Dayton Moore arrived in Kansas City with a cupboard that was mostly bare, but there were some useful assets to build around and use as trade bait. The organization had some young future stars to build around like Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler, as well as useful players like Mark Teahen, David DeJesus, and Mike MacDougal. Their small-market brethren in Tampa Bay were taking limited assets and spinning them into key role players that would play a part in their 2008 American League pennant. Dayton found his early trades bore much less fruit.
It did not take long for Dayton to engineer his first trade. A few weeks into the job he acquired a speedy center fielder from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays named Joey Gathright in exchange for left-handed pitcher J.P. Howell. The trade made sense - Howell was young but had struggled mightily as a starter. Gathright had some Major League experience and had shown great defense and speed, while showing some on-base skills in the minors. The trade was a hint at Dayton's philosophy for his new team - and emphasis on athleticism.
"We ll be doing everything that we can to improve our major-league club. If something makes sense, then we ll talk about it. But we're not going to talk about just moving players unless we get equal or better value in return."
Dayton made a flurry of trades over the next month, trading off spare parts for younger players with some upside. Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt was shipped to Colorado for power-hitting first baseman Ryan Shealy. Veteran infielder Tony Graffanino was sent to Milwaukee for left-handed pitcher Jorge de la Rosa. One of Dayton's more interesting trades was the acquisition of an older player - left-handed pitcher Odalis Perez. In the deal with the Dodgers, Dayton Moore was willing to take on Perez, who was a malcontent on an expensive deal, so long as Los Angeles threw in two young arms - Blake Johnson and Julio Pimentel. Ultimately the deal didn't pan out, but it was a bit of a foreshadowing of the philosophy the Atlanta Braves would later use in their rebuild, taking on bad contracts to acquire young talent.
Dayton would identify a few good young players from other organizations in smart deals getting Brian Bannister from the Mets for erratic reliever Ambriorix Burgos, and troubled infielder Alberto Callaspo from the Diamondbacks for low-ceiling pitcher Billy Buckner. However these players did not move the needle much. The team needed much more talent.
In 2009, Dayton Moore seemed to want to take the team to the next level. Instead of acquiring young players, he began acquiring players in the prime of their careers. He picked up 28-year old slugging first baseman Mike Jacobs from the Marlins after a 32-home run season. Coco Crisp brought his speed and defense over from Boston in exchange for reliever Ramon Ramirez. That summer, Dayton Moore acquired 27-year old shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt from the Mariners for two minor leaguers. But his plan to take the Royals closer to contention didn't work. The Royals lost 97 games.
After another 95+ loss season in 2010, Royals ace pitcher Zack Greinke was fed up with the lack of progress. With two years left until free agency, he asked Dayton Moore for a trade. Greinke wanted to go to a contender, and had a limited no-trade clause in his contract. When the Nationals offered a package that included infielder Danny Espinosa, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, and pitcher Drew Storen, the Royals were ready to accept. One problem - Greinke wouldn't accept a trade to a rebuilding team like Washington. Dayton Moore looked at deals with Texas and Toronto, but eventually found a trade that fit - shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. No one at the time quite understood what a huge trade it was.
Dayton Moore had more than a few stumbles along the way. He failed to trade David DeJesus when his value was at its highest, and DeJesus got hurt the next week, leaving Moore to trade him to Oakland that winter for a pair of nothing pitchers. He sent Melky Cabrera to San Francisco for Jonathan Sanchez, only for Cabrera to become All-Star Game MVP while Sanchez threw batting practice to opposing hitters. He was able to salvage the Sanchez deal a bit by getting Jeremy Guthrie out of the thin air of Colorado, which helped them re-sign the veteran right-hander that winter.
By the winter of 2012, Dayton had been on the job six full seasons, had hand-picked his roster, seen his draft picks reach the big leagues, and yet the team still seemed far from contention. There were grumblings that while Dayton Moore had helped the team avoid 100 losses, he had still yet to produce a winning season. His own words were beginning to be thrown back at him.
"It's not as simple as saying, 'This is what's going to happen in Year 1 and Year 2.' That's bull. If you make enough good decisions, three-year plans turn into two-year plans and five-year plans turn into three-year plans. If you make bad decisions, 10-year plans turn into no plan."
Dayton Moore needed to take his team to contention soon, and to do so he took the biggest gamble of his career. He had developed the #1 ranked farm system in baseball, the envy of the league, with the consensus Minor League Player of the Year, outfielder Wil Myers. Rather than bring Myers up to supplant veteran Jeff Francoeur in right field, Dayton used Myers as the centerpiece of a major trade to land veteran Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.
"The one unquestionable thing about this trade from a Royals fan perspective is this: They won’t have to wait five years to find out if it was a good one. If the Royals are 15 games back and wallowing in fourth place in July, it was an absolute disaster. And jobs will be lost."
By mid-July, the Royals weren't quite that bad, but they weren't far off. They sat in third place, 43-49, eight games back. The gamble was looking like a disaster. Wil Myers was en route to winning Rookie of the Year. James Shields, even in a good season, was doing little more than helping guide the Royals to their tenth consecutive losing season. Dayton Moore stressed patience and trust in the process.
"There’s no reason this team can’t go on a run where you win 15 of 20."
THAT'S JUST WHAT THEY DID (actually, it was 16 of their next 20). They won 43 of their last 60 games, and crept into the Wild Card race, only to be eliminated with a week to go. The team won 86 games, the most they had won in a season since 1989. The James Shields trade had not been validated yet, but it was beginning to look - not terrible?
By mid-July of 2014, it was back to looking terrible. The Royals were 48-50, eight games back, with talk of trading James Shields. The Royals made a few fringe moves in July to try to get back in it - picking up veteran reliever Jason Frasor and Twins slugger Josh Willingham - but they weren't in enough contention to make a serious move.
But of course, the team again got hot down the stretch, winning 41 of their last 64, this time making the playoffs and going on an unbelievable post-season run. And at the center of the team was Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, the young players acquired in the Greinke deal. On the mound was James Shields and Wade Davis - now an elite reliever - both products of the Wil Myers deal. Playing right field was Nori Aoki, picked up from Milwaukee for lefty-reliever Will Smith. Dayton's trades made up a significant portion of the pennant-winner.
Dayton had a quiet trade market that winter, filling holes instead through free agency. The result was a team that stormed out of the gate and won 95 games, winning their first ever Central Division title. At the deadline, Dayton Moore looked to October for his acquisitions, picking up All-Star utility player Ben Zobrist from Oakland for top pitching prospect Sean Manaea, and ace pitcher Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati for a trio of pitchers that included former first round pick Brandon Finnegan. The rest is history, as the Royals defeated the Mets for the world title.
Below is a rough evaluation of Dayton Moore's significant trades. Each trade examines the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) the Royals received in value until the player was released, traded, or hit free agency. The WAR traded away is the value of the player until that player was released or hit free agency, in other words, what the Royals likely would have received had they kept the player under their controllable years.
This is just one, crude way of evaluating trades, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, rather than with knowledge known at the time. This also mistakenly sells short trades made for short-term benefit. For example, Sean Manaea may provide more WAR the next six seasons than Ben Zobrist did in two months, but the deal still makes sense for a championship-caliber club.
This also does not take into consideration player salaries. Players acquired for cash considerations were omitted from this analysis. WAR values are taken from Baseball-Reference.com.
|Date||Team||Royals acquired||WAR||Royals traded away||WAR|
|6/20/2006||Rays||OF Joey Gathright and IF Fernando Cortez||0.3||P J.P. Howell||3.7|
|7/24/2006||White Sox||P Tyler Lumsden and P Dan Cortes||0.0||P Mike MacDougal||-0.6|
|7/25/2006||Dodgers||P Odalis Perez, P Blake Johnson, and P Julio Pimentel||0.0||P Elmer Dessens||0.1|
|7/25/2006||Brewers||P Jorge de la Rosa||0.1||IF Tony Graffanino||2.8|
|7/31/2006||Rockies||1B Ryan Shealy and P Scott Dohmann||0.5||P Jeremy Affeldt and P Denny Bautista||0.4|
|12/6/2006||Mets||P Brian Bannister||4.3||P Ambriorix Burgos||0.2|
|12/16/2006||White Sox||1B Ross Gload||0.3||P Andrew Sisco||-0.4|
|3/23/2007||Braves||IF Tony Pena, Jr.||-0.9||P Erik Cordier||0.0|
|7/31/2007||Braves||P Kyle Davies||2.5||P Octavio Dotel||-0.1|
|12/14/2007||Diamondbacks||IF Alberto Callaspo||4.7||P Billy Buckner||-1.3|
|3/26/2008||Rockies||P Ramon Ramirez||2.5||P Jorge de la Rosa||5.2|
|8/9/2008||White Sox||OF Paulo Orlando||1.8||P Horacio Rramirez||-0.3|
|10/31/2008||Marlins||1B Mike Jacobs||-0.3||P Juan Carlos Oviedo (Leo Nunez)||2.4|
|11/19/2008||Red Sox||OF Coco Crisp||1.4||P Ramon Ramirez||3.9|
|7/10/2009||Mariners||SS Yuniesky Betancourt||-3.4||P Derrick Saito and P Dan Cortes||0.0|
|11/6/2009||White Sox||2B Chris Getz and 3B Josh Fields||1.6||3B Mark Teahen||-1.6|
|7/22/2010||Angels||P Sean O'Sullivan and P Will Smith||-1.5||IF Alberto Callaspo||6.4|
|7/28/2010||Dodgers||P Elisaul Pimentel and C Lucas May||0.0||OF Scott Podsednik||-0.7|
|7/31/2010||Braves||OF Gregor Blanco, P Tim Collins and P Jesse Chavez||1.7||OF Rick Ankiel and P Kyle Farnsworth||0.0|
|7/31/2010||Giants||P Kevin Pucetas||0.0||OF Jose Guillen||-0.6|
|11/10/2010||Athletics||P Justin Marks and P Vin Mazzaro||-1.1||OF David DeJesus||1.2|
|12/19/2010||Brewers||SS Alcides Escobar, OF Lorenzo Cain, P Jake Odorizzi, and P Jeremy Jeffress||27.3||P Zack Greinke and SS Yuniesky Betancourt||3.6|
|7/30/2011||Red Sox||IF Yamaico Navarro and P Kendal Volz||0.1||IF Mike Aviles||2.2|
|11/7/2011||Giants||P Jonathan Sanchez and P Ryan Verdugo||-1.6||OF Melky Cabrera||4.7|
|7/20/2012||Rockies||P Jeremy Guthrie||2.1||P Jonathan Sanchez||-0.3|
|7/31/2012||Reds||P J.C. Sulbaran and P Donnie Joseph||0.2||P Jonathan Broxton||0.6|
|10/31/2012||Angels||P Ervin Santana||2.9||P Brandon Sisk||0.0|
|12/9/2012||Rays||P James Shields, P Wade Davis, and IF Elliot Johnson||14.4||OF Wil Myers, P Jake Odorizzi, P Mike Montgomery, and 1B Patrick Leonard||10.0|
|12/5/2013||Brewers||OF Nori Aoki||1.0||P Will Smith||1.2|
|12/18/2013||Orioles||3B Danny Valencia||0.0||OF David Lough||1.6|
|7/16/2014||Rangers||P Jason Frasor||0.6||P Spencer Patton||-0.6|
|7/28/2014||Blue Jays||P Liam Hendriks and C Erik Kratz||-0.2||3B Danny Valencia||0.4|
|8/1/2014||Twins||OF Josh Willingham||0.1||P Jason Adam||0.0|
|10/30/2014||Blue Jays||C Santiago Nessy||0.0||P Liam Hendriks||0.5|
|12/19/2014||Angels||P Brian Broderick||0.0||2B Johnny Giavotella||1.3|
|7/26/2015||Reds||P Johnny Cueto||0.2||P Brandon Finnegan, P John Lamb, and P Cody Reed||-0.2|
|7/28/2015||Athletics||2B Ben Zobrist||1.2||P Sean Manaea, P Aaron Brooks||-1.3|
From this evaluation a few broad conclusions can be drawn. First, Dayton Moore has made fewer and fewer trades the longer he has been on the job. His list of significant deals over a decade is quite small, showing that he value consistency and a long-term approach, in sharp contrast to the churn-and-burn philosophy of teams like the Athletics and Rays. Second, most of Dayton Moore's smaller deals are a wash, if not a net negative. He has found few gems for nothing, the way Billy Beane unearths diamonds in the rough.
However, in the biggest and most important trades of his tenure, Dayton Moore absolutely nailed it. The Zack Greinke deal ended up being a huge amount of value for the Royals for two years of the Cy Young winner (and the opportunity to dump Yuniesky Betancourt!) The James Shields was a huge gamble, but three years later Shields was exactly who he was expected to be, Wade Davis has been a huge surprise, and Wil Myers has been quite a disappointment. Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist proved to be huge post-season contributors, putting the Royals over the top for their first championship in three decades.
Teams are often built through trades, and the Royals have gotten a few pillars of their team through trades, but it has not been a primary source of talent. The few times he has relied on the trade have been through big deals, usually pressed into it by circumstance. The Zack Greinke deal was a result of the pitcher demanding a trade. The James Shields was likely a result of Dayton Moore being on the hot seat. The Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto deals were as a result of the Royals having the best record in the league. Perhaps it is the low number of trades and consistency that has helped everyone in the organization stay on the same page, pointed in the same direction, towards a championship.