella, Blaine Hardy

2008 Misses: Buster Posey, Brett Lawrie

This was a pretty poor draft as far as quantity of major leaguers; Giavotella has played poorly at the major league level and Hardy just debuted as a LOOGY for the Tigers this year (though did quite well).  Hosmer was the star, though, and has been an impact player off an on since then.  If he ever has a breakout season or two, that pick will look quite good later and will more or less vindicate the draft.  Posey is the only major player the Royals missed on in round one.

2009 Draft: Aaron Crow, Wil Myers, Louis Coleman

2009 Misses: Mike Trout, Jason Kipnis

Wil Myers was utilized as the centerpiece for the Shields deal, so his value was leveraged into a duo of good pitchers.  Crow and Coleman have been useful, cheap bullpen arms; the 2014 Royals proved how valuable a good bullpen is.  Trout is the major miss, of course, but other than Kipnis there weren't and aren't a lot of amazing players (yet).

Something happened after the 2009 draft. though.  Well, lots of things happened, but specifically what happened to Kansas City is that the draft stopped producing players, not even ancillary talent like bullpen arms or utility infielders/fourth outfielders.  As we get closer to the present, I'll list the major picks of KC rather than the Major League players and start to leave out the misses category for 2013-2014.  I'll also italicize those that have made their big league debut.

2010 Draft: Christian Colon, Brett Eibner, Kevin Chapman, Jason Adam

2010 Misses: Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, Andrelton Simmons

The big thing about 2010 is Colon over Sale.  That decision is one of the worst of the entire Moore administration, as Sale is an All-Star, Cy Young candidate year after year and Colon made a quiet debut this year at age 25.  Eibner and Adam have been disappointing.  Chapman is no longer with the organization.

2011 Draft: Bubba Starling, Cameron Gallagher, Brian Brickhouse, Terrance Gore

2011 Misses: Anthony Rendon, Jose Fernandez, Sonny Gray

The Royals picked fifth in 2011, seeking one of four pitchers near the top of the draft.  All four were off the board by the fifth pick.  Starling is, at least right now, a gigantic bust.  To make a major league roster with his speed, fielding, and defense, he needs to be mildly competent at hitting.  He is not.  Neither Gallagher or Brickhouse are anywhere near the major league level, and neither are exciting by any definition of the word.

2012 Draft: Kyle Zimmer, Sam Selman, Zebulon Sneed

2012 Misses: Michael Wacha, Marcus Stroman, Alex Wood

This draft looked pretty good a year ago, but not so much now.  Zimmer is still highly regarded but his progress has screeched to a halt with a variety bag of injuries.  Unless he can prove to be healthy, his chances of being effective in Kansas City are about zero.  Selman did reach Omaha last year and at least could probably be an effective reliever.

2013 Draft: Hunter Dozier, Sean Manaea, Cody Reed

Through a draft/signing bonus loophole, the Royals got both Dozier and Manaea in the first round, a steal for the club.  Both have done well so far and have reached AA; a 2016 debut for both would be a good bet.  Also of note: Kansas City drafted 3 Kevins this year.

2014 DraftBrandon Finnegan, Foster Griffin, Chase Vallot, Scott Blewitt

This draft looks pretty good so far.  Finnegan is the only first-rounder to have reached the majors already and is the only player in history to participate in both the College World Series and the World Series in the same year.  His floor is an excellent reliever, and his ceiling is an effective starter as soon as sometime in 2015.  Griffin and Blewitt are promising arms while Vallot has intriguing power potential; all three are currently teenagers.


Another way of quantifying the draft status and how it has impacted the KC team is by taking a look at the amount of rookies on the Royals.  These are the total amount of rookies that made their debut and made at least 10 plate appearances or innings pitched in the last five years:

  • 2010:12
  • 2011: 16
  • 2012: 8
  • 2013: 2
  • 2014: 4

2011 was when the 'big guns' started debuting--Hosmer, Moose, Duffy, etc--all from the 2007-2009 draft.  Sixteen players they were.  In 2012 half that many debuted.  In 2013 and 2014, half again that of 2012.  It's not just quality that has dropped, but quantity.  You might want to sit down for this one:

Since the 2010 draft, zero players drafted by the Royals have become a regular position player, backup position player, starting pitcher, or reliever.  Not. One.

Sure, there have been a few almost exceptions--Michael Mariot pitched 25 miserable innings this year, and Christian Colon played well in the last month or two--but neither is guaranteed to be on the team next year, let alone be a regular reliever or backup.

Thankfully, this is in an upswing--2013 and 2014 have been good drafts so far, and the players are advancing well.  But if we're talking waves, the 2007-2009 wave was productive (if perhaps not proficient), but the 2010-2012 wave has produced absolutely nothing.

Fans often think that if drafts don't produce stars, then the draft is a failure.  That's a skewed and, frankly, incorrect way at looking at it.  A draft is a success when it produces competent major league talent because stars are a rare resource and yet teams must field 25 players.  Even league average players are extremely valuable because they come in a cost-controlled manner for multiple years.  The main problem with the Royals' recent drafts is that they haven't produced anybody.  If Colon had debuted two years ago and been a mediocre, solid second baseman, the Royals don't spend $30 million on Omar Infante.  If Eibner debuted two years ago and been merely serviceable, the Royals don't have to trade for Aoki or spend $11 million on Rios.  Those are two very boring scenarios, but had they occurred, the Royals would be significantly better off right now.

Of course there will be failures, and a steady stream of prospects is nearly impossible.  However, a team adept at drafting and player development should be able to routinely offer meaningful parts at the major league level.  The Royals are not that team.  The success of Dozier, Manaea, Zimmer, Finnegan, Colon, and the army of players in the minor league system with dreams of making the big leagues is what will empower the Royals to a World Series victory.  No amount of brilliantly (or stupidly) executed mid-tier free agent deals can accomplish the same.