The Kansas City Royals are the 2014 American League Champions, walk-off winners of one of the greatest baseball games to have ever been played, and were 90 feet away from a tie game in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series. They are in first place in the American League Central, leading the four-time defending AL Central winners, the Detroit Tigers. They have spent 34 days in first place or tied for first place. They possess the best run differential in the American League by far, leading the next team by a few dozen runs. The Royals are on pace for their third consecutive winning season, last done from 1987 to 1989. The Royals are also on pace to win over 100 games, a feat only accomplished once in their 47-year history. The Royals are on pace to pull in over 2,500,000 fans in a single regular season, a feat never before accomplished in their 47-year history.
It is May 2015. This is the house that Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals General Manager, has built. It is a house whose core members all exist due to Moore's unmistakable impact on this franchise--Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Yordano Ventura, Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, Danny Duffy. Alex Gordon evolved into one of the best players in baseball under Moore's watch. Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and Wade Davis are on the team because of crucial trades made by Moore. This a team whose core has been together since 2011 and will not be forced to disband until 2018. The Royals are one of the best players in baseball, own some of the best talent entering their primes in baseball, have one of the best stadiums in the game, and are being fully supported by a ravenous fanbase starved for competitive play.
Despite all of this, Moore's adventures have been nothing short of amazing. Not amazing because of his success, but amazing because of his lack of successes. Dayton Moore's 'Process,' what he dubbed his plan for improving the team long-term, was a dumpster fire for years. Moore's Process was a computer with a virus, constantly exhibiting the Blue Screen of Death, failing even the most basic tasks, and frustrating all with its futility. Even now, there are gaping holes in Moore's organization.
And yet, here we are, forever Royal.
Dayton Moore was hired in the middle of a terrible 2006 season, a year which followed a horrific 2005 season and a depressing 2004 season. The Royals would accumulate over 100 losses in each year and would employ a cornucopia of random fringe players during this time. Moore was considered to be one of the best options for the job. On June 1, Will McDonald, founder of Royals Review, was not quite sold.
What the Royals really need is intellectual flexibility and a multi-faceted plan that incorporates every conceivable angle. With every dynasty, the underlings that fail in new jobs are those that merely mimic (these seem to be the most media savvy, and generally liked for some reason) and stubbornly insist on "doing it like we did it in X" etc. Those that succeed take the best of what they learned under X, and adapt to the ever changing game and landscape, as well as the unique constraints of the current place. Remember this: the Royals can't be the Braves, hell, for the last 5 years, the Braves haven't even been able to be the Braves, as their revenues/access to revenues has declined.
Moore was deeply interest in constructing a team through the draft and player development. He overhauled the system and utilized somewhat of a loophole that allowed teams to give out unlimited signing bonuses to any draft picks. Moore used that to grab upper first round picks Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, later luring Bubba Starling away from University of Nebraska football with a gigantic signing bonus. A refocus on Latino players occurred under Moore's watch as well, helping Yordano Ventura, Kelvin Herrera, and Salvador Perez to sign and advance through the minor league ladder.
In 2011, Moore's Avengers began to assemble. Hosmer, Moustakas, Herrera, Perez, Danny Duffy, Johnny Giavotella, Louis Coleman, and Tim Collins made their debuts at the Major League level. Holland and Jarrod Dyson debuted the year before and broke camp with the team for the first time in 2011.
Only all was not well. Two years before, Will aired his frustrations with the regime and its unbelievable arrogance in the face of zero success.
Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman are both, essentially, rookies. They are rookies at their current level of employment. This is not to say that they may not be great General Managers and Managers someday, but it is to acknowledge that, at present, they have not, as they say, done anything at their current level. They need to hold the Alex Gordon mirror up to themselves. The unfounded arrogance of team management in the past year has been absolutely stunning, and I'm not the only one to notice it. On and off the record, just about anyone close to the team has remarked about the siege mentality that's taken over, and that mentality is driven by an unwillingness to take criticism or even acknowledge slight mistakes.
Since 2007, the Royals under Dayton Moore are 209-277. Trey Hillman is 140-184 as a manager. After supposedly making long and short-term progress in 2007-8, the Royals took a major step back in 2009, losing 97 games. That's when the story changed. Suddenly, nothing short-term mattered, and it was all about the long-term plan.Here's the problem: the Royals weren't saying this in 2008 and they weren't saying this in the Spring of 2009. They thought they could win now, only, as it turned out, Dayton Moore's hit rate on Major League acquisitions is somewhere south of the percentage of Victorian novels that have a sex scene.
The Royals were bad in 2007. They were bad in 2008. They were bad in 2009. What Will did not know at the time of that article was that the Royals would also be bad in 2010, 2011, and 2012. By the All-Star break of 2013, the Royals under Moore were a cumulative 462-602. That's a .434 win %, or a 70-92 season on average.
Seven years of management for Moore had yielded zero progress. That was unacceptable.
Two years ago, Craig Brown, at the time manager for Royals Review, officially called for Moore to be fired in a scathing post that fully explained our exasperation. In the months before, he wrote about Moore's failures in player acquisition and player development. I also took a look at how long it takes for a team to rebuild with depressing results. The end idea of all this angst: Moore needed to go. From Craig's post:
This is a team that averages 4.0 runs per game. Yes, the pitching is good, but it's not good enough to overcome that weak offense. This isn't a team that can play 10 games over .500 no matter the arbitrary endpoints you choose. This team is not that good.
Moore's failure to recognize reality is not a good look.
There's plenty of evidence Moore is detached from reality. I offer Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Jeff Francoeur, Chris Getz. Those are just four players Moore has clung to (and paid millions of dollars to) for far too long. And it's not just these four players. Then, there's the stubbornness, the paranoia, the excuses. It's all on display and it doesn't paint a complimentary picture. The Royals don't take walks? Blame the stadium. There's an athletic utility guy who can't field and lacks an adequate hit tool? Claim him on waivers. You don't have talent? Tell everyone leadership will win a pennant. The fans are upset because the Royals aren't winners? Lecture them about The Process.
Please. I think we've seen enough.
Then there was Moore's famous quote:
"There's no reason this team can't go on a run where you win 15 of 20."
July 18, 2013
The Royals, of course, proceeded to win 15 of 20. They went 43-27 to close the year, finished 86-76, and were within a stone's throw of the Wild Card. It was a pleasant shock, but ultimately an uninspiring result. The Royals still missed the playoffs--again.
In 2014, the Royals were only marginally better going into the All-Star Break, but then they went 41-27 in the second half, got to 89-73, and did all the fun playoff things that we thought we would never see in our lifetimes.
Before the season started, we posted a poll where we asked you if you approved of Mr. Moore. The answer was clear, but still surprisingly low; 63% of you approved of Moore's regime. This despite making it to Game 7 of the World Series.
I think the reasons for that were easy to see. Moore's initial talent rush had made it to the big leagues, and as I pointed out in the offseason, there was no second wave. To date, the only players to have made it to Kansas City from the 2010 draft on have been Christian Colon, Michael Mariot, and Brandon Finnegan. Furthermore, looking at the Omaha Storm Chasers' roster, there's no one who will make a sizable impact this year. Looking at the Northwest Arkansas Naturals' roster, there are a lot of high-profile prospects who are doing poorly or are injured. No starter, reliever, or full-time position player on the 2015 opening day roster came from those group of drafts.
As the roster gets more and more expensive through the arbitration process, Moore's lack of upcoming talent becomes a bigger and bigger problem. That combined with the uncertainty of his most valued draft choices--the previously terrible Moustakas and the previous enigma Hosmer--put a damper on the long-term success of this team.
This was also considering the tepid reaction to Moore's offensive plan, I should add. In the offseason, Moore's main acquisitions, Alex Rios, Kendrys Morales, and Edinson Volquez, were heavily criticized by many. Those who liked them didn't like them that much, and saw them as merely defensible, uninspired moves to plug holes in the lineup. The three pulled a composite -0.7 WAR in 2014, and the Royals gave double-digit millions to each. It was hard to love them, especially as a whole.
And, somehow, forty games into the season, the three have been worth 1.6 WAR, and Rios has only played 7 games.
And, somehow, Moustakas has turned his game around completely and is hitting like he has never hit before at the Major League level.
And, somehow, Hosmer is hitting like a true MVP candidate like his proponents always claimed he could.
This team still has warts. The starting rotation is a legitimate issue, though it probably won't be as bad as it has been going forward. Furthermore, the lack of upcoming, cheap talent will begin to impact the team significantly by 2017 and 2018.
But it just doesn't matter, and that's what is amazing about Moore's success. He has pulled together the best team in the American League--this is a team with the best bullpen in baseball, the best defense in baseball, and a balanced, athletic lineup that hits for moderate power but does not strike out. Most of the team's core will remain under control for the next few years.
This construction from the same man who signed Jose Guillen to a 3 year, $36 million lemon of a contract. From the man who doubled down on mediocre players like Willie Bloomquist, Chris Getz, Jeff Francoeur, and Kyle Davies. From the man who said that his first winning season with the Royals felt like, in a small way, winning the World Series. From the man who manged to squeeze out a winning season seven full years after he was hired.
A few weeks ago, we held another poll, and 92% of you said that you approve of Moore's job. Count me among them. Two years ago, I called Moore a liar and a failure, along with many others tired of losing. I've gladly changed my tune, and the only thing I can do now is root for this amazing group of players and wonder at Dayton Moore's amazing success.