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Mental Ward: The Great Moorelenko

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Is Dayton Moore a practitioner of the dark arts?

Image credit goes to Tyler Drenon.
Image credit goes to Tyler Drenon.

Here's a thought that's been bugging me lately: The Process has worked. Well, is working anyway.

For all of the guff and grief that we have given Dayton Moore over the past decade or so, more and more clarity and credence is being given to the idea that Dayton Moore has had a plan from the beginning, or at least for a while now, and has gone about implementing a strategy that is currently paying dividends at the major league level.

In 2006, Dayton Moore became the general manager of the worst franchise in professional sports. Coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons, and careening towards a third (in 2006, they started 10-35, which is more or less the bizarro 18-11), David Glass released Allard Baird to greener pastures, and brought in Dayton Moore, who had worked extensively in the scouting and player development department of the Atlanta Braves.

When he was hired, the Royals were 13-39. In 2015, the Royals are currently 14-6. See!? It worked.

Ahem.

It's not supposed to take eight years. That was the biggest discontent with The Process. Franchises should have the means to become competitive in shorter windows. The Pirates went from one hundred losses in 2010 to ninety-four wins in 2013. That's how it is supposed to go.

"If you make enough good decisions," Moore said soon after being hired, "three-year plans turn into two-year plans, five-year plans turn into three-year plans. If you make bad decisions, ten-year plans turn into no plan."

As recently as 2013, that quote was ridiculed and excoriated, and for good measure. We were seven years deep into The Process. Kansas City was riding a string of four straight 90-loss seasons, while losing at least ninety in seven of their last eight years. Goofy things were happening. Scott Podsednik was brought in. Rick Ankiel was a thing. Jose Guillen was given $36 million to stand around in right field for a while. Mark Teahen was shuffled around the diamond. We were supposed to be happy about Mike Jacobs, because he hit thirty home runs for a different team once. Yuniesky Betancourt was brought in, played terribly, was included as a cash-for-clunker personification in the Zack Greinke trade, and was then later re-signed. I wrote about it at length, and suffice to say, it was not a good day to be a Royals fan:

What manner of psychosis is this that causes me to put so much energy into a team, an organization that has given me literally nothing in return other than a few quaint evenings of conversation with friends and family? Would not my time be better spent studying literature, or philosophy, or science? Something, anything that would help this solemn and broken world become a more suitable place for others and for the generations to come?

One of the things we forget about is just how bad the Royals system was when Moore took over. For all of our impatience and inability to accept the peculiar transactions of a new general manager, and the complete lack of early returns during his tenure, the stark reality affixed on the mantle above his door was grim and unsettling.

The Royals used fifty-five players in 2006. Their closer, Ambiorix Burgos, finished the year with a 5.52 ERA and was out of baseball the following season. The starting rotation was Mark Redman, Scott Elarton, Runelvys Hernandez, the husk of Luke Hudson, and Odalis Perez. The lowest ERA was 5.12, and no starter pitched more than 167 innings.

It's not that the cupboard was bare at the major league level. The Royals didn't own a kitchen. Mike Sweeney toughed his way through sixty games. Emil Brown led the team in plate appearances. There wasn't a promising young player on the roster outside of David DeJesus, who was already twenty-seven years old.

That takes time to recover from. A time frame of success is relative to where you start, and unlike any other team in the modern era of baseball, the Kansas City Royals were starting from bedrock.

Kansas City would go on to finish 2013 with an 86-76 record, despite employing Escobar's .259 on-base percentage for 642 plate appearances. He was one of three regulars that posted a sub-.300 on-base, the other two being Mike Moustakas and Chris Getz.

It was Year One of James Shields, though, with a winning record consolation that had the Royals six games out of a Wild Card spot. The offense was a train wreck, but the pitching was above anyone's expectations, as the team finished with a +47 run differential despite finishing 11th in the American League in runs scored.

It was a black cauldron recipe dashed with phenomenal bullpen pitching (Holland and Hochevar both had ERAs under 1.95) and stellar defense (six players finished with a dWAR of 1.0 or better).

But still. It felt fake. Fluky. Unearned. Unwarranted. Undeserving, even for a team that didn't make the playoffs. And 2014 didn't look to be much different.

Ervin Santana was gone. Danny Duffy was coming back from Tommy John surgery. Luke Hochevar went down for the year with an injury before the season began. Ventura was a question mark. Bruce Chen was still around. And the offense was still a cadre of also-ran misfits and still-not-there guys whose promise was still waiting to be fulfilled.

The offensive landscape in the past seven years has shifted. Runs are harder to come by. Bullpens have become more specialized, and a dearth of performance-enhancing drugs has deflated offensive totals. Teams are scrambling to find runs, sacrificing defense for the portend of a future with more base runners. Everyone is trying to outhit each other.

Except the Royals.

In 2010, Dayton Moore traded Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers for a glove-first short stop, an old center field prospect with a promising profile, a young arm, and a flame-throwing relief pitcher. Reactions to the trade were mixed:

I don't like the trade.  Dayton seems to just trying to trade for pieces to fill in his needs (see Allard Baird and the Beltran trade).  It would have been nice to have gotten Lawrie which the Brewers sent to Toronto.

Once upon a time, we wanted Brett Lawrie.

And well, maybe reactions were not as mixed as we like to believe:

Though I doubt Moore believed he would get a combined 8.2 fWAR out of Escobar and Cain in 2014, those were the players he targeted and acquired, and not for lack of suitors. Zack Greinke was a commodity. The trade rumors that summer had connected him with everyone from the Angels to the Rangers and the Dodgers. Dayton Moore selected the Brewers, and worked out the deal.

Defensive specialties were being undervalued by a league desperate to acquire more offense, and Dayton Moore went the other way. By acquiring and developing defensive talent, maintaining the best bullpen in baseball, and all the while waiting for returns on marquee prospects, the Royals general manager has managed to put together a perennially competitive team.

The Royals have the best defensive center fielder in baseball, one of the better defensive catchers in baseball, and the best defensive left fielder in baseball. Jarrod Dyson is also a thing. The rotation has two starters aged twenty-six (Duffy) and twenty-three (Ventura) respectively, with a few more who look to be making their debuts within the next eighteen months. A trio of bullpen relievers put on a historic showcase of indifference towards base runners, and they are getting Luke Hochevar back very soon.

Meanwhile, Dayton Moore signs a no-risk minor league deal with Ryan Madson, also known as The Key To Existence, and so far he has struck out eleven batters in 9.2 innings. Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios (despite bone density concerns) have worked out so far. Moustakas, after years of frustration, has been a revelation. Eric Hosmer has a .411 on-base percentage. Aside from Omar Infante (whose on-base is still lower than his average), I currently find it difficult to take umbrage with a starter in the lineup.

Through some sort of voodoo, ritual magic, or actually being good at his job, Dayton Moore has built a competent baseball team. Out of the decayed corpse of professional sport's most beleaguered franchise, Moore is constructing something very special. That isn't to say he hasn't made mistakes. Curious moves will still persist, as they do with every general manager. But to call Dayton Moore's tenure with the Royals anything but a vindication of a much-maligned Process, whose trust was both asked for and rejected, is to turn a blind eye to everything that's been going right with the team the past two-plus seasons.