When David Glass purchased the Royals in 2000, he seemed determined to run the team on the cheap. Perhaps that was to battle the inequities of baseball, or perhaps he saw no reason to invest his money in a losing team, but in any case, his penny-pinching ways cost the team dearly in talent. Not only could the Royals not afford to pursue attractive free agents or retain the good players they had, their cheap ways seriously damaged their ability to develop young talent.
For much of the history of the Royals, the franchise has lacked much of a presence in Latin American player development. As Rany Jazayerli points out, Melido Perez is the most significant player the Royals had ever signed out of Latin America prior to 2006, with the only other significant contributors being role players like Luis Salazar, Hipolito Pichardo, and Carlos Febles.
In the post-Kauffman years, international player development was particularly thin. From 1996 to 2006, the Royals spent less than a quarter of a million dollars in Latin America - total. As expected, the Royals produced no significant Major League players over that time. Here are all the players signed by the Royals out of Latin America from 1996-2006 that reached the big leagues.
That is not an impressive list. From 2001-2005, not a single player signed out of Latin America by the Royals reached the big leagues. Zero.
In June of 2006, Dayton Moore took over as General Manager of the Royals with the condition that the club start investing money in its players. He brought over Rene Francisco to be his international scouting director, after the two had worked together in Atlanta. The two were tasked by owner David Glass to give the Royals a greater presence in Latin America.
"It was a tremendous challenge because the Royals were dead last in international expenditures from 1996 to 2006, which includes staff, facilities, and resources for signing players. We were definitely behind the industry standard."
-Dayton Moore, "More Than a Season"
Dayton Moore set out to develop a Dominican Academy, which opened in 2007. They also built a new sports complex that can house up to 72 players in the town of Guerra that opened in 2012. But most importantly, they began spending money on player bonuses.
A few months after Dayton Moore took over the head job, the organization found its future World Series MVP:
A Royals scout named Orlando Estevez, a holdover from the past regime, had seen a 16-year-old catcher from Valencia, Venezuela. The kid was a colossus, even at the age, and he possessed a preternatural coordination which was most apparent in his feet. A few Royals scouts worried that he would never hit, that he was nothing more than a flier prospect, a decent investment for the price.
But Moore was in his first year on the job, and he had set out to rebuild the Royals’ dilapidated international scouting department. This was exactly the type of investment the Royals needed to make. From 1996 to 2006, the Royals had been last in all of baseball in money spent in Latin American, and from those first weeks on the job, that had to change. Moore hired Rene Francisco from the Atlanta Braves, and he turned his scouts loose, and just a month later, the Royals were signing [Salvador] Perez for $65,000.
Maybe the Royals lucked into Salvador Perez - his bonus suggests he wasn't a highly sought after prospect. Maybe Allard Baird's regime would have signed Salvador Perez - it was a scout that had worked under him that found Perez. But would an Allard Baird administration taken the $65,000 risk on a 16-year old kid new to catching?
The Royals did not stop upon signing Perez, also unearthing pitcher Kelvin Herrera that summer. The next year they began spending serious money on bonuses - nearly half a million combined for Guelin Beltre and Yowill Espinal, two Dominican infielders that never panned out. The next year they found Yordano Ventura for $28,000. In 2010, Dayton Moore spent an unprecedented amount of money on amateur talent for a Royals General Manager - $6.9 million for Cuban left-hander Noel Arguelles.
Arguelles never pitched an inning of Major League Baseball - never even reached AAA - but the point had been made, the Royals were going to invest in Latin America. Fortunately, the failure of Arguelles did not deter the team's international spending. Dayton Moore spent $3 million on outfielder Elier Hernandez, $1 million on shortstop Orlando Calixte, even over a million on a shortstop from Italy of all places, named Marten Gasparini. Any kind of surplus they found was going to allocated towards player development.
In January of 2011, with his right shoulder aching and his resolve fading, Gil Meche decided to retire. He forfeited $12 million in salary, which left the Royals with a budgetary surplus, and the rare opportunity to spend money twice. The sacrifice by Meche, along with the acumen of their Latin American scouting department, led to the acquisition of the team’s most enticing current prospect. Owner David Glass instructed his front office to invest the newfound money in the draft and the international market. The front office of general manager Dayton Moore had already located one target: Raul Adalberto Mondesi, the teenage son of former All-Star outfielder Raul Mondesi.
Since Baseball America began tracking international spending by teams in 2010, the Royals have finished mostly in the top third in baseball in international spending (2012 data is curiously absent).
|Year||Amount||MLB rank||Largest bonus||Other notable players|
|2010||$2.7 mill||11th||Humberto Arteaga ($1.1 mill)||Orlando Calixte, Miguel Almonte|
|2011||$6.8 mill||3rd||Elier Hernandez ($3 mill)||Raul Mondesi|
|2012||?||?||Roman Hernandez ($550k)||None|
|2013||$3.6 mill||7th||Marten Gasparini ($1.3 mill)||None|
|2014||$2.1 mill||19th||Ricky Aracena ($850k)||None|
|2015||$5.6 mill||6th||Seuly Matias ($2.25 mill)||Jeison Guzman|
Beginning in July of 2012, teams were given bonus pool allotments, which they could exceed only if they were willing to be penalized by being prohibited from signing a player over a certain amount the following year. Due to their signings in 2015, the Royals will likely be prohibited from signing any player over $300,000 in the 2016-2017 international signing period.
There were major failures, such as Arguelles, but any team that invests in Latin America will have failures. The important thing is the Royals now have successes. The investments have already paid off in spades. Here are the players signed since 2006 that have reached the big leagues. Compare this to the prior list.
There is no comparison. Already, the Royals have netted an All-Star catcher, an All-Star middle reliever, one of the best young starting pitchers in baseball, and one of the top shortstop prospects in the game. And the investment per year is less than what it takes to pay Omar Infante.
The Royals have made significant strides since Dayton Moore took over as General Manager, culminating in a championship last fall. The investment Dayton Moore made in a bunch of gangly teenagers in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic has been a huge part of that. Not only did the Royals find some future All-Stars, but they have completely changed the culture of its scouting department. The Royals are players in international scouting, competing to get the best talent in the world. Now, kids in Latin America can look to stars like Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera, and Yordano Ventura and wish that they too could one day play in Royal blue.