Here we are in Dayton Moore's eighth full season and General Manager and we may finally be seeing the fruits of "the Process", and long sojourn through Joey Gathrights and Mike Jacobses with two stops in Spooky Yuniesky-town. You youngsters may not remember it anymore, but there was once a time when the Royals were the laughingstock of baseball. They were a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad baseball team. Let's take a quick look back to 2006.
Royals General Manager Allard Baird was entering his sixth full season on the job, and 2006 was really a craptacular culmination of the most awful era of Royals baseball in franchise history. The club lost 100 games for the fourth time in five years, the only years in which the franchise had EVER lost 100 games. The 2006 Royals were bad in all aspects of the game. They were twelfth in the league in runs scored. They were dead last in runs allowed. They were last in slugging percentage, last in home runs, last in hits allowed, walks allowed, and pitcher strikeouts. They were 14-24 in one-run games, the worst in the American League, and lost 65% of their road games.
The 2006 team was not totally bereft of talent. David DeJesus was in his prime and establishing himself as an above-average centerfielder, and had just inked a long-term deal through 2011. Angel Berroa had suffered through miserable 2004 and 2005 campaigns, but had won Rookie of the Year as recently as 2003. Mike Sweeney, who was locked up through 2007, had just enjoyed his healthiest season since 2001. Mark Teahen and John Buck, the prizes of the Carlos Beltran deal, were just starting to show what they could do. The pitching staff had issues, but there were some interesting young arms - Andrew Sisco, Jeremy Affeldt, Ambriorix Burgos, Mike MacDougal, J.P. Howell, Leo Nunez, and of course enigmatic former first-round pick Zack Greinke.
To top it all off, the Royals had quite a bit of money to spend going into 2006.The Royals had shed some expensive disasters like Terrence Long, Eli Marrero, and Jose Lima, and were allowed to increase payroll to $47 million. Allard Baird went on a shopping spree at the Dollar Store. That offseason, the Royals:
- Signed outfielder Reggie Sanders to a two-year, $10 million contract
- Acquired pitcher Mark Redman and his $4.5 million salary from Pittsburgh for a pair of minor leaguers.
- Signed pitcher Scott Elarton to a two-year, $8 million contract
- Signed second baseman Mark Grudzielanek to a 1-year, $4 million deal with a vesting option for $3 million
- Signed pitcher Elmer Dessens to a 2-year, $3.4 million contract
- Signed first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz to a one-year $1.85 million contract
- Signed pitcher Joe Mays to a 1-year, $1 million contract.
- Signed catcher Paul Bako to a 1 year, $750,000 contract
In all, the Royals were committing to $22.8 million in 2006 on these eight players or about half their payroll. Those eight players would combine for 4.7 rWAR in 2006, about one-third of the team's total rWAR. Mark Grudzienalek fared the best with a .297/.331/.409 line and 1.9 dWAR, making him a 3.2 rWAR player. Joe Mays was a disaster, making just six starts with a 10.27 ERA for -1.2 rWAR.
Of course, this being the Royals, it all blew up. Zack Greinke walked away from the game, a huge blow to the rotation despite his awful 2005 season. Mike MacDougal missed the first three months after hurting himself in spring training. Mike Sweeney got hurt again, appearing in just 60 games and putting up his worst line numbers since 1998. Reggie Sanders was hurt - he was 38 for Pete's Sake, what did you expect?
There were some bright spots though. Mark Teahen looked like he would justify the Beltran trade by putting up a terrific season at .290/.357/.517 with 18 home runs in 109 games. Esteban German, picked up from Texas in a minor trade for a Rule 5 pick, hit .326/.422/.459 in 331 plate appearances. Doug Mientkiewicz played good defense and posted a .359 on-base percentage. In fact, that 2006 team had five regulars or semi-regulars post a .350 on-base percentage or better (German, Mientkiewicz, DeJesus, Teahen, and Matt Stairs) tied for the most a Royals team has ever produced.
The Royals split the first four games of the year, then dropped eleven in a row. It had already begun. A six-game losing streak soon followed. Then, the bottom dropped out - a thirteen game losing streak to put the Royals at 10-35. It was Memorial Day weekend and the Royals were already hopelessly out of contention for .500, let alone the playoffs. On May 30, the team fired General Manager Allard Baird. The next day they hired a young Braves executive named Dayton Moore.
Moore quickly got to work. Mike MacDougal was shipped to the White Sox for a pair of minor league arms. J.P. Howell was shipped to Tampa Bay for an intriguing speedster who could get on base and play center-field. Dayton convinced the Dodgers to give him some prospects for Elmer Dessens if he would take expensive malcontent Odalis Perez off their hands. Enigmatic arms Denny Bautista and Jeremy Affeldt were packaged to Colorado for an impressive young slugger named Ryan Shealy. He flipped unimpressive second baseman Ruben Gotay to the Mets for an infielder with a bat in Jeff Keppinger. We didn't know if these moves would pan out, but the new guy was trying to make this club better. We believed.
The losing continued, as Dayton's moves were more about the future than the present. At least the prize for this ineptitude would be the #1 pick in 2007 and a chance at electric Vanderbilt pitcher David Price. But on the last weekend of the season, the Royals could not get out of their own way, and swept the first place Tigers to finish 62-100, one game better than the Devil Rays, ensuring Price would pitch in Tampa Bay.
It was eight years ago, but the memories still scar me. It remains to be seen where this season takes us, whether Dayton's moves finally pan out, or this is all just a mirage before an inevitable collapse, but there is no doubt that we are in a much better place now, and Dayton Moore is the reason why.